Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"The Problem of Pain" by C.S. Lewis (part 5): Hell and Heaven

How Can There Be Both Mercy and A Hell?

The distinction between a game and a puzzle is that while a game produces winners and losers, puzzles are centered on a solution. C.S. Lewis debates the doctrine of universalism (“all will be saved”) along the same lines of this distinction: is personal eschatology to be regarded as a puzzle or a game? If a game, then why is the winner detestable? If a puzzle, then why the doctrine at all? Which is more tolerable: dismiss the doctrine of hell because it is disagreeable; or, allow the wicked person to enter heaven against his will and remain as he is?

Does God send people to hell, or is it their sin? This is the difference between world religions and biblical doctrine. Hell is inflicted because men prefer darkness to light. Hell is not a sentence, but a fact of being.

Punishment is just because righteousness, not vindictiveness, stands behind it. A man satisfied with evil will not be satisfied with righteousness. “Pain plants the flag of truth within a rebel fortress,” or it leads to repentance. Pain brought about by evil is knowledge, as opposed to ignorance. “To condone evil is simply to ignore it, to treat it as if it were good. But forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered if it is to be complete: and a man who admits no guilt cannot accept no forgiveness.”

Is eternal damnation disproportionate to transitory sin? Yes, but only because eternity is perceived wrongly; that is, if eternity were linear time (life, being a short segment of the whole). Lewis is correct to picture eternity as a plane, or solid; that is, a “multi-dimensional” whole (with life being part of the whole). What happens in a moment is not lost in a line, but constitutes all that is.

Lewis reminds the reader that the word “hell” describes much more than a place, or lack of place (ie: exclusion from heaven), but is symbolically used as a verb (punishment, destruction). The images produced by the symbols and descriptive language are to be used as combined ideas describing an experience to be avoided. “You will remember that in the parable, the saved go to a place prepared for them, while the damned go to a place never made for men at all [Matthew 25:34, 41].”

Is it possible for anyone to enjoy heaven knowing there are souls in hell? Lewis holds up two more troubling points that serve as objections to the doctrine of hell: first is the observed difference between the duration of hell and the finality of hell: because hell was not made for men, we cannot draw a parallel from what we know of heaven, so one in hell “fades away into nonentity.” Second, there exists the idea that omnipotence is defeated if a soul is lost to hell. Lewis in the best way he knows how, responds to these objections, but indirectly. His primary concern is that we as individuals miss hell.


We used to sing, “Heaven is a wonderful place; filled with glory and grace; I want to see my Savior’s face; heaven in a wonderful place (I wanna go there) . . .”

Heaven is often measured against the pain on living on earth, a safe place to enjoy God forever; yet, there are those who are swallowed in the pain of their sin that heaven seems like a bribe thus many are disinterested. Perhaps they feel there is more heaven on earth, so others remain silent about what they anticipate. Do we really desire it, then?

Consider the things most desired in life. Why is my desire for this thing not desired by others? Why are they things they desire of no interest to me? Lewis suggests we are born desiring, “a signature on each soul,” which is in itself a hint of heaven. Though created as individuals, we all have desire for an elusive, indescribable “something” this world cannot satisfy. “All that you are . . . is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction.” God is the soul’s first love. Heaven is made for the individual (not humanity per se).

Hell, Lewis suggests, is further understood to be unattainable ecstasy that hovers “just beyond the grasp of consciousness. “The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope . . . that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.”

Heaven is not an experience as desire is an experience. Chasing an experience is elusive, hence the pain of life. Lewis quotes George McDonald, “’The door into life generally opens behind us’ and ‘the only wisdom’ for one ‘haunted with the scent of roses, is work.’” When we desire “something better,” we desire what lies beyond an experience. If heaven were a subjective experience, then because of its subjectivity, it would be owned. Lewis again draws a quote from Theological Germanica, “in heaven there is no ownership. If any there took upon him to call anything his own, he would straightway be thrust into hell and become an evil spirit.” Heaven is about overcoming and receiving what is given, even a new name that is no longer one’s own (Revelation 2:17).

There is a distinction in each created soul, a uniqueness that God fills in union through Christ. We are formed a unified body, diverse in members. Heaven is the celebration of that union through eternal worship of Christ who died as the expression of God’s love. Self-giving is heavenly, as selfishness is of hell.

“All pains and pleasures we have known on earth are early initiations in the movements of that [eternal] dance: but the dance itself is strictly incomparible with the sufferings of this present time. As we draw nearer to its uncreated rhythm, pain and pleasure sink almost our of sight. There is joy in the dance, but it does not exist for the sake of joy. It does not even exist for the sake of good, or of love. It is Love Himself, and Good Himself, and therefore happy.”

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