The Reason for God-talk

This is part of a conversation between the ghost of a painter who just arrived in the land and one of the “solid” people:

“When you painted on earth-at least in your earlier days-it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the messages came. There is no good telling us about this country, for we see it already. In fact we see it better than you do.”

“Then there’s never going to be any point in painting here?”

“I don’t say that. When you’ve grown into a Person (it’s all right, we all had to do it) there’ll be some things which you’ll see better than anyone else. One of the things you’ll want to do will be to tell us about them. But not yet. At present your business is to see. Come and see. He is endless. Come and feed.”

There was a little pause. “That will be delightful,” said the Ghost presently in a rather dull voice.

“Come, then,” said the Spirit, offering it his arm.

“How soon do you think I could begin painting?” it asked.

The Spirit broke into laughter. “Don’t you see you’ll never paint at all if that’s what you’re thinking about?” he said.

“What do you mean?” asked the Ghost.

“Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”

“But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.”

“No, You’re forgetting,” said the Spirit. “That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.”

“Oh, that was ages ago,” said the Ghost. “One grows out of that. Of course, you haven’t seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.”

“One does, indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower – become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.”

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (pgs. 510-511 in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics).