In his book The Great Divorce, Christian writer C.S. Lewis created a fictional world where the people in Hell were able to take a tour bus to Heaven for a quick visit and a look around. He describes the dark land from which these tourists leave in a way that has stuck with me for years since I first read the book, because it so perfectly captures the landscape of what a Hell would be, an apt metaphor for those who are divided from God.
“It seems the deuce of a town,” says one of the people getting on the bus, “and that’s what I can’t understand. The parts of it that I saw were so empty. Was there once a much larger population?”
“Not at all,” answers his neighbour. “The trouble is that they’re so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbour. Before the week is over he’s quarrelled so badly that he decides to move. Very likely he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarrelled with their neighbors—and moved. If so he settles in. If by any chance the street is full, he goes further. But even if he stays, it makes no odds. He’s sure to have another quarrel pretty soon and then he’ll move on again.”
The result, of course, was an endless town, that stretched in the darkness for astronomical distances, perhaps even light years, of empty streets and uninhabited houses, with only an occasional pinprick of light here and there, where someone had settled, millions of miles from his nearest neighbour, whom he resented and found hopelessly irritating.
What C.S. Lewis has hit upon here in his clever description of this bleak, endless town is a theme that deeply resonates in the gospel. One of Satan’s names is Diablo-the divider. His insatiable thirst is to divide. He is the great divider who feeds off the despair of those whom he works to separate from everything and everyone that would give them life.
His war is to divide people from each other with resentments and waspish anger, with pride and envy. His aim is to divide families and spouses who come to find each other a source of intolerable pain and offense. He delights in dividing us from our deepest selves, until we feel wandering, lost, uncertain, until we can’t recognize ourselves and we wonder where we went.
He would divide us from God and any sense of our ultimate home, until we feel like strangers in a strange land. Satan would have us be homeless, that saddest of all words, rootless, disconnected, hungry with a yearning that can never be satisfied, strangers from our eternal home.
Do you want a clue to see where Satan is warring upon you personally? Look to see where you are divided from others, from God and from yourself. There you will see him at work.
In the gospel, we talk regularly about the gathering and scattering of Israel . To begin to understand God, we have to know that not only does he speak in symbols, he has designed existence itself and the ongoing play of history to be a metaphor to teach about what is true. The scattering of Israel symbolizes in a real event the essence of Satan’s ultimate goal—to scatter and divide us from our Father and our home.
We know that Israel was scattered. They were divided from God and from each other. They lost their land and their homes, and for many their very identity, until they could not remember who they were.
Scattered Israel is the very type of what Satan is about as he divides, dissects and separates. Does history play out to teach us Satan’s aims? Yes. In 721 BC when Assyria scattered the ten tribes and they became the lost tribes of Israel, and again, in 70 AD, when Rome conquered, decimated and scattered the Jews, we see Satan’s handiwork and know in symbol what’s he’s about with us as well. He wants to leave us unreconciled, lonely, without passage to return home.
He wants our souls to be scattered and broken, riddled with resentments and anger.
Why This Matters
If scattering is Satan’s role, with its attendant pain, then it throws into sharper clarity what the Lord is about, which is, of course, the polar opposite. His work is the gathering of Israel . He bids sleeping, amnesiac Israel to awake and arise and come to know not only who they are, but whose they are.
The goal in their gathering is to come and build Zion , with the temple at the center, where they can be of one mind and one heart. The gathering of Israel is the symbol of the atonement—the at-one-ment.
God, who seeks every way possible to teach his sometimes slow children, has woven this truth into history and existence. The pattern is clear and in every way reinforced. Satan would divide, but God seeks to make us at one. Israel is scattered, but God is about the gathering of Israel , which both symbolizes and is made possible by the atonement.
God wants for us what we, in our deepest hearts, yearn for ourselves. We want to connect soul to soul with others, love and be loved in our families. We want to understand others and be understood. We want to be at one with our spouses, supported with safe shelter.
In the temple, when we make those sealing covenants of marriage, we kneel across the altar, which is in truth, the altar of sacrifice, the symbol of Christ’s atonement. It is his saving gift of the at-one-ment that provides the way for us to be at one in marriage.
We want to be at one with ourselves, feeling whole instead of broken and divided. We long for those times when we touch the core of our being, when something powerful, familiar and gloriously light wells up from within us and we say, “This is it. This is what I’ve been missing.”
Most of all we ache for our home which is with God, to turn our faces back to Him, to return to the place of familiarity and fulfilment.
Satan divides. God brings us at-one.
Satan scatters. God gathers.
Satan beats us up until we are in pieces and parts, aching. God integrates and makes us whole, his light like a river, infusing all our empty parts with comfort and wholeness.
Satan would absorb us, consume us, annihilate us. God gives us back to ourselves so we can stand before him, whole and integrated.
Where do I fall?
When drawn so clearly, the question becomes what do we want to be about in our few short years in this sometimes dim land called mortality? Whose team do we want to play on? Of course, we want to be with God and act as his gatherers. In fact, since we have the gospel, we knew when we left God’s presence that being a gatherer was not only our privilege but our special errand.
We were eager to triumph over the one who would divide and trample and sow such misery.
How much do we want to be about that errand?
When I was a mother with many young children, I remember counting heads wherever we went to make sure that my circle of chicks was each accounted for.
This was not an occasional thing, but a constant one, my eyes darting about looking for each familiar face. “One, two, three..,” I’d count, always protectively eager to make sure they were safe, and no one had skittered away on little legs. Even when we were not out and about, my mind was ever on each one, assessing their whereabouts and well-being.
Yet, one day I knew the special nightmare that is inevitably reserved for mothers with many children. I was in ZCMI, a large department store in Salt Lake City, looking at something at a counter, when I turned to look for my four-year old, Rachel, and she was no longer beside me. I walked all the way around the counter. No Rachel. I scanned the aisles nearby, looking for her golden head. She was not to be seen.
Panic rose in me, quickly, and I started to pray as I ran. If you ever want to know what a prayer of real intent is like, just lose your little child. Up and down the aisles I jogged, straining to see her, with anxiety that I could taste. “Dear Lord, please let me find Rachel.”
I was praying with all my might, mind and strength. I was wrenching my whole soul toward heaven, groaning for God’s attention. I asked clerks and a clutch of other shoppers, “Have you seen a little girl with a blonde bob and coral shorts?” Nobody had seen her.
Where could she have gone? I thought of kidnapping. Had someone snatched her? I prayed and my heart pounded. I finally decided that she was no where on the main floor, so I grabbed the rubber railings of the escalator with sweaty hands and went up, using the better view to scan once again the floor I was leaving. No Rachel.
“Please, please, please,” I begged the Lord. “Find my girl.”
Up and down the escalators I went, craning to see her on each floor of the department store.
Finally, after ten lifetimes of stress, but probably only about ten minutes on the clock, I craned across the rows of slick merchandise on a completely different floor of the store and saw the only sight that could still my throbbing pulse. I spotted my little girl, looking a little stricken, but not yet weepy. It was her mother who had been on the verge of despair.
How terrible it is as a parent to lose a child. In that eternity every dire possibility is projected into your mind. I longed for her bright face, her giggles which I wasn’t sure if I would hear or see again.
Though to God no child is ever really missing, there are, in this life, more missing children from his kingdom than I can count. If I am to help in this errand of gathering, I must care for his missing children, as I cared about my own. I must care in sharing the good news of the gospel with them, and I must seek out the stricken and heart sick with love. I must abandon the pettiness that divides me from others, my self-absorption that makes my view a series of mirrors, instead of windows.
My prayers to find his children must be with real intent, as they were when I was looking for Rachel. They must be with my might, mind and strength, not just casually or dutifully.
“Please, please, please,” the Lord asks me, “Find my children.”
“When you do, teach them that they don’t need to be lost and divided from me. Teach them that they can come home.”
The gathering of Israel is the urgent work of our time, the day for which we were saved, the rallying cry for which we were born. Can I pray to be his instrument with the same urgency felt by the sons of Mosiah when they were contemplating what it meant to be lost and then found?
“Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any sould should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble” (Mosiah 28:3)
Can I plead with God for my neighbour as I pled one day long ago to find my little girl?