The Hell Of C.S. Lewis


Yep. I can’t figure the doctrine of hell out. Best to leave it alone for now.


Yep. I can’t figure the doctrine of hell out. Best to leave it alone for now.

It’s perfectly OK to be undecided Cole. :smiley:


Thank you Steve. I really appreciate that.


ACHOO!! sniffle. head cold recently. trying to catch up on the thread now.

Also, you asked me a while back to remind you about the mood swings if they happened, and to check if a sudden reversal on principles you once accepted is happening with a seasonal change. I’m far from the most empathetic person on Earth, so I expect I handled that badly – sorry if so. :neutral_face:


To recap my points from here:

1.) In the same work Timothy Keller was quoting (which TK should have recalled since it’s one of the few times Lewis wrote strongly in favor of divine persistence to save), Lewis first repeatedly argued and stressed that as Christians we should not expect God to give up on saving sinners. But then later, in the portion quoted, Lewis decided this meant God is forced to give up by the sinner, being defeated by the sinner on His purpose to save them from sin.

1.1.) It’s rather amazing that TK (the Calvinist Presbyterian, not the Arminianistic Cumberland Presbyterian :wink: ) would quote that since Calv theology is absolutely against the idea that God is defeated by sinners in saving them from sin; much less that God would simply choose to give up even though He would succeed if He kept trying. Calvs explain final perdition on the ground that God never chose to save some sinners from sin at all. When he says (as in the headline for his website) “you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope,” he means all-of-you-inclusively for the sin and flaws, but then switches immediately to only addressing the elect in the second half of his sentence, those whom God has chosen to save from their sins. That isn’t necessarily “you”, it’s only ‘maybe you’. Lewis was the opposite of that: he definitely meant “you” both ways, but didn’t really mean “you” were more loved by God than “you” ever dared hope. Otherwise he would have at least dared to hope that all “you” would be saved. But he didn’t.

(Or rather, they both do mean all inclusively in both ways sometimes, but not consistently so – or they’d be, or would have been, Christian universalists. :wink: But part of their appeal is that they do both apparently promote the gospel assurance of total scope and also the gospel assurance of original and victorious divine persistence.)

1.2.) But this also runs against the thrust of Lewis’ argument earlier about divine persistence, which was that we should expect from God’s nature both that He would act to save everyone and also that He would persist until He gets it done. Nor was it a question of God being “obligated” to do so by moral appeal to a standard higher than God: Lewis based it (though admittedly not very clearly) on God’s trinitarian characteristics. This is why Lewis thought God was forced to quit; but in doing so he still ended up disavowing his own principles about why we could expect God to keep at it. He should have concluded, if God never saved some sinners, that God still keeps at it in a never-ending stalemate. Though even that would run against his emphatic insistence elsewhere that God is competent to win the chess match, an analogy which doesn’t obviate the free will of the opponent at all.

1.3.) Despite Lewis’ insistence there that God sadly quitting and letting sinners lock themselves into annihilation (more or less) had the authority of scripture behind it, there is nothing in scripture about God sadly quitting. Timothy Keller on his theology ought to be even more strongly against that; and Lewis shows elsewhere he does know better than that: God actively punishes sinners so long as they remain impenitent. (You yourself were quoting scriptures showing God’s active punishment of sinners.) Similarly, sinners can’t annihilate themselves: if any are annihilated, God actively chooses to do that, by choosing to withdraw His ongoing action by which they have continued to exist up to that point.

2.) You (or whoever you were reading, be it Lewis or Keller or whoever) were appealing to the principle of accepting whichever soteriology involves the most fairness. (“What could be more fair than that?” etc.)

I am 1000% in favor of that approach. Which is why, on that principle, I reject Lewis’ notion (per soft Arminianism) of a final victory of unfair people insisting on being and remaining unfair and never coming to be fair.

I also on the same principle reject the harder Arminian notion of God deciding to authorize final unfairness by choosing to give up empowering and leading unfair people into being fair people.

I also on the same principle reject the Calvinistic notion that God chooses never to empower (much less lead) some unfair persons to being fair, but instead actually creates them unfair and by His choice ensures they remain forever unfair (until He annihilates them or not).

What glorifies God more? For some sinners never to come to glorify God by their triumphant choice? For some sinners never to come to glorify God by God’s authoritative choice? For some sinners to come to falsely glorify God, while remaining rebels in their hearts, by God’s authoritative choice? Or for all sinners to come to truly glorify God, in cooperation with God’s choice?

Even if some unjust/unfair people never come to do justice, and never come to properly glorify God, no one anywhere in any way can coherently argue that that results in the most conceivable fairness, justice, and glory to God. The moment authors appeal to that to supposedly bolster their argument for final perdition, you should recognize they’re making at least one highly important and inconsistent mistake somewhere.

