Hell

Lewis is not shy about the afterlife and the intertwining of the spiritual with the material. Counter to the cyclical trend of finding ways for hell to either not exist or at least not be used for eternal damnation of humans, Lewis says something different: “I believe that if million chances were likely to do good, they would be given… Finality must come sometime, and it does not require a very robust faith to believe that omniscience knows when.”

He further cites three ways that Jesus speaks of hell: punishment, destruction and banishment to darkness, each with a good bit of fire. This reveals that hell is an actual place where the damned will go, though it was not intended for people. “To enter heaven,” he says, “is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being in earth; to enter hell, is to be banished from humanity. What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is ‘remains’.” A person is only complete when his/her passions are obedient to God, Lewis says, but a person is hollow when it’s damned since his/her passion is for self alone. How much of a person remains as a separate entity without God’s oversight is a difficult question. Lewis calls this “the darkness outside.”

Is God all powerful if souls wind up in hell? Lewis says no. God became vulnerable to his creatures when free will provided possible defeat. But, “What you call defeat,” Lewis says, “I call miracle: for to make things which are not Itself, and thus to become, in a sense, capable of being resisted by its own handiwork, is the most astonishing and unimaginable of all the feats we attribute to the Deity.”

Lewis thinks that the damned want to be damned. He thinks the doors of hell are locked on the inside. I think he’s right. If we take seriously the rebel soul, we know that our own mire and clay are a comfort. If left without need of forgiveness and no want of resurrection, God does exactly what the person wants: nothing.

What I enjoy about Lewis is that he doesn’t take easy roads, nor does he tighten up the way through systematizing his faith. Rather, he allows Truth to live beside mystery and keeps on the hunt for how each informs the other.

How do you reflect on the hard question of hell and salvation?

These reflections come from The Problem of Pain.

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