The Evangelical Universalist Forum

How close did Lewis get to universalism? This close!

I originally started this thread on March 30 2011, and finished it in early May, but I’m starting to consolidate some of my larger and more important threads to my author’s category which might change the initial thread date; so I’m noting the composition time here. Subsequent entries to the original post should show the proper composition date anyway.

Note that the whole essay is broken up into several entries composed across the space of about a month and there are other comments meanwhile, so keep going down the thread.

I’ve also added a related essay from March 2013 on how Lewis regarded free will and how he fit this (inconsistently I argue) into his understanding of salvation and condemnation.

This is important because very many Arminian apologists and scholars (and even some Calvinists, weirdly enough) currently try to follow Lewis on this; not noticing the internal inconsistencies, and not much noticing (or caring if they do notice) the huge disjunction between Lewis’ theory and how the scriptures represent God’s very active judgment and punishment of sinners including post-mortem.

Certainly I don’t blame them for trying to follow Lewis, because that’s usually a great idea! :laughing: He doesn’t make a mistake often, but he’s making one here that’s self-contradictive to his own positions elsewhere, and one way or another this needs to be resolved.

Some related threads prior to this one: Why wasn’t C.S. Lewis a Universalist? How close did he get? Didnt C.S. Lewis reject ECT? Why isnt he treated like Bell?

*essay starts next

Despite the fact that Lewis was never a universalist, I can say with some assurance that he was the first person to suggest to me in a serious (if inadvertent) way that universalism might be true.

I have been a student of Lewis and his works over 20 years now, including dubbing his books to tape to listen on my business trips. My study of Lewis’ theology and apologetics was how I got into internet writing at all–I was invited to join the email correspondence group of Victor Reppert (another Lewis expert) based on my Amazon reviews of some of Lewis’ books. Not only have I analyzed his apologetics extensively and critically in correspondence with believers and unbelievers since before there were internet web journals (including a massive project of metaphysical apologetics constructed as an update and expansion of Lewis’ Miracles: A Preliminary Study), but those apologetic efforts led to my invitation to write as a main author for the Cadre Journal (which in turn partly led to being invited here at the beginning of the EU forum as a guest author).

Over the years as I studied his work, pro and con, some of the things Lewis said began to slot into place for suggesting I ought to look into whether Christian universalism (of one sort or another) might be true. Until then, I had the same overly withered notion of universalism that most people have today, based mostly on the so-called “Unitarian Universalist” group. Even by late 1999, long after I had been thoroughly studying Lewis for ten years, when I began work on Sword to the Heart’s first Section of chapters, my notion of “universalism” was the worthless concept of a religious pluralism where all truth claims are supposed somehow to be equally true (a concept I ripped to shreds, and still do today!) I had never once, before Lewis, heard anyone even suggest that Christian universalism might be true, and at the time I started SttH I still (thanks to Lewis) believed that it couldn’t be true. It didn’t even register on my radar.

On the other hand, thanks to Lewis, some other things were registering on my radar!

First, and least: even though I followed Lewis in dismissing it (on the vague ground that it had to be a misunderstanding somehow), Lewis was the first person I had ever read to acknowledge something I had sporadically noticed myself: that some of the things said here and there by St. Paul seemed to point toward and even (a surprisingly strong word for Lewis) to warrant that universalism might be true. The testimony of Christ, he thought (as did I), showed that that interpretation couldn’t really be true, but still it was at least a puzzle, though not one I spent any time really thinking about.

Second, and rather more importantly: Lewis was the first person I ever read to take seriously the idea that people could be saved post-mortem. And he didn’t only take it seriously, he wrote pretty strongly in favor of it! He seemed to be basing it as an inference from metaphysical reasoning and from pieces of scriptural testimony that, put together, pointed that way in principle; not on direct scriptural testimony. Which, I thought (and still think), was why he probably didn’t affirm it even more strongly, and occasionally (as in The Great Divorce) seemed to pull himself up short self-critically on the topic. Still, thanks to Lewis I could see the theological logic of the concept–a topic I will be mentioning again as I go along!

Third, and related to TGD: the man, after Christ and the Apostles, whom Lewis seemed to think the most highly of in theology, going so far as to call him his “Teacher”, was George MacDonald. I didn’t know much about him for years, other than Lewis referenced him a lot (a lot more than I realized at the time, as I came to realize later!) And that he was a Scottish fantasy writer as well as a theologian. And that Lewis actually set up a fictional meeting with him in heaven (or heaven’s outskirts) in TGD. And that he wrote as though he thought universalism was true. (But Lewis explained in TGD that, no, he couldn’t really have thought that, heh! He must have been an annihilationist instead, which explains, I thought, how Lewis first came to be so impressed by that idea.)

Third-and-a-half: I eventually bothered to read MacD’s theological work (after beginning to suspect thanks to Lewis that universalism might be true), and discovered to my shock that not only was Lewis dead wrong about him not being a universalist, but that MacD was strongly in favor of it over-against annihilationism. And furthermore, while he didn’t base his case directly on scriptural citation, I thought MacD did make a pretty strong conceptual case for it, on much the same piece-together-scriptural-principle grounds that Lewis appeared to be using for promoting post-mortem salvation. But what really struck me here was realizing that Lewis somehow had salted the pizza around, on a man he himself greatly admired, so that the man said something practically the opposite of what the man had actually said. Considering that Lewis had done so in order to deny universalism was true, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between this and what Lewis said about St. Paul–and about Christ! If Lewis had flipped things around so drastically for MacD, could he have done so for Paul or even Christ??

Fourth: Lewis was the first person I ever read who even sporadically connected trinitarian theism with the concept that God is essentially love. And what I thought was more surprising, was that when he did so he did so extremely strongly. Yet despite this, it seemed to feature very little in his theology overall. But it did, sort of, feature in his soteriology, where because God is essentially love, God is still loving even people in hell. While Lewis’ position on this took various forms over his life as a Christian author (from his very first theological work, the allegorical autobiography The Pilgrim’s Regress to Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer), the basic concept remained solidly the same. Trinitarian theism is true, therefore God is essentially love, therefore God must always be acting in love as well as justice toward all people, even in wrath and including in hell.

Fourth.1: But Lewis, despite this solid theme throughout his work, never seemed entirely comfortable with how this fit into hopeless damnation. Which doubtless explained why his outworking on it shifted around quite a bit.

Fourth.2: In fact, the closest he seemed to come feeling comfortable with it, involved God just outright losing to sinners and being overpowered or outthought or otherwise defeated. This ran very strongly against his affirmation of God’s omnipotence and omniscience elsewhere, even with his reasonable provisions about how even God could not do what was contradictory. I understood that it would be contradictory for God to force someone to freely love Him (or anyone else for that matter); that part didn’t bother me. But I couldn’t see how this resulted in it being contradictory for God’s omnipotence and omniscience to prevent sinners from scrunching themselves into a state where their freedom to repent was lost despite God’s actions and intentions otherwise. How does letting them get that far respect and protect their freedom??! When Lewis wrote, “It doesn’t take a very robust faith to trust that omniscience knows when” it is hopeless to keep trying to save someone from sin, I wanted to answer (as I do routinely answer now): “It doesn’t take a very robust faith to trust that omniscience and omnipotence would be able to keep the sinner from getting to that point!” But since even Lewis denied that universalism could be even possibly true, I didn’t have anything better to offer, other than an observation that the Calvinists seemed to have a trust in God over sinners that Lewis somehow, despite his great strengths, lacked.

Fifth: Except that Lewis didn’t always lack that trust in God’s persistence either!

And that leads me to the actual point of this article. Just how close did Lewis get to universalism?

Christian universalism at the minimum involves the following points:

(a) Salvation is by Christ alone (thus by God alone if ortho-trin is true);

(b) Salvation is primarily from sin (“He shall be called ‘Jesus’ for He shall save His people from their sins”), including where chastening from God is involved;

© God (through Christ) acts truly and seriously, not merely potentially, toward saving all people from sin, not only a chosen elect;

(d) God (through Christ) acts persistently to save from sin those He intends to save.

Arminians (such as Lewis, or to pull a name from the hat, Greg Boyd as an extreme Arm) and Calvinists (such as, off the top of my head, Paul Helm, a hardliner who criticizes other Calvs for being too Arminian in their scope of God’s love) would both despite their differences agree with (a). And they typically both agree with (b), at least if they bother to sit down and think it out a little. (They could hardly affirm instead that salvation is primarily from punishment or the devil or whatever and NOT from sin!–even if they normally rhetoricize otherwise.) Arms would affirm ©, Calvs would affirm (d), and each would deny the other on those points.

Lewis took the Arminian side of the debate between © and (d) in light of final perdition. In The Problem Of Pain, in the chapter on hell, he thus asserted (as elsewhere) that God just eventually gives up trying to save some souls from sin because He knows when they have made it impossible for Him to do so. But even in that chapter he is oddly inconsistent. “It is only to the damned that their fate could ever seem less than unendurable.” Wouldn’t that logic mean that only sinners would think of hell as endurable, whereas the righteous would believe that sinners would not endure it?!–and wouldn’t the righteous include God Himself??! To Lewis the notion of hell seems “intolerable”, yet he seems prepared to tolerate it, and to expect God to tolerate it, and even to expect God to help the righteous saved to tolerate it!

But more importantly, in the exact same book, Lewis spends practically all of chapter 3 expounding on what “Divine Goodness” means–which one might have thought ought to be important to factor back into the account when it came time to talk in chapter 8 (on “Hell”) about “vaster good and evil” instead of primarily about “categories of pleasure and pain”.

What is the vaster divine goodness that Lewis recognizes?

God’s love.

And Lewis there, yet not in chapter 8, goes extremely far in talking about the persistence of God’s love in salvation from sin. Any Calvinist would recognize the concept–except of course that Lewis technically applies this persistence in salvation to all sinners not only a chosen elect. So it couldn’t be Calvinistic persistence, yet neither is the problem the scope of salvation. On the contrary, Lewis simply turns around later and denies the persistence in salvation (with the excuse that God does not persist in salvation, though He does persist in love toward the sinner, because in effect the sinner has of himself made it impossible for God to save him–a position Calvinists would strenuously deny of course.)

But in chapter 3 there is no such denial of the persistence. Nor is there any obvious explanation for why the extreme persistence of God’s love in salvation, affirmed in chapter 3, should even quit, much less fail, in chapter 8. Logically Lewis should have affirmed the continuing persistence of saving love (not merely providential love) in a stalemate at worst.

The chapter is well worth considering in some detail; but I’ll do that in a following post.

Wow, fascinating. I hope I’m not late because of this! :wink:

I also liked reading about your personal history as well. This is great stuff.

Thanks heaps Jason, I’ve found my copy of The Problem Of Pain and put my bookmark in chapter 3, ready for a quiet opportunity to read it. Obviously I have no issues accepting what you’re saying, and your logic certainly sounds good, however, many of my friends would be very suspicious of this. Are you able to include quotes to support your points?

I’m going to be quoting TPoP chapter 3 pretty thoroughly, if that’s what you mean.

Great post Jason. I will be checking out TPoP too…

On the ‘Unitarian Universalist’ thing - It seems to me from having read many of their books from the middle of the 19th century that they then espoused almost verbatum the views of the universalists here except for the obvious difference of not believing Jesus was God.

At what point did this decay into the position it holds today - the many paths and none?

From what I understand, because unitarians stressed (or came to stress) the faith of the Son of God less than faith in the Son of God (from a statement I now can’t find somewhere on the interwebz), they saw a more expansive, inclusive view of belief than tradition held out for. Eventually, I suppose (especially given the lax allowance for it by universalism’s hope), that view broadened to the point that it included… everything.

But this is part scant historical understanding and part conjecture. I don’t have the actual info on this. Someone else may be able to fill in the details.

Not sure. But I own a book written by a dogmatic unitarian universalist from late in the 19th century (or very early 20th, I forget–it’s at the house), on the topic of the evangelical thrust they ought to be reaching for in the new century to come; and along the way he can be seen lamenting about the softening on doctrinal stances. So in America at that time it was just starting.

In chapter 3 of The Problem of Pain, Lewis assays to talk of “Divine Goodness” (the chapter title.)

His preliminary is rather interesting in itself. The gist of it is that we can be sure we are improving our understanding of goodness when we see that the correction is not simply a reversal (even when it’s a correction) of what we previously understood to be good, and when we receive a feeling of personal unworthiness as a result of comparing ourselves to the standard of the proposed new understanding. Thus “the new moral judgments never enter into the mind as mere reversals (though they do reverse them), but ‘as lords that are certainly expected’.” “[T]hey are more like good than the little shreds of good you already had,” which Lewis attributes to the grace of God for the person up to that point, a grace that is being expanded and better fulfilled in the new, clearer moral perception, “**ut the great test is that the recognition of the new standards is accompanied with the sense of shame and guilt: one is conscious of having blundered into society that one is unfit for.”

This is probably worth discussing in itself, perhaps in another thread. But Lewis mentions this principle, not only for its own worth, but as a way of self-critically checking his forthcoming interpretation of God’s love, so I thought I should account it in before continuing with the main points of the chapter.

(I’m working on the main report now, and should have it up by the end of the day. :slight_smile: )**

To the main material:

Lewis allows that by “the goodness of God” we might should exclusively mean “His lovingness”; but he is at pains to immediately insist that this is not exhausted by the mere desire to see others happy, and especially not “happy in this way or in that, but just happy.” He explicitly rejects the idea of a “grandfather in heaven [compared to a ‘Father in Heaven’, and his comparison of capped title-letters is probably meaningful here]” “a senile benevolence who[se…] plan for the universe was simply that it might truly be said at the end of the day, ‘a good time was had by all’.”

Since it is “abundantly clear” that he does not live in a universe that is governed on such lines, and since he has reason nevertheless to believe that God is Love (with proper title caps for Love), “I conclude that my [natural] conception of love needs correction.”

Kindness (in the sense given above, not in the sense MacDonald mentioned, which Lewis is clearly agreeing with here and hereafter), when “it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt for it”, is a kindness “separated from the other elements of Love”–which must not be predicated of the One Who is essentially Love. “Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that [its object] escapes suffering.” Rather more interestingly, given Lewis’ eventual propositions amounting to annihilation, “Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object–we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer”!

“As Scripture points out [Heb 12:8], it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished.” “[W]ith our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.”

From this, Lewis moves to a consideration of analogies (especially scriptural ones) helping to illustrate the unique relationship between the Creator who continually acts to keep creation in existence, and the created persons whose life (and free will) “is at every moment supplied by Him” through “His continuous energy”.

There is the love of an artist for his work, as exemplified especially by the potter/clay scriptural analogy (Lewis refs the one from Jeremiah 18). Keeping in mind the limitation of the analogy in that it does not include the free-will personhood of the object, Lewis declares, “We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.” “Over the great picture of his life–the work which [the lesser, human] artist loves…–he will take endless trouble–and would, doubtless, thereby give endless trouble [Lewis’ emphasis!] to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.”

The next parallel is that of a man with his beast. (Lewis provides no specific scriptural reference for this analogy, but many could be brought to mind!–including the general reference Lewis makes, that “we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.”) This analogy has the advantage that the beast may also be sentient and so may also contribute something to the relationship (though unlike the potter/artist analogy the man has not created the beast and so may understand it much less).

Lewis makes the point that, as an analogy to God, the man trains the beast primarily for the man’s own sake and purpose, primarily so that the beast may love and serve the man, not primarily so that the man may love and serve the beast. This may seem at odds with Lewis’ insistence that God is intrinsically Love; but Lewis does acknowledge that so far as the man does in fact love the beast, the beast’s interests are not sacrificed to the man’s–moreover the purpose of the loving man in taming the beast is primarily “so that the man may love it”. “The one end (that [the man] may love [the dog, Lewis’ example]) cannot be fully attained unless it also, in its fashion, loves him, nor can it serve him unless he, in a different fashion, serves it.”

Just so that the man may more directly fulfill his purpose in loving the dog, even to the degree proper for a man to love a dog, “man interferes with the dog and makes it more lovable than it was in mere nature.” “To the puppy the whole proceeding would seem, if it were a theologian, to cast grave doubts on the ‘goodness’ of man”! But the full-grown and full-trained dog, saved from its wildness by grace, would have no such doubts.