This is aside from any discussion of the scriptures you cited, which I and others have discussed in much more detail elsewhere (and which at the time you agreed with the results of those more in-depth discussions about). At the very least, they do not describe the hell of C. S. Lewis. Which was a main reason why I always had at least a few nagging problems with his approaches and arguments on that topic.


Yes, Jason I can see that. Thanks for the post. :smiley:


Am excited to be seeing the new stage production of ‘Great Divorce’ this weekend! Although I’ve shifted in recent years from Lewis’s view that some will ultimately never turn from being a ‘Ghost’ to be transformed through Christ, to instead agree with the universalist views of his ‘master’, MacDonald, I still think this fantasy has some keen insights about how many people both here in this earthly life and in hell will continue to cling to their old illusions. I just believe that eventually the experience of outer darkness will break down all such illusions, when the self that experiences what seems like isolation from all else cries out in despair and hatred of what it’s become, and ‘listens at the door’ for any sign of life, Love – and then would gladly rush back to the consuming fire of God to have the sin destroyed – as Macdonald pictures in ‘Unspoken Sermons’.

Looking back through this thread’s comments on justice – it keeps coming back to me that in reality there is no justice without Love. Love is the highest Law, the greatest command upon which all else hangs, per our Lord. Every injustice is therefore at root a violation of this highest Law, a violation of Love. The only way for justice to be truly served is to have the injustice itself destroyed, which can only really occur if Love is established/restored between the violator and the victim, through repentance and forgiveness. This annihilates the wrong between the persons.

This can never be achieved through annihilating or eternally punishing a person, as if mere suffering or blotting out of a person could do anything to undo the violation of Love. It must be achieved through the way, truth, life of Christ – and eventually every injustice will be so reconciled, and God will truly be All in All. :slight_smile:


Amen! Great post.


Thanks, Gabe :slight_smile:

Oh, by the way, the ‘Great Divorce’ play was excellent! Recommend seeing it if you get a chance…


Jason, thank you for sharing your studies of C. S. Lewis. Whenever I read his works, it seems to me that his theological system is essentially universalist, but then he gets pulled up short when he reads the Gospel passages that “translate” gehenna and hades as “Hell”. “Well, there you go! God incarnate talks about Hell, which unfortunately puts an end to universalism.”

This goes to show you how powerful and even insidious tradition can be. In spite of Lewis having a first-rate intellect and education, and in spite of his own Christian system having universalist implications, Lewis apparently never asked himself if the word “Hell” (in the sense of never-ending torment) was a proper translation of gehenna or of hades.


Hi Cole,

Sorry, I’m new here and a bit late in adding my two cents to this discussion. I may not even be adding anything new, but I see this as very simple.

Yes, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside. Great analogy. We choose separation from God.

Now, Hell must be a truly horrific place, since it is the complete separation from all that is good. Which leads to the question, what sort of person would willingly choose to remain in such a place?

Your answer is: someone who lacks the grace of God to make the right decision.

And here is where the catholic and Protestant traditions diverge. The catholic church condemned as heresy this notion that God did not make his Grace available to all men, but only to the elect. In fact, they went to great lengths to clarify the doctrines of Grace so as to clear up the confusion surrounding it as a result of Protestant teaching. You can get a very detailed explanation here:

See especially, “The universality of actual grace” near the end of the article.

The Calvinist notion is circular logic. God knows you will reject him, therefore he denies you his grace that allows you to choose him. Step outside that logic for a moment and ask yourself, what man in his right mind would willingly choose all bad things, forever?

If you were being tormented, wouldn’t you look for a way out? How could you possibly spend all of eternity without checking how the locks on the door functioned? The very purpose of punishment is to change our thinking. Otherwise it is mere vindictiveness.

Here in this world, where life is a mixture of good and bad, men choose the bad some of the time. Some of them openly reject the notion that God has given us instructions that will lead us to the good. Even in choosing the bad, most people choose what harms others, not themselves. The moment they find themselves in pain, they stop doing what caused the pain. So in this scenario we can see how people would stay in a room locked from the inside.

But Hell, if it exists and matches the tourist brochures, is a very different place. There is no good. Now you are the one in torment. You are no longer having a good time tormenting others. There is nothing enjoyable about the place. Were you to arrive in such a place, practically your first thought would be, “Where is the exit?”

So if the divine consequence of choosing to separate yourself from God is a total fulfillment of your wish, realized more perfectly than is possible in this world, then that should drive you back to God faster than anything else possibly could. And God’s Justice and Mercy and Benevolence and Wisdom would all be seen in the simple fact that he put the lock on the inside!


If the lock is on the inside, then only I can open it, but with what key? and where do I get that key?

“No man comes to me except the Father draw him”

So I guess the Father chose a multitude to not draw, or else He drew all, but there were many who would not come.

But if God put the lock on the inside, did He know? Or did he not know, who would open the door? Was it an experiment without His forseeing the end for each one?

And also, if God put the lock on the inside, He must have put the key on the inside too.

So, once in prisoned, with a key on the inside, would deah, and awakening in a prison of agony -not induce anyone to take that key and open that door which is locked from the inside?

Of course it would.

Some might hold out longer than others, but what fool would hold out forever? Who’s will could be so strong as to hold out forever, and Why?

So then, God must taken away the key from them. So it is no longer true that the door is locked only from the inside- because God has taken away the key, so that they must suffer forever for the insult of having rejected Him.


Gordon and Eagle, those are really great ways to put it! Excellent posts.



You have described the paradox that many theologians have tackled, but Paul appears to have reached the only completely logical conclusion on.

“No man …” means NO man. No one. Zero. Nada.

How many in Heaven? How many choose God? Zip, Zero, Zilch.

“God has shut up ALL in …” Hell? Oops! No.

… disobedience."

So why do some choose him and others don’t? Trick question!

It only appears that some choose him. But NO ONE does.

The real question is, Why does he draw some but not others? THIS is the question that Paul addresses in Romans 9. God affirms that he does not draw everyone, at least not at the same time.

Once you grasp the above, it becomes nonsensical to say that certain ones must suffer because they rejected God. We have ALL rejected God. How could a just God choose to NOT draw some, and then punish them for the fact that he did not draw them? In light of our universal rejection of God, it is equally nonsensical to say that he foreknew which ones would reject him. Of course he knew who. EVERYONE!

So Paul comes to the only logical conclusion that is possible. God DID choose not to draw some, and yet in the end he has mercy on ALL. Romans 11 says this over and over, as if Paul knew that the church would fail to get the message.

It should also be obvious that if only those who are drawn will come to God, then it cannot possibly be an insult to reject him. We have all rejected him, and then come to him as he has drawn us. Some sooner than others. But the difference in time makes no difference ultimately. Just think about the parable of the workers in the vineyard who started work at different times, and yet all received the same wages at the end of the day.

The experience of suffering when we fail to obey God plays a major role in drawing us to him. The more we experience the consequences of disobedience, the more we see the sense in obeying him. Some may be more stubborn in their ways, and take longer to see the light, but as you point out, no one could possibly hold out forever.

Thus the reason that Jesus could affirm, “I will draw ALL men unto me”.


If we have love in our hearts( even the smallest amount)when we leave this world, that just may be the key that we need to open the pearly gates.
Love endures forever. But if one’s heart is totally devoid of any love at all, it just may be that it ceases to exist.


As I understand it… this whole argument (and its consequential conclusions) is taken way too far because it is based on a false premise, that of assuming, being “drawn” to God is speaking of eternal destinies; it’s NOT.

Being “drawn” had NOTHING to do with “getting to heaven” postmortem. Being drawn to God had EVERYTHING to do with being “called” into the SERVICE OF GOD premortem, period. In the biblical narrative not everybody was called to this e.g., ‘many are called few are chosen’ etc.

Once you grasp this, the whole ‘works righteousness’ house of house of cards i.e., “you must accept Christ as your own personal Lord and Saviour” falls and evaporates. The biblical CALL of God was about purpose (service) NOT position (heaven).


Yes Davo,

It is from the “premortem” perspective that I was answering Eagle.

At any given moment in time, we see one group of people who have been drawn, and another who have not. And I tried to drive home the point that they are both equal before God, because ALL have disobeyed.

It is only a question of timing. In God’s time, ALL will be Restored.


Actually ἀπό can mean either away/away from or from depending on the context.


Yes, one of my best lexicons indicate that it can mean “from” in the sense of motion from an object. So that could be translated “away from.” But which is it in 2 Thess 1:9? Do we have to conclude that it is not clear whether Paul meant “away from” the presence of the Lord, or the destruction having the presence of the Lord as its source? It makes more sense to me that the destruction of the flesh, or self-serving nature has as its source the presence of the Lord. For in what sense could that destruction be “away from the presence of the Lord”? Is it necessary for the Lord to send the sinner away from His presence in order to destroy the evil within him? Is it even possible? For we read in Psalm 139:8 ESV “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Some translators render the Hebrew “Sheol” as “Hell.”


I agree with you Cole_H, very well written. :grinning: