C.S. Lewis’ view of hell and why it doesn’t help (much)

Posted on 04/21/12 56 Comments

George MacDonald, the nineteenth century fantasy writer and universalist, was one of the most important influences on C.S. Lewis. While Lewis never adopted MacDonald’s universalism, his familiarity with MacDonald’s writing undoubtedly contributed to Lewis’ own wrestling with the doctrine of hell as eternal conscious torment, and his search for a less morally disturbing account of hell.

To this end Lewis famously argued that the suffering of hell is not imposed by God as a sort of dungeon master who eternally subjects his victims to the most unimaginable tortures. Instead, on Lewis’ view the sufferings of hell are self-imposed.

Lewis’ two main treatments of the topic are found in The Problem of Pain and The Great Divorce.

The first step in his view is to establish that God has done all he possibly can to save his creatures. According to Lewis, Christianity presents us with

“a God so fully of mercy that He becomes man and dies by torture to avert that final ruin from His creatures, and who yet, where that heroic remedy fails, seems unwilling, or even unable, to arrest the ruin by an act of mere power.” (The Problem of Pain, 119)

 God will not force himself on human beings, overriding their free will. (Elsewhere I have critiqued the claim that for God to override human free will to redeem persons would be tantamount to “rape”. See here.)

On Lewis’ view human beings inexplicably choose hell, they choose to remain there, and by doing so they inflict on themselves unimaginable misery. God is merely the one who sustains them in being, respecting their autonomy to continue their own self-imposed suffering forever. He writes:

“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the gates of hell are locked on the inside.” (The Problem of Pain, 127)

 And in The Great Divorce the character of George MacDonald observes:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” (66-7.)

Biblically speaking this view has one thing going for it: there are passages of scripture that depict hell as ongoing rebellion on the part of those who end up there. In particular, texts that refer to the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (e.g. Mt. 8:12) convey a sense of continued hatred of God and rebellion against him.

Unfortunately this sense of the phrase is often “lost in translation” as people read these passages in English as conveying regret and suffering alone. But the Greek word for gnashing, brucho, conveys the sense of grinding one’s teeth in rage. According to the TDNT whenever the word occurs in the Old Testament it communicates “hate, desire for destruction of the other.” As for the New Testament, one sees this in Acts 7:54 where Stephen’s enemies gnash their teeth at him.

So the notion of teeth gnashing would seem to support Lewis’ concept of hell as self-imposed rebellion and suffering.

However, there are two problems with Lewis’ view, one biblical and the other philosophical.

Biblically speaking, Lewis’ view does not fit the many passages in scripture that depict God the Father, Jesus, and the angels actively carrying out judgment, dividing the redeemed and the lost, preparing a place of judgment, banishing them to that place of judgment, and carrying on the judgment at least in virtue of maintaining the place of judgment. God is not merely a helpless observer of self-imposed suffering caused by ongoing rebellion. He is the judge who imposes that suffering (or at least a significant proportion of it).

Now for the philosophical problem. Even if Lewis were correct and the suffering were self-imposed, that wouldn’t remove the moral offense of hell.

Imagine a man so disordered that he continually inflicts suffering on himself. He cuts himself, bangs his head into the wall, hits his hand with a hammer, pulls out his own finger nails with pliers, and worse.

Would anybody say that the rest of us have no moral obligation to put a stop to this man’s self-imposed misery? Of course we would. We would restrain him to prevent him from inflicting further suffering on himself.

Let’s say that he then responded by biting his own tongue off. Though restrained he continued to find new ways to inflict suffering on himself in a singular quest for his own self-destruction.

Eventually we might conclude that the most charitable thing to do in this impossible situation would be to induce a coma. Perhaps that would be the only way to stop his endless spiral of self-imposed misery.

And that’s the problem. Even if the misery of those in hell is purely self-imposed, even if the gates of hell are locked on the inside and God doesn’t actively torture anyone, the moral problem with eternal conscious torment remains. Even if that torment is self-imposed we must ask why an infinitely loving God would ever allow it.

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  • David Evans

    What made The Great Divorce an enjoyable read for me was the feeling that Lewis’s Hell wasn’t really such a bad place. Also, in his story, anyone who really wants to can take the bus from Hell to Heaven.