Lewis allows that “we do not train earwigs or give baths to centipedes”: we take and give such trouble to the dog because the dog is already near enough to us in capabilities to make the effort worthwhile. “We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses–that He would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but once again, we are asking not for more Love, but for less.”

Again, in the next level of analogy (which Lewis discusses at less length), that of God as Father to human children: “Love between father and son, in this symbol [as applied to the relationship between God and His personal creations], means essentially authoritative love on the one side, and obedient love on the other. The father uses his authority to make the son into the sort of human being he, rightly, and in his superior wisdom, wants him to be.” A man could mean nothing by saying that he loves his son but doesn’t care what sort of blackguard he is so long as his son is happy. We may wish for something less than the love represented by Heb 12 (earlier reffed by Lewis), but that is to ask for less Love, not more.

When Lewis next moves to his climactic comparison, that of Husband to wife, he pulls out all the stops for the development of his theme. Regardless of the adultery of His creatures, and His consequent wrath against them, the Husband cannot forget the happier days, and constantly seeks to reconcile her to Himself. In the words of St. James (James 4:4-5), God “jealously longs for the spirit He has implanted in us”.

“The Church,” Lewis writes, referencing Ephesians 5:27, “is the Lord’s bride whom He so loves that in her no spot or wrinkle is endurable. For the truth which this analogy serves to emphasize is that Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere “kindness” which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love.” “Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” “Of all powers [the beloved] forgives most, but he condones least: he is please with little, but demands all.”

“You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.

“How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes. It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring; we are inclined, like the maidens in the old play, to deprecate the love of Zeus.

“But the fact seems unquestionable. The Impassible speaks as if it suffered passion, and that which contains in Itself the cause of its own and all other bliss talks as though it could be in want and yearning. ‘Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him.’ [Jer 31:20] ‘How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I abandon thee, Israel? Mine heart is turned within me.’ [Hosea 11:8] ‘Oh Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” [Matt 23:37]

This sample should be enough to establish, for our purposes, the principles Lewis insists upon in this chapter, although I recommend reading the chapter from here outward (which I will reference, too, as I comment on whether Lewis’ notions here amount to a universalism that he didn’t recognize.)

Excellent, both the content and the fact that I managed to focus my brain enough to read and comprehend it :smiley: Thanks for processing it, and making it edible for me.

I love how he uses layers of analogy, and his dry sense of humor.

Just clarifying your first post there, am I correct in understanding that the point there is that “Correction is more than just reversing bad traits/behaviour”?

Great post Jason. Very interesting stuff on Lewis there. Wow.


I think the point Lewis is aiming for in the opening of “Divine Goodness”, is more like: how can we tell a true ethical correction or understanding from a false one?

Simply appealing to scripture would be begging the question to a sceptical audience; and even among a Christian audience the meaning of scripture must be interpreted and understood, so the question still becomes: how can we tell a true ethical correction or understanding of scripture from a false ethical understanding of scripture?

Certainly Lewis (of all people) would have also included criteria such as logical coherency of scriptural interpretations (in various ways, grammatic, narrative, thematic, principle, etc.) I don’t think he meant to exclude either scriptural appeal (since he makes some himself) or principles of correct scriptural interpretation from the account. But the two principles he does mention are also worth keeping in mind, including when learning from the scriptures.

Just a note that my next commentary on this chapter will be almost certainly delayed until after this weekend, as I’ll be out of town and away from the office while helping babysit nieces all weekend.

Readers going over the data in that chapter (especially if you have access to the whole thing, beyond what I quoted) should critically check for whether Lewis is applying these two principles, and to what extent:

(1) scope of salvation – does God act toward saving all sinners from sin?

(2) persistence of salvation – does God persist in acting to save sinners from sin?

