A World Designed for Ghosts

I’ve been revisiting some of Lewis’s classic works, including The Great Divorce, which paints a dream-like picture of the afterlife through a series of encounters with people just outside of heaven.

Lewis imagines the “solid people” who are already enjoying heaven’s glories in contrast to “the ghosts” who inhabit a purgatorial realm. The ghosts, in their current state, cannot take in heaven’s light. They’re shadows of humanity, transparent and superficial in contrast to what’s solid and substantive in the high countries. In Lewis’s vision, the solid people are stand-ins for true humanity—what God has always intended us to become. They are solid because they are selfless. The ghosts are shadows because they cannot see past themselves.

A World Designed for Ghosts

In reflecting on The Great Divorce’s vision of the afterlife as an extension of this present era, I’m struck by the question of whether we as people are growing more and more selflessly solid or becoming more and more selfishly shadowy.

We live in an era tailor-made for superficiality, for ghost-like transparency. Day after day, we scroll through endless updates, follow all the latest political controversies on social media, jump to games on our smartphones, chuckle at sitcoms or the latest TikTok video—never aware that as time goes on, our souls are shrinking. None of these actions is inherently bad. (I enjoy Wordle every morning, I listen to podcasts about politics, and I include a classic TV clip in my Tuesday email newsletter!)

But we should be on alert: the currents of culture will tug at us until slowly, almost imperceptibly, we lose the capacity to stand in awe of God, to feel the weight of glory, and to encounter profound and eternal truths. Everything is pushing us toward superficiality, toward the banalities of entertainment or the rush of breaking news. There’s no cultural push toward wisdom and reflection, toward those activities and practices that would make us more substantial, more solid.

Cultivate Substance

Every now and then, an old acquaintance will offer to take me to lunch, and usually they’ll ask about publishing books or starting a blog or building a social media platform. Almost always, they’re looking for tips and suggestions, the secrets to capturing attention and finding an audience.

I’m afraid I disappoint them. I talk about the importance of meditation on God’s Word, of daily rhythms of prayer, of reading old books that stretch the mind and fill the heart, of pursuing conversations with close friends who call you into greater depths of discipleship. I redirect the discussion away from building a platform and to building your self—as a person—so you become someone of substance.

At the end of the day, who cares how many followers you amass if you’re a ghost being followed by thousands of other ghosts?

Who cares how many people read your blog post, watch your video, or buy your book if the result is the continual trivialization of God and the shriveling of the soul?

Who cares how many people read your words if there’s no weight to them? If they’re as light and airy and fleeting as all the other words that pour from social media all day long?

Who cares how many people are wowed by your personality if you’re constitutionally incapable of being wowed by God, stunned by the glories of salvation, awestruck at the beauty of the triune God who has saved you?

Beauty of Substance

Substance matters in a world of shadows.

The challenge of pursuing solidness and substance is that we must go against the grain. We face headwinds in structuring our lives and conversations toward this goal. What’s more, ghosts are perplexed by solid people, unable to understand or articulate what makes them tick or how selfless habits could bring happiness. They recoil at this strange way of life, preferring the trinkets of triviality to heavy gold inherited by the solid people.

Even in the church, too often the congregation prefers the temporal to the eternal, the fleeting fads of our time over the enduring pillars of orthodoxy. Thus the first sentence of The Thrill of Orthodoxy: “The church faces her biggest challenge not when new errors start to win but when old truths no longer wow.”

I hope nothing I’ve said here implies I’ve “arrived” somehow at a place of substance. Far from it. The Lord knows how easily my self-centeredness wins in the moment I should be Spirit-directed. We’re all still ghosts right now, at some level, but hopefully we are—in the words of N. T. Wright about our future glorified state—“shadows of our future selves.”

This is my hope, my aspiration as a Christian who believes in God’s promise to remake and renew me. I want to lean into that future version of who he promises I will be. The path is open toward a life of substance: through feasting on his Word, giving myself to him in prayer, loving my family and neighbors, enjoying fellowship in his family, and receiving his bread at the table.

Watch your life. Don’t succumb to the shadowy ghost-like traits of superficiality. Look to the mountains, see the solid people, trust God for that future, and rise above this world of trifles.

Trevin Wax


Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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