C. S. Lewis and Eternal Hell

While C. S. Lewis maintained the general impression that he believed in an eternal hell he certainly was candid about his struggle over it. Often he created and offered some incredibly imaginative story-lines to try and explain it or take some of the edge off of its most horrific reality. This was displayed in his book The Problem With Pain but mostly through his fictional works like The Great Divorce and The Chronicles of Narnia.

It seems that when you believe a lie you must believe and add more lies to try and make it work. Lewis moved beyond the traditional view and lie of an eternal hell to the additional lie that we as humans can stiff-arm God for all eternity. This was evident when he most famously wrote that the “doors of hell are locked from the inside.” He also said that eternal hell was God’s way of honoring our choice of “My will be done” over God’s will be done. That flies in the face of all that has ever been cherished and believed about God’s sovereign control over all His creation by the Reformed component of the Church. Ironically, it is often Calvinists who are heard repeating this same apologetic for an eternal hell (as in Tim Keller’s The Importance of Hell).

It is interesting, in light of the utter contempt that Rob Bell incurred over his appeal for a different storyline regarding the nature of hell, how C. S. Lewis remains a respected and legitimate voice in evangelicalism (never mind the other traditional Protestant theologies he challenged).

It is very clear that C. S. Lewis was held in continual angst over the concept of eternal hell. Here is one example.

From Kevin Miller’s blog at Hellbound:

And now to Lewis. This is a letter written in response to John Beversluis, who noticed an inconsistency in the way Lewis dealt with the problem of pain:

Dear Mr. Beversluis,

Yes. On my view one must apply something of the same sort of explanation to, say, the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua. I see the grave danger we run by doing so; but the dangers of believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshiping Him, is still greater danger. The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.

To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen as all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’ — ‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on. Socrates’ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham’s, Paley’s) leads to an absurdity. If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.

But of course having said all this, we must apply it with fear and trembling. Some things which seem to us bad may be good. But we must not consult our consciences by trying to feel a thing good when it seems to us totally evil. We can only pray that if there is an invisible goodness hidden in such things, God, in His own good time will enable us to see it. If we need to. For perhaps sometimes God’s answer might be ‘What is that to thee?’ The passage may not be ‘addressed to our (your or my) condition’ at all.

I think we are v. much in agreement, aren’t we?

Yours sincerely, C. S

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