The nieces… :smiley: :smiley: :smiley: :smiley: :smiley:

So, should I be working on theological analyses this weekend, or listening to them sing “GOD IS LOVE! GOD IS LOVE!” at me? hmmm…[1].gif

(Although by the end of the weekend, their grandparents and I will no doubt look more like this…

(Edited to add: in fact they will be here at the office in less than 2 minutes! EEEK!! Rec’d the phone call just after posting…)

But for practical theological discussion, we can put the Arm, Calv, Kath dispute in these terms:

(1) God, in acting toward saving all sinners from sin, can certainly be trusted to act toward saving both these girls from sin (since “all” certainly includes “both”).

(2) God can be trusted to persistently act toward saving whichever girl He intends to save from sin.

Kaths affirm both propositions. (With some variations among us as to details.)

Calvs (with some variations as to detail) affirm (2) and deny (1).

Arms (with some variations as to detail) affirm (1) and deny (2) (except on conditions as affirmed by some but not all Arms. But not unconditionally–any Arm would have to deny that God persistently acts first toward saving both girls from sin. Acts first, yes; persistently acts from the first, no.)

Well finally I am back to considering the evidence from TPoP chapter 3 as to how close C. S. Lewis came to universalism!

(This is something I wanted to do before commenting on Rob Bell’s book, because like several of his critics, whether sympathetic with him or not, I find RB to be technically universalistic even though I recognize where and why he thinks he isn’t.)

In asking how close Lewis gets to universalism here (and perhaps elsewhere in his writing on occasion), we may consider the two classic points of basic universalism and specifically the Christian versions thereof.

First, does Lewis affirm the SCOPE of Christ’s salvation of sinners from sin?

This can be easily and broadly answered: yes. Lewis is extremely consistent about this–which of course is why he is ranked as an Arminian Christian theologian and not a Calvinist. I will point out some examples of this as I go along, but generally speaking Lewis quietly assumes the scope throughout his discussion. Or rather he does not assume it, but imports it as a tacit premise from conclusions both exegetically based in Christian testimony and based in trinitarian metaphysics: God is love, therefore the scope of His love is total, including in God’s action to save sinners from sin–a salvation that happens to be the chief example of “divine goodness” in his chapter!

Second: does Lewis affirm the PERSISTENCE of Christ’s salvation of sinners from sin?

So far as chapter 3 goes?–the answer is unequivocally yes! (Except at the very tail end when Lewis resorts to a strange tactic to re-import the notion of non-persistence almost literally out of nowhere by reference to something other than to God!–as we shall later see.)

In a way this may be considered an inadvertence on Lewis’ part–he doesn’t seem conscious of the implications of what he is saying about the persistence, only that this kind of persistence is what we should absolutely expect from God if God is trinitarian. I could add that Lewis’ insistence on persistence may be one reason why as many Calvinists are willing to accept him as they do: his descriptions should be instantly familiar to any Calvinist as being the saving love they recognize proper to God Most High, in regard to God’s elect if to no one else. They would dispute Lewis’ scope of application; they would not dispute the persistence.

We can see quotes indicating persistence in the material I already provided, and afterward in the chapter as well. In order of appearance:

Incidentally, afterward in discussing the intimate relation God uniquely shares with every creature, and in introducing “various types of love known among creatures” in order to “reach an inadequate, but useful, conception of God’s love for man”, Lewis tacitly affirms what he nowhere (unlike the persistence) denies: that God fully loves every man. This is an example of the affirmation of scope.

Does that mean God will give up eventually on His art, as perhaps something trivial and disposable? That is the sort of way an artist treats something he is idly making: in that case “he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be.” By this principle, if as Lewis indicates later God lets His work go to ultimate ruin even though it is not exactly as He meant it to be, we must be of little account to Him! But no, Lewis claims instead that God only reluctantly lets us go when we have made it impossible for Him to save us from sin. Why? Because each man is an artistic work which God “loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child”. We are, analogically, “the great picture of his life”.

But then here Lewis says of that great work (his emphases) “[the artist] will take endless trouble–and would, doubtless, give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient”!

But surely Lewis doesn’t really mean “endless” here, does he? He doesn’t mean something like God re-creating the picture over and over again, so that the picture can never get so bad that God would not be able to start over on it?

But what if we said that God eventually gave up work on the picture out of the greatness of His love for it?–to fulfill His love in that way? Would we expecting more love from God to eventually let the picture be ruined?

