“All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste.”
Editor’s Note: In The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis writes of the experience of a man traveling on a bus trip from Hell to Heaven. The short piece of fiction contains extraordinary insights into the nature of good and evil, as well as sin, grace, and judgment.
My Teacher gave a curious smile. “Look,” he said, and with the word he went down on his hands and knees. I did the same (how it hurt my knees!) and presently saw that he had plucked a blade of grass. Using its thin end as a pointer, he made me see, after I had looked very closely, a crack in the soil so small that I could not have identified it without this aid. “I cannot be certain,” he said, “that this is the crack ye came up through. But through a crack no bigger than that ye certainly came.”
“But-but,” I gasped with a feeling of bewilderment not unlike terror. “I saw an infinite abyss. And cliffs towering up and up. And then this country on top of the cliffs.”
“Aye. But the voyage was not mere locomotion. That bus, and all you inside it, were increasing in size.”
“Do you mean then that Hell—all that infinite empty town—is down in some little crack like this?”
“Yes. All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste.”
“It seems big enough when you’re in it, Sir.”
“And yet all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good. If all Hell’s miseries together entered the consciousness of yon wee yellow bird on the bough there, they would be swallowed up without trace, as if one drop of ink had been dropped into that Great Ocean to which your terrestrial Pacific itself is only a molecule.”
—from The Great Divorce
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The featured image is “The Plains of Heaven” (c. 1851) by John Martin (1789–1854) and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.