    I have the feeling, though, that the book would have been condemned as heretical throughout most of Christian history.

    • randal

      Yes, the view of hell in GD is like a rainy Saturday afternoon with nothing to do. Somehow that doesn’t quite capture “the smoke of their torment shall rise forever”.

      Another attractive (but misleading) part of Lewis’ portrait is found in the way he claims hell is like a crack in the ground of heaven, something you’d barely notice. Out of sight, out of mind I guess.

      Somehow Lewis could get away with quite a bit of heterodoxy. If Rob Bell wrote The Great Divorce he probably would have been tarred and feathered.

      • David Evans

        Also (and how dim of me to have only just seen this!) the picture of Hell in GD is far different from that in The Screwtape Letters, a much better-known book but one I have never wanted to re-read.

  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

    Even if that torment is self-imposed we must ask why an infinitely loving God would ever allow it.

    As opposed to an infinitely loving God only allowing the existence of beings that fit an idyllic picture?

    I think this is one of those questions that has an answer that seems obvious – ‘Would we do that? Of course we would!’ – but which doesn’t on deeper reflection.

    To give a one imperfect comparison: PZ Myers has plenty of (pathetic) rage. He’s an angry individual. Do you feel the urge to restrain him? Granted, you’d like to persuade him that he’s wrong and shouldn’t be the loon that he is. But if that fails, do you feel the urge to lock him up until he changes? Or do you say “Well, he can make his own decisions. I can and will only do so much.”?

    And that’s one thing missing from your example. Even in Lewis’ version, it’s not that these people are left in hell, utterly ignored and forgotten, from what I understand. There are active attempts to get them to change their minds. Ultimately, the decision is resting with themselves. Sure, they may make the wrong decision – I suppose in principle they may make it forever. I still don’t see where “So then you force them, or wipe them out of existence” comes off as the indisputable best option.

    • randal

      The most basic problem with Lewis’ view is that it glosses biblical passage in which God actively punishes people in hell by inflicting mental and physical torments to maximize their suffering, and on ECT he does this for eternity. And of course if you’re a Calvinist the picture is even more shocking.

      “There are active attempts to get them to change their minds.”

      Where do you read in that in the Bible? (The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man suggests the exact opposite.)

      “I still don’t see where “So then you force them, or wipe them out of existence” comes off as the indisputable best option.”

      Seriously? In the scenario I described in this article you don’t think non-existence for the person is the more merciful action?

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        The most basic problem with Lewis’ view is that it glosses biblical passage in which God actively punishes people in hell by inflicting mental and physical torments to maximize their suffering, and on ECT he does this for eternity.

        I think it’s reasonable to think that Lewis doesn’t take that in the most strict and literal sense. As far as I know, he wasn’t working it out as a strict biblical literalist anyway.

        Those passages seem to best be read as emphasizing the suffering itself rather than the means.

        Where do you read in that in the Bible? (The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man suggests the exact opposite.)

        I’m talking in Lewis’ example.

        Seriously? In the scenario I described in this article you don’t think non-existence for the person is the more merciful action?

        “Not enough details.” Again, I was going by Lewis’ example, which I thought was what you were taking aim at – and which is why I thought your example didn’t work.

        What if what’s closer to hell is PZ Myers? Someone going, “No matter what signs I see, I won’t believe!”? Snarling and snapping at people, living a miserable existence, but it’s of their own free will? Part of what seems persuasive in your example is the fact that the guy doesn’t seem to be acting out his own will. If he was, I imagine you may even get atheists rolling in here saying ‘No, he’s admirable, God shouldn’t change his mind!’

        • David Evans

          At this point I should reveal that I am, in fact, an atheist. I don’t get the impression from Myers’ blog that he is “living a miserable existence”, but that’s a side issue.

          What worries me about GD is that (speaking from memory) there is only one bus stop, and some (most?) people are at an immense distance from it. It seems unlikely to me that the typical inhabitant of Hell would possess the will-power to make such a journey – after all, if they didn’t have some character flaws they wouldn’t be there! I question whether they have a real chance to reach the bus. I would be happier if there were bus stops on every city block.

