I know a man who had a great divorce—one that blessed his life and the lives of others immeasurably. And, strangely enough, this divorce actually improved his marriage. At the time, I didn’t quite understand it. But now I think I want a divorce like his.
Obviously, the divorce I’m talking about is much deeper (and perhaps much more painful) than a marital divorce. In an attempt to explain this concept, C. S. Lewis wrote an allegorical story about the ghost of a man who had left hell to visit heaven. Lewis describes the ghost as “dark and oily” with a little red lizard perched on his shoulder. The lizard twitched “its tail like a whip” and whispered commands into the man’s ear. Occasionally, the man would snarl at the lizard and tell it to shut up and stop. But in the end, the man would inevitably do whatever the lizard asked him to do. The lizard eventually persuades the man to turn around and go back to hell.
As he’s leaving heaven, the ghost is confronted by a massive, flaming angel. The angel asks the ghost for permission to kill the lizard. The ghost hesitates and gives every excuse to prevent the angel from doing so. But after a long and revealing conversation, the ghost admits that the lizard is ruining his life and gives the angel permission to kill it. Instantly, the flaming angel snatches the lizard, kills it, and flings its body to the ground. Believing he’ll die without the lizard, the ghost gasps and falls backwards.
In the book, C. S. Lewis explains that this lizard represented the man’s lust—for “Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering, whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.” But I would take the analogy a step further and compare the lizard to addiction in general. For, no matter who we are, we all struggle with an addiction of some kind. Even if you have no physical addictions, we are all addicted, on some level, to our own will and desires.
The ghost experienced a deep and painful—but very necessary—divorce (or separation) from an addiction that had been preventing him from moving forward.
But what happens next in Lewis’s story is truly amazing! The ghost transforms into an immense man—a form similar to the flaming angel. At the same time, the body of the lizard transforms into a great and beautiful stallion. The “new-made man” then joyously climbs onto the back of the horse and gallops forward, into heaven.
I started this article by telling you that I know a man who had such a divorce—a divorce that has blessed his life and the lives of others immeasurably. He’s actually one of my best friends. His “divorce” was from a life of hard drugs, alcohol, and reckless living. And in exchange, he got a second chance at life. This divorce was painful and difficult and took a lot longer than the thought it would. But it happened! Like the ghost in the story, my friend turned his life over to heaven, and God has transformed him into a giant among men—turning his greatest pains into pearls of wisdom in the process. By drawing upon his experiences, my friend has been able to help countless others move forward in life.
In reference to such a process of divorce, C. S. Lewis wrote these beautiful words:
“That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”
I’ve seen the power that comes to people who choose to kill the “lizard” of their addictions and surrender their lives to God and serve others. I’ve seen them become stronger and more full of life, overcome with a renewed sense of purpose.
In that sense, I hope to have a great divorce like that—to be able to surrender the things that hold me back, and allow God to transform me into someone greater.
A great divorce, indeed.