Oh! Well… okay… but the painting has no free will after all, so maybe as we ascend through the examples Lewis will change his mind on this topic…?

(spoiler: no. :mrgreen:)

Same principle of persistence, and not only is there no backdoor for explaining how the housedog might be a failed work after all, but there is the same principle rebuke as before against: that kind of result would indicate less love by God for us, not more–and we ought to be expecting more.

Lewis passes relatively quickly over the analogy of a father’s love for his son; so there are no indications of persistence here. But neither is there indication of non-persistence, and things are otherwise said that parallel, in the other examples, an expectation of persistence in salvation from sin. (And salvation from sin is certainly the topic at hand in this analogy, too; except of course in the special case of the comparison with the love between the Persons of the Father and the Son.)

But surely Love for loves sake may eventually cease to will the removal of moral infirmities in the beloved if that is what she insists upon?

Well, how important is this precept? Surely the divinity of God Himself could not be at stake…?

All right, but maybe He would stop uncontented?

Excellent work Jason! I’m going to post a link to this to some of my friends who are C.S. Lewis fans :sunglasses:

My friend asked me if anyone knew the source of that GMD quote?

I’m 95% sure it wasn’t from the unspoken volumes (including the unofficial Vol 4 The Hope of the Gospel and Vol 5 The Miracles of our Lord, both of which Lewis was very familiar with–I thought it was unutterably cool when I discovered that Lewis’ crowning apologetic work, Miracles: A Preliminary Study was essentially set up as a way of introducing a summary of MacD’s discussion of miracles from MooL. :smiley: :smiley: :smiley:)

God rarely shows up as a character in MacD’s fictional work, except by proxies or in hidden ways (e.g. the Wise Woman from the novella; or the fairy great-grandmother from the Curdie novels). I don’t recall the quote coming from those works either, and I don’t think the God-characters/proxies, as characters, would have said something like that. (Except maybe in his parable “The Castle” where God is a far more overt character–but it doesn’t fit the plot and I don’t recall it there either.)

Okay I just confirmed in a text search that it is definitely not from the five “unspoken sermon” volumes. There aren’t many other direct theological works by GMacD; I don’t have any way of searching the collection of transcribed spoken sermons at the house. My guess, from the style of the saying, and from the fact that Lewis had a ‘photographic’ memory, is that it wasn’t from any book he had at hand in his library, which points to the probability that he read it in a transcript of a spoken sermon archived somewhere (or referenced in someone else’s book) which was throwing him off on recalling where he had read it.

(It’s also entirely possible he was mis-remembering who had said it. A google search for “strong with my strength” turned up only the Lewis reference plus a quote from someone who started a school of Buddhism!–but that quote doesn’t fit the whole sentence, so Lewis didn’t get it from there.)

Several years later I wrote a related essay to a question asked on the forum in this thread, which I’m reposting here for convenient access.

I don’t have the collected letters (any of the three volumes), and I’m honestly kind of suspicious if Walter Hooper was involved in editing and compiling them together, since he demonstrably altered some things in earlier editions of Lewis’ texts that he was involved with (including an earlier partial collection of Lewis’ letters).

So anyway, I can’t help you with that. But I can say, based on extensive study of his theological corpus (and outside it, too) that that doesn’t sound like what he wrote regarding free will in other books.

(Of course, the remark might have been made early in his life before he started actually writing theology publicly; he wrote a ton of things regarding theology pro and con, not necessarily Christian theology either, before he converted and afterward before publishing his first theological book aside from Pilgrim’s Regress.)

That’s so much the reverse of what he believed about free will that, even if he thought some kind of maximum minimum was involved (so to speak), he would have put it the other way around: that God gives us just enough free will to make knowledge possible, not just enough knowledge to make free will possible. Lewis’ key chapter in Miracles: A Preliminary Study (whether the original early 40s edition or the revised and improved early 60s 2nd edition) is based precisely on an argument that we ought to reject atheism and accept theism as true on the ground that our knowledge on any topic is called inextricably into question if we deny or even seriously doubt the existence of our free will (although he doesn’t use that term per se), which atheism (somewhat mistermed as “naturalism” by Lewis) necessarily requires us to do as a corollary of its principles. He repeated variations of the same argument going all the way back to Pilgrim’s Regress and forward to the end of his life; he got it from people (not all of them Christian) predating his own conversion to theism from atheism, and was arguably the main reason why he became a theist (as an adult) at all.