          But then, the doctrine wasn’t designed to make me happy.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            At this point I should reveal that I am, in fact, an atheist. I don’t get the impression from Myers’ blog that he is “living a miserable existence”, but that’s a side issue.

            I don’t think Myers’ life is at all an example of being in hell. But he’s a useful comparison – he’s angry, he’s pretty irrational, and he’s kind of a self-parody by now. But he’s also most of these things of his own free will. Arguing with him is one thing. Flicking a switch and making him not be these things? That’s another question, and I don’t think the reply of ‘Well of course God should do that!’ is so clear cut.

            What worries me about GD is that (speaking from memory) there is only one bus stop, and some (most?) people are at an immense distance from it.

            I think there’s a danger of overanalyzing Lewis’ writing. Yes, people have character flaws, but I think an act of the will is the key part of Lewis’ description. You say you’d be happier if there were ‘bus stops on every block’. How much happier, if that didn’t lead to any more taking the bus? And if all those bus stops wouldn’t change that – then what’s the point of it?

            • David Evans

              I agree one shouldn’t over-analyze Lewis, who is after all presenting a personal vision. But speaking for myself, I would not undertake a journey of light-years (I think that’s in GD) on a many-times-removed hearsay account of a bus stop, but would walk several blocks in search of one.

              • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

                But speaking for myself, I would not undertake a journey of light-years (I think that’s in GD) on a many-times-removed hearsay account of a bus stop, but would walk several blocks in search of one.

                From what I recall, the existence of the bus stop is not in dispute in the GD, nor is it a many-times-removed hearsay account.

                Now, I’ve run into atheists who have flat out said that if the God of the Bible existed, they’d still defy Him and refuse to believe in Him(!). Even if I go the most wildly charitable route and assume they meant by the latter ‘accept that He is God’ in some sense, I still think it indicates another type of salient character flaw. Myers (man, he’s useful) presents another, where no matter what evidence were presented to him, he’d excuse and explain it away.

                I think it’s easy to see people like that in Hell, and staying there of their own will.

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  If the insanity defense is appropriate for people in this life, how much more in the afterlife. This is the way I think of someone like Myers. He might know on some level that what he’s doing is wrong, but he’s not fully aware of what he’s doing or else he wouldn’t do it.

                  He’s like a guy who says “I want to stick my wet finger into a live electrical socket and leave it there forever.” Once it’s time to stop talking about it and start doing it, he won’t need an eternity to change his mind.

                  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                    Ya know, there are atheists who think that theists don’t really believe all their “fairy stories”, and are just trying to convince themselves out of fear of death or uncertainty or whatever.

                    C.S. Lewis also had something to say about that style of argumentation: “You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong… Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is ‘wishful thinking.’ You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself… If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic…”

                    • David Evans

                      I think some of those atheists do think they can show that Christianity is wrong. For reasons which will no doubt be familiar to you – the problem of evil, the contradictions between Gospel narratives, the genocidal and arbitrary actions of the Old Testament God…

                      And, indeed, the moral problems with the doctrine of Hell which we are discussing.

                      I don’t wish to argue these reasons here, just to point out that they exist.

                  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

                    C.S. Lewis also had something to say about that style of argumentation:

                    Ray, it’s not Bulverism when someone says, “It’s no use trying to convince PZ Myers God exists using evidence of any kind, because he’d explain away any and all evidence presented to him.” It’s just taking PZ at his word.

                    Myers doesn’t really have any arguments. He’s a failed scientist who makes idiotic statements and takes inane positions – the only reason he’s even noteworthy is because his antics gained him a modest following of internet dweebs for him to sell merch and make money off of.

                    Which makes him a great example for the OP. Gantt’s reasonable speculation aside, whatever Myers is, he apparently is of his own free will. I don’t think it’s so clear that God simply overriding that is the right choice, even if it means Myers remains pissy and miserable. His choice.

                    • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                      It’s just taking PZ at his word.

                      Um… I think you’ve read different words than me. Where exactly does he brag about being intellectually dishonest?

                      Indeed, why do you need to characterize his positions as “idiotic” or “irrational” or “inane”? Wouldn’t just recapping or quoting those positions, and pointing out the putative flaws in them, make the point for you?

                    • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

                      I think you’ve read different words than me. Where exactly does he brag about being intellectually dishonest?

