Lately, I’ve fallen in love with the book The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. The tale follows a busload of humans traveling from Hell to Heaven, and includes many short stories about the “Hell” the people cling to which keeps them from embracing Heaven.
One such story involves a man and a lizard. You see, this man managed to get on the bus bound for Heaven, but he’s got this annoying red lizard on his shoulder that insisted on coming and whispers constantly in his ear. The man doesn’t like the lizard, he knows such a creature has no place up there in Heaven, but he just can’t seem to make it go away, so he decides to turn around and go back to Hell. Before he can get very far, though, an angel stops him, and asks him if he’d like for the angel to make the lizard be quiet. The man agrees, but soon the angel explains that the only way to do so is to kill the lizard, and the man starts to freak out.
He falters in doubt and fear, saying, “I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here — well, it’s so damned embarrassing.” The angel insists that it’s the only way, and asks again if the man will let him kill the lizard. “Please– really — don’t bother,” the man says. “Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”
The angel continues to offer this man complete and total freedom from his sin, but he’s too afraid to accept it: “Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”
Foolish man! That is so like us, isn’t it? We ask God for help in a sin, and He says He’ll take care of it, but then we back out and say we can control it on our own, that we’ll handle it, keep it in order… When all He wants to do is take it out of our lives forever. Of course, the man says that sounds like a great idea, but he’d rather come back and do it later, he’s in no shape to handle such a thing now.
The key point in this little interaction between the man and the angel is that in order to free the man, the angel has to kill the lizard, and he must do so only with the man’s permission. He cannot kill the whispering lizard against the man’s will. But the man is too afraid, afraid that if the lizard dies, he will die too. He’s afraid because even the angel’s close proximity to him is burning him, hurting him.
“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you,” the angel explains.
As the angel comes closer, the lizard whispers fervent lies into the man’s ear, promising to bring him only good things, pleasurable things, natural things such that the angel could never understand.
But the man has had enough. He’s afraid of dying, but he exclaims, “It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature,” and so he asks the angel to kill it.
The angel closes in, a scream of agony echoes through the Heavenly landscape, and the man collapses. But then he rises, a new and glowing Being, full of joy and brightness. The lizard is thrown away, broken and defeated, but then it starts to transform too, changing into a shining white stallion. The new Being jumps onto the horse, the thing that once controlled him, and rides off into the eternal sunrise.
If we give our unclean desires to God, if we let Him kill every inch of us that is not of Him, that has no place in His eternity, He will transform all of it into glory and majesty. Yes, it will hurt, but when we submit ourselves fully to death, we join in the splendor of resurrection.
As the man rides off in peace, Nature rejoices in song, saying: “Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves.”
God, I want to be overcome by You so that I can fully become who You made me to be. Take these sinful desires, take this lizard off my back. I give You permission to kill it. Please, kill it, destroy it, transform it, and lead me into new life. I don’t want to hold on to any part of Hell, but instead I want to leave it all behind, embracing every inch of Heaven that lies within my grasp.