(Not arguably the main reason why he became a Christian per se, but he organizes MaPS consistently with that progression: the Argument from Reason, as it came to be called later, arrives at theism vs. atheism, but in itself that’s as far as it goes. It doesn’t even arrive at supernaturalistic theism necessarily; it might arrive, as Lewis originally thought it did, at some variety of pantheism instead.)

Beyond the central importance of free will for his theistic apologetics, Lewis is categorized as an Arminian for good reason: he had a very strong and central belief in human free will; derivative from and dependent on God, and with natural limitations consonant with being natural creatures (a main reason in itself why he had to reject pantheism and move to supernaturalistic theism, by the way), plus problems due to moral corruption passed along through inheritance due to the original sin of our first ancestors (and freshly generated by our own abuse of our own free will as well)–but still, he didn’t regard free will as a minor gift passed slightly on by God Who otherwise kept strong determination of our behaviors (either directly or through natural determination of automatic reactive cause and effect).

On the contrary, Lewis followed his Teacher, George MacDonald, on the idea that God gives His children as much free will as possible under the circumstances, and intends to give His children maximal (maybe ever-always-increasing) free will upon maturity and freedom from sin.

Lewis was so strongly in favor of free will, that his explanation for the hopeless final state of some sinners was that, in effect, God allowed them to destroy their own free will by their own choice out of respect for their freely willed choices on the matter–not because God stopped loving them (much less because God never loved them to begin with), but because they made it finally impossible for God to save them, out of their own free will. This has become a staple argument by educated Arminians (and even by some Calvinists, weirdly :wink: ), both among Protestants and even among Western and Eastern Catholics (Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, although they do have traditions of their own suggesting that explanation for final damnation, very probably being drawn on by Lewis himself.)

I realize that such an explanation for damnation doesn’t make a single iota of coherent sense–Lewis should have concluded (as MacDonald did, though without metaphysical rigorousness) that inasmuch as free will is a special gift of God’s love, related (though derivatively) to God’s own ultimately and independently free-willed existence, precisely because of God’s love for His children whose child-hood consists in being made spiritually in God’s image with their own free will, God would NOT allow His children to utterly and finally destroy their free will by abusing their free will in sin. If that involves temporary restrictions on free will in various ways, then fine, Lewis believed and understood that by our nature our free will was limited in various ways already, including punitively. But he didn’t regard those limits as being nearly as important as the importance of the gift of free will.

The hell of it (so to speak) is that in the book where Lewis argues most strongly in favor of final perdition, The Problem of Pain–with an admittedly clever attempt at mixing both annihilation and eternal conscious torment together–in a prior chapter of the same book he had insisted even more strongly that God would never give up acting to save sinners from sin and we’d be poor Christians to expect Him to! (I wrote about this extensively in a multi-part essay a couple of years ago, “How close did Lewis get to universalism? This close!”)

If Lewis had believed in God granting only a minimal level of free will (at the time he wrote his public theological works anyway, although I know he often speculated on things piecemeal in correspondence in that period, too), it wouldn’t have been for us to achieve a minimal relevant level of knowledge (much less the other way around, being gifted a minimal level of knowledge in order to attain a minimal level of free will). It would have been for the reason Lewis elsewhere spoke of God giving us free will: so that we may freely love other people, both God and our fellow creatures.

But that rationale for the gift of free will, to freely and thus truly love, doesn’t have merely minimal maximum limitations in view. :slight_smile:

(It certainly couldn’t if trinitarian theism is true; and while Lewis never quite got around to working out a full trinitarian metaphysic, he knew it had something important to do with God, the foundational self-existent rational action, being intrinsically and essentially true love. It was exactly those hints from his writing that I was working at working out, when I came to realize that if trinitarian theism is true, then I ought to expect God to persist at acting toward saving all sinners from sin until He gets it done, never giving up, and never being defeated. And that’s basically Christian universalism.)