                      Man, is the irony lost on you? Where’s the line about him being ‘intellectually dishonest’? I said he’s a failed scientist (true – check his research track record) who makes idiotic statements (remember the whole ‘I bet that shooter in Arizona is a tea party person’ bit?) and takes inane positions – including one where he rules out any possibility of evidence of any God or gods existing. By reasonable standards – hilarious, by Jerry Coyne’s own standards – he’s irrational.

                      Sometimes people aren’t intellectually dishonest. They’re just nuts or stupid. Let’s keep the options open for Myers, eh?

                      Indeed, why do you need to characterize his positions as “idiotic” or “irrational” or “inane”?

                      Because they are?

                      Oh God, are you one of those Myers fans who gets all warm and fuzzy feeling when he makes those stupid speeches about “I see 4000 hunters eyes!!!! Come, my super-powerful and absolutely not dweeby brethren, let’s go call Christians names!” and other dorky crap, but when someone points out that the man’s flaws bluntly, then suddenly it’s time to clench buttocks and demand we treat him with vastly more respect than he deserves?

                      Sorry man – Myers is pathetic. If you think he’s some kind of intellectual juggernaut, well, more power to you I guess. Just don’t ask me to respect either the opinion, or the man himself. Do let me know if he ever does real, significant science, of course. But I won’t be holding my breath. And be sure to buy his merch. ;)

                    • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                      It’s a fascinating standard you’ve got there. He speculated ahead of the evidence (and specifically labeled it speculation) and that’s idiotic? Please name a blogger that hasn’t been ‘idiotic’ by that measure. (I wonder if you can claim not to have said something idiotic by that standard?)

                      Note that I didn’t contest calling him a failed scientist. I’m sure you have a standard there, too.

                      It’s the claim that “he rules out any possibility of evidence of any God or gods existing” that I’m characterizing (fairly, I think) as a claim of intellectual dishonesty. Do you have his own words (and not your paraphrase of them) where he says that?

                    • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

                      He speculated ahead of the evidence (and specifically labeled it speculation) and that’s idiotic?

                      Yeah, his stance is idiotic. He did not say merely ‘I don’t think I’ll ever see evidence that will convince me’ – he made a show, a bold statement that brought him into direct conflict with that coward Coyne, that no evidence even in principle would be sufficient to convince him. Not only that, but that there was no possibility of there being evidence for the existence of God, period.

                      This isn’t “speculating ahead of the evidence”. It’s just Myers being a sad, crazy little radical.

                      Note that I didn’t contest calling him a failed scientist. I’m sure you have a standard there, too.

                      Yeah, it’s called “by any reasonable standard”. Better yet, the guy had the gall to challenge Francis freaking Collins’ scientific capabilities. And his lapdogs ate it up!

                      I recall that the summary of Myers’ research output was taking part in 10 papers from 1984-1999.

                      He’s a failed research scientist. Mister “Come, my hunters, we have the power of science on our side” couldn’t hack actually being a scientist.

                      It’s the claim that “he rules out any possibility of evidence of any God or gods existing” that I’m characterizing (fairly, I think) as a claim of intellectual dishonesty.

                      Go read his post about Steve Zara, where he states it outright. “It’s like he was reading my mind.” and its followup.

                  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                    Crude, your example of his “idiotic statements” was “remember the whole ‘I bet that shooter in Arizona is a tea party person’ bit?” – which is, er, speculation ahead of the evidence. Please try to keep track of your claims.

                    As to the Steve Zara thing, Myers is pointing out something about the typical definitions of god, not any possible kind of deity.
                    He notes that “..god is always vague and undefined and most annoyingly, plastic — suggest a test and it is always redefined safely away from the risk” and “any evidence of a deity will be natural, repeatable, measurable, and even observable…properties which god is exempted from by the believers’ own definitions, so there can be no evidence for it”.

                    He doesn’t even rule out “any being who did suddenly manifest in some way — a 900 foot tall Jesus, for instance” – but he does rule out typical religious “explanations” for such phenomena, precisely because they don’t actually explain things.

                    • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

                      Ray,

                      Crude, your example of his “idiotic statements” was “remember the whole ‘I bet that shooter in Arizona is a tea party person’ bit?” – which is, er, speculation ahead of the evidence. Please try to keep track of your claims.

