The Salvation of Water

The Salvation of Water

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis spends a great deal of time describing nature,

especially in Heaven. Many elements of nature are used as symbols throughout the book. For

example, the tree by the waterfall represents life and growth. The apples of the tree parallel the

fruit of the tree Adam and Eve partook from. The apples also signify good and evil, that the two

cannot be intertwined, for example: the ghosts cannot take the heavenly apples back to Hell.

Although the symbolism of nature is prevalent throughout the entire book, one of the most

persuasive and abiding symbols of nature is water. Of the natural symbols given as metaphors in

the novel, water is the only natural element that is a necessity to life. Because water is requisite

in mortality, the life-giving properties of water ring true to readers as an eternal necessity as well.

In The Great Divorce, water symbolizes baptism, progression toward salvation, the heavenly

characteristics essential to fully comprehend salvation, Christ’s importance as the only means to

salvation, and his role as the giver of eternal life. All of these symbols serve as a metaphor of our

journey toward salvation.

The running river is a metaphor for baptism, an essential step to enter God’s kingdom.

When the narrator reaches the river, he describes it as “so clear that I could count the pebbles at

the bottom” (Lewis 33). This water is clean and pure, a physical representation of the purity and

cleanliness we receive by having our sins forgiven at baptism. The clarity of the water comes

because it is flowing swiftly. This allows the dirt and silt on the bottom to be swept away without

polluting the water. The physical action of baptism by immersion parallels the same process as

all sin is removed, no longer claiming possession of pollution to the spirit. The detailed clarity of

the water in Heaven and its parallel to baptism is important because baptism is an essential

ordinance to obtain salvation. This was taught by Jesus Christ during His life when he told

Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom

of God” (John 3:5). The narrator notices the water and recognizes its significance in the eternal

journey toward Heaven.

The river also has solidifying power that makes the narrator better able to endure walking

on the stones along the riverbank, signifying his progression toward salvation. Prior to his

walking in the water, it was painful to walk on the ground in Heaven. However, when he stepped

out of the water, he continued his journey “without much hurt to [his] feet” (Lewis 45). The

same endurance is available through the Holy Spirit. The Savior taught of baptism both by water

and the Spirit, and as part of the baptismal covenant, God promises to allow His Spirit to abide

infinitely. Walking in the water gave the narrator extra endurance he did not have before. Lewis

uses this as an analogy to assert that when we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the constancy of

the Spirit makes it easier to endure the difficulties that are inevitable in mortality. As we endure

trials, we naturally grow closer to God and to obtaining His eternal salvation.

Lewis also uses the river as a symbol of continual progression and growth. After baptism,

progression toward salvation continues through endurance to the end. As the narrator steps into

the river, he initially falls flat and gets carried downstream (Lewis 44). However, his reaction to

his fall is noteworthy. He promptly stands and begins walking back up stream toward the

mountains of Heaven (Lewis 44). The narrator experienced pain and physical wounds from his

fall (Lewis 44). Similarly, our wrongdoings can leave our spirits with “some nasty bruises”

(Lewis 44). The narrator’s response to adversity is an analogy about the journey toward

salvation. Lewis argues that eternal life is not a destination we can jump into like a river, but

rather an experience of falling, bruising, repenting, and returning with our feet toward God.

Baptism and endurance are stepping stones in eternal progression: mortal attempt to

ultimately obtain salvation, even though in mortality, at least according to Lewis, we are not able

to fully grasp the concept of salvation. The Great Divorce emphasizes this truth by exposing the

narrator to the river before the waterfall. The river represents our limited mortal capacity for

understanding salvation. It is not until after the river experience that the narrator notices the

massive waterfall, and initially the waterfall is overwhelming and beyond comprehension. The

narrator admits, “On Earth, such a waterfall could not have been perceived at all as a whole; it

was too big” (Lewis 46). The narrator finds its noise almost deafening describing it as loud as

giants “laughing, dancing, singing, [and] roaring” (Lewis 46). Yet, after the initial shock of the

noise and size of the waterfall, the narrator becomes jovial (Lewis 46). Lewis argues that,

although the thought of salvation and eternity seems difficult to understand, there is still a natural

desire to obtain it. The idea of living in the presence of God seems overwhelming, but it also

seems familiar and appealing. Like the river as a precursor to the waterfall, baptism provides a

small taste of salvation on Earth to prepare for the incredible claiming of blessings yet to come.

Lewis also writes about the water in Heaven being undrinkable, not because there is anything

wrong or dangerous about the water, but because the ghosts are not in a physical state to take it

in (Lewis 56). Similarly, during mortality, the expansiveness of eternal life is too big for us to


Even though Christ is rarely explicitly mentioned in The Great Divorce, one comment

made by the narrator identifies the waterfall clearly as Christ. When the waterfall begins

speaking, the narrator turns to look at it and sees, “a bright angel who stood, like one crucified,

against the rocks and poured himself perpetually down” (Lewis 49). One of the most significant

and agonizing crucifixions of history was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Though perfect,

without any sin, and able to endure all things, the Savior’s hands and feet were pierced with nails

and he hung in scorn from those around. As a crucial moment in the Savior’s Atonement, the

Messiah dove into the deepest depth of despair and sorrow and anguish. He endured every

individual hardship; even experiencing the “very jaws of hell [gaping] open [its] mouth,” he was

able to overcome, because the Son of Man “hath descended below them all” (D&C 122:8). This

complete condescension of the Lord allows Him to lift us up, because there is nothing he has not

descended below. Lewis’ allusion to Christ’s crucifixion claims that Jesus possesses the

capability to help us ascend to salvation because he is the source of it.

The waterfall also illustrates that Christ is the true source of salvation. The waterfall falls

in one enormous mass and pours into the “frothy and pulsating lake” (Lewis 45). It is the entire

source of water for the lake and likely for the river as well. It is the biggest source of water we

get to see in Heaven, drawing a parallel to the Savior’s sacrifice as the largest on Earth. Once

again, Lewis asserts that Christ’s Atonement is the only way to obtain salvation. His Atonement

implores repentance and thrives on forgiveness, the only way to overcome sin and reach the

presence of God. The enormous waterfall, though, is formed from combined droplets of water

pouring down. During His Atonement, the Savior’s blood also fell—drop by drop, from every

pore. It is the infinite size, both as an infinite number of individual drops and an

incomprehensible whole, that make the waterfall, and the Atonement, so crucial to the attainment

eternal life.

C.S. Lewis’ use of the waterfall also represents Jesus Christ as the giver of eternal life.

Throughout scripture, the Savior is referred to as the living waters. He is frequently referred to

with this description by Old Testament prophets. Speaking with the Samaritan woman at the

well, the Savior refers to himself as the living waters (John 4:10). Many properties of the

waterfall exemplify this same title. The use of a waterfall as a focus instead of a stream or pond

is crucial because the water is always moving, a symbol of life. The waterfall also has a voice;

the narrator hears it speak to one of the other ghosts showing that it is alive (Lewis 49). Not only

is the waterfall alive, but it has the power to bestow life. The rocks underneath the waterfall have

many colors (Lewis 46). They are not dull or gray or dead, but colorful, symbolic of the life

given by the touch of the waterfall. The tree next to the plunging waterfall grows with the spray

of water. The tree is filled with thick, green foliage, and golden apples from every branch

because of the life-giving water it receives from the waterfall. The waterfall claims the right to

the bestowal of eternal life—rocks with rich color and trees that are full of vitality. The power

belongs to the waterfall, because the waterfall is life itself with continuous movement and a

voice. Jesus Christ is Life, too. He was resurrected, obtained life over death. As such, Lewis

argues, it is His power to bestow life and salvation in Heaven. He will bring eternal perfection to

everything within His touch.

Through the use of many elements of water in The Great Divorce, Lewis gathers them as

a metaphor of salvation. The river and waterfall each feel incomplete on their own. The clarity

and solidifying power of the river seem insignificant. The narrator’s swift walking to get back up

the river seems inspirational, but not applicable. The waterfall feels unattainable, the life it gives

the tree seems common, and the colorful rocks are but a simple detail. But together they all

present an analogy of the work required to obtain salvation. Lewis asserts that salvation is a

mutual relationship between individuals and Jesus Christ. Mortals will be intrigued with and

desire salvation, and if they realize it, the immense, life-supporting waterfall will provide the

means of getting there. Mortals realize that baptism is essential; endurance is difficult, but

rewarding; life can last eternally and, like the rocks, can come from something typically seen and

plain and boring. The overarching realization that comes from water in C.S. Lewis’ The Great

Divorce is that salvation is attainable, probable, and exquisite.

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