by Kyle Idleman, from Gods at War
C. S. Lewis, the great British author of the Chronicles of Narnia, once boarded a bus for Heaven.
He did this in imaginary form, of course, in a wonderful allegory called The Great Divorce. It’s a book that examines why people choose for or against giving their lives to a full commitment to God. He shows that what we’re doing is standing at the very gate of Heaven and choosing between the eternal glory of God and the empty illusions of earth — what he calls “the great divorce” between Heaven and earth.
In the book, Lewis climbs onto that bus with a group of fellow ghosts who have finished their earthly lives. They will be dropped off at a kind of way station in which they will make their decisions about eternity. (It’s not as if salvation works this way, of course; the book is a kind of extended parable.)
For each newcomer, there is a bright, shining figure who steps out of Heaven to receive his or her old friend, and to encourage them to make the full journey to Heaven and the presence of God. These are not angels, but acquaintances from life who have been saved.
Pam is a woman who is disappointed to see that her younger brother, Reginald, is sent to greet her. She wanted it to be her departed son Michael, to whom she devoted her life.
Reginald explains that she isn’t ready for that yet. She must first be eager to see God himself, then all the other wonderful blessings of Heaven will be available. God isn’t simply a way to get to Heaven; Heaven is a way to get to God, and Pam must approach it that way.
Reginald says, “I’m afraid the first step is a hard one. But after that, you’ll go on like a house on fire… when you learn to want someone else besides Michael.”
Pam doesn’t know what her younger brother is talking about. She says, “Well, never mind. I’ll do whatever’s necessary… The sooner I begin it, the sooner they’ll let me see my boy.”
Reginald says that it can’t begin with that kind of attitude. “You’re treating God only as a means to Michael,” he points out. She must learn to want God for His own sake. He can’t come second in her affections; He can’t even be tied for first.
“You exist as Michael’s mother only because you first exist as God’s creature,” Reginald says. “That relation is older and closer.” He goes on to explain to Pam that “human beings can’t make one another really happy for long… You can’t love a fellow creature fully till you love God.”
It becomes clear that Pam’s love for her son was something of an obsession in life. After the boy died, she kept his room just as he left it for ten years. She neglected her other children, her husband, and her parents, to the pain and disappointment of them all. All of this was sacrificed on the altar of her adoration of her son.
“No one has a right to come between me and my son. Not even God,” Pam declares. And it’s very clear that this woman is so set on this view that she has chosen her own eternal destination. *
In Lewis’s view, it’s not so much that God won’t let us into Heaven; it’s that we won’t let ourselves in. If we can’t learn how to say, “Thy will be done,” then finally God must sadly say, “Okay, then thy will be done.”
Some people are uncomfortable with this little vignette. Shouldn’t God give the woman credit for her powerful love? At least she loved someone; it just happened to be her own son. And what could be more noble than a mother’s love for her own child? That’s a good thing, not a bad thing, right?
The problem is that, as Reginald put it, the relationship with God must be recognized as “older and closer.” The first commandment is to love the Lord our God, and the second is to love one another. (Matthew 22:37-39)
Picture it this way: Your life is a bicycle wheel. Every spoke in the wheel represents different and significant relationships that make up your life. One spoke represents mom. One spoke represents dad. One spoke represents a sibling. One spoke represents your spouse. One spoke represents a child, and on it goes. Our tendency is to make God a spoke in the wheel, but God isn’t interested in being another spoke in the wheel of your life. God is to be the center hub that all the spokes come from and connect to. As T. S. Eliot put it, He is “the still point of the turning world.”
Our relationship to the Father is more basic to who we are and to why we have been created. We are intended to love our children, parents, siblings, and spouses wholeheartedly, but always in the context of our primary, foundational love for God. Worship is for God alone. He must be our deepest love — actually the source of every other love. For only when we love God properly can we begin to love others properly. According to the Ten Commandments, we are to honor our parents. But we are to worship only the Lord God. (Ephesians 6:1-2)
That’s what you might call a “top button” truth. Sometimes I’m in a hurry in the morning, and I button my shirt all wrong. Has this ever happened to you? Like everyone else, I take it from the top. I push that top button through the slot on the other side, except that, in my haste, I choose the wrong slot. I don’t recognize my mistake until I get to the bottom and realize everything is out of line. If you get the top button right, then everything else tends to fall into place. If you get it wrong, then everything else is going to be out of alignment. You’re going to look ridiculous.
God has ordered our lives in such a way that devotion to Him is the top button. If that relationship is in proper order, then you’re going to find that every other relationship, whether family or friend, is going to fall into place in a far more satisfying way. But if you’re wrong on Him, you’ll get everything else wrong too.
This is why, in Lewis’s allegory, the mother had to find her primary love for God before she could be allowed to see her son or anyone else in Heaven. As things stood, she had made something beautiful — a mother’s love for a child — into an ugly idol that distorted all her other relationships.
Augustine, the early Christian leader and writer, called these gods “disordered loves.” He meant legitimate objects of love that have fallen as much out of order as a misbuttoned shirt.
As a matter of fact, it’s precisely because a parent should love a child, a child should love a parent, and so on, that these relationships can be elevated to false gods. We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing; we simply don’t realize we’ve gotten things out of order.
“But I can’t love my children any less,” you might say. No, you can’t, nor is that the message of this book, but you can love them differently. You can love them in the context of your primary devotion to God. And that, you will find, turns out to be a far greater, healthier, and more fruitful love.
* C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 96-103.
Excerpted with permission from Gods at War by Kyle Idleman, copyright Zondervan.