                      It was an idiotic statement from Myers, Ray. Sorry: you’re a fan of a nutjob.

                      A shooter who everyone had zero knowledge of, and Myers is confidently predicting his beliefs and more. Oh, even better yet – he fell for that fake “it was a republican” document. Y’ever notice how credulous he is for a supposed skeptic?

                      He doesn’t even rule out “any being who did suddenly manifest in some way — a 900 foot tall Jesus, for instance” – but he does rule out typical religious “explanations” for such phenomena, precisely because they don’t actually explain things.

                      What he rules out is exactly what I said he rules out: any possibility of there being any evidence for God’s existence. He says outright that if the Virgin Mary appeared to him, he’d just suspect he has brain damage – and that such explanations are always preferable to taking any experience as evidence for God’s existence. This isn’t about offering “explanations”, hence him saying outright: “There is no possibility of evidence to convince us of the existence of a god.”

                      You can stop trying to spin this away, because Myers was blunt about this to the point that even Jerry Coyne tried to talk him down. And then Coyne shut his mouth over the whole thing, despite having previously made a big deal about how atheists were more rational than theists because atheists were willing to have their minds changed by evidence. That one went down the freaking memory hole fast.

                      I notice, by the way, you’re not about to defend Myers against my claims regarding his scientific track record. Because you know I’m right: he’s a freaking failure as a scientist. And to cap it all off, he just jumped on board the Mythicist wagon. Because it wasn’t enough for him to be a failed scientist and hilariously credulous. No, now he has to pick up the coveted “crackpot” label.

                      I’m curious. Do you ever feel embarrassed at being a fan of this guy? Or do you just make sure the echo chamber is secure, so no one else can point out how the whole “I see 4000 hunters eyes” speeches and the like are the stuff of tremendous dorkiness? ;)

                    • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                      A shooter who everyone had zero knowledge of, and Myers is confidently predicting his beliefs and more.

                      He didn’t, y’know, speculate in a vacuum. We’re going to have to agree to disagree about the level of idiocy there.

                      I notice, by the way, you’re not about to defend Myers against my claims regarding his scientific track record.

                      Because… I don’t care. And I can’t figure out why you claim to care. If he were a successful scientist in your eyes, would it make you more likely to agree with him about the stuff we’re discussing?

                      You can stop trying to spin this away

                      Well, I’m certainly not under the impression I’m going to convince you. :)

                      I’m curious. Do you ever feel embarrassed at being a fan of this guy?

                      Just because I agree with a decent chunk of what he says doesn’t mean I agree with him on everything. And I’ve been willing to say so.

                    • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

                      He didn’t, y’know, speculate in a vacuum. We’re going to have to agree to disagree about the level of idiocy there.

                      He speculated largely based on his prejudices and absurd caricatures of people he disagrees with, credulously slurping up a faked document in the process. The man is not bright.

                      Because… I don’t care. And I can’t figure out why you claim to care. If he were a successful scientist in your eyes, would it make you more likely to agree with him about the stuff we’re discussing?

                      Yeah, I think Aesop would have something to say about you not caring here. ;)

                      The fact is that Myers saw fit to denounce Francis Collins’ scientific capabilities, talks about science being his weapon, praises the method even while misapplying it… and yet he’s a failed scientist himself. Myers could not hack science. This isn’t really open to dispute.

                      Yeah, that’s worth noting.

                      Just because I agree with a decent chunk of what he says doesn’t mean I agree with him on everything.

                      Not the question I asked. I asked if you’re embarrassed at being a fan of this guy. Tell me, when he pulled that recent speech about the 4000 hunters’ eyes – I keep quoting it, because it’s so freaking hilarious – did you well up with pride? Because a more apt reaction is, “Wow, this is King Dork giving a speech to his Dweeb Vassals.” ;)

                    • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                      He speculated largely based on his prejudices and absurd caricatures of people he disagrees with

                      So did no less admirable fellow than George Orwell, who apologized after WW2 for his “objectively pro-fascism” comment. Like I said, we’ll have to agree to disagree there.

                      Myers could not hack science.

                      Star athletes shouldn’t listen to coaches who can’t do what they do, either, right?

                      I asked if you’re embarrassed at being a fan of this guy.

                      When I like what someone says, I’m happy to give them credit for it. I think William Paley and C.S. Lewis were both deeply wrong on some pretty major issues, but I still quote them on the topics where they were right.

                      Myers isn’t a religious leader. He doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t understand why you need him to be contemptible…

  • Kyle

    Hey Randal,

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    I think Lewis’ view is compatible with “God the Father, Jesus, and the angels actively carrying out judgment, dividing the redeemed and the lost, preparing a place of judgment, banishing them to that place of judgment, and carrying on the judgment at least in virtue of maintaining the place of judgment.” Lewis did believe in the Final Judgment. His point is not that God doesn’t ratify and put in place the conditions that create hell. His point is that, at the end of the day, the damned prefer hell to heaven. The two are compatible.

    As for the nature of hell, I see hell in GD as much worse than a “rainy Saturday afternoon.” The intrinsic consequences of sin are much worse than that, and that is Lewis’s hell. And as for God’s contribution to the misery of the damned, it may well just be the fact that God continually confronts the damned with their sin by the searching light of holy love. This is the EO view of “hellish fire,” and this too seems consistent with Lewis’ hell.

    As for the philosophical point, I think there is a problem with your analogy. The damned are not quite like mental patients who harm themselves in ways that have no moral dimensions. The misery of the damned is, I think, constituted by the intrinsic *moral* consequences of hate, unforgiveness, lust, anger, gluttony, etc. Is it obvious that the moral thing to do is to restrain people who act like this, and then failing that, put them out of their misery or knock them unconscious? It doesn’t seem obvious to me, at least. I think we have an intuition that people who act like this “reap what they sow,” and that though we may still love them, there is a sense in which they are just experiencing the just consequences of their evil choices for as long as they choose to make those choices. Hence, hell. At least, it doesn’t seem obvious that our moral intuitions demand a different response.

    Perhaps the only heterodox thing about GD is the possibility of postmortem repentance, and maybe the traveling back and forth, although the latter is not altogether different from the talking back and forth over the “gulf” that cannot be traversed.

    • randal

      “His point is that, at the end of the day, the damned prefer hell to heaven.”

      Then why doesn’t God send them to heaven to maximize their suffering?

      “As for the nature of hell, I see hell in GD as much worse than a “rainy Saturday afternoon.””

      I dunno. Hell in GD is a rainy, dreary city where theologians and pastors sit around tables doing theology forever. That is quite different from a lake of fire.

      “The damned are not quite like mental patients who harm themselves in ways that have no moral dimensions.”

      Why do you assume that the person in my illustration is a mental patient whose actions have no moral dimension?

      “Is it obvious that the moral thing to do is to restrain people who act like this, and then failing that, put them out of their misery or knock them unconscious?”

      Really? Hell is so horrendous that the primary images for it consist of being burnt alive. You don’t think that annihilation is the most proper and merciful way to engage in someone suffering to that degree with no hope of being released from that suffering?

      “Perhaps the only heterodox thing about GD is the possibility of postmortem repentance, and maybe the traveling back and forth….”

      I think the most heterodox thing may be the bus. The whole journey from hell to heaven in the bus would go well with the Beetles playing “Yellow Submarine” or “I am the Walrus”. Very psychadelic.

      • Walter

        “His point is that, at the end of the day, the damned prefer hell to heaven.”

        Then why doesn’t God send them to heaven to maximize their suffering?

        Ha!

        Maybe the universalists and the damnationists are both right. God resurrects everyone to heaven; some will love it and others will consider it to be torture. Heaven and Hell both at the same street address.

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          That’s actually closer to the biblical truth than the traditional heaven-or-hell scenario.

          • pete

            no it is not

  • Kyle

    And I think the point about the damned like being a crack in the ground of heaven is that the damned cannot hold joy hostage. It is not to say that we will not mourn the damned, but that, in their selfishness, they cannot hold hostage the joy of heaven.

    At any rate, thanks for post. Wanted to share my thoughts!

    Kyle

    • randal

      The problem there is that Lewis shares our revulsion with the idea of taking pleasure in the suffering of the damned. But then we must account for a biblical theme that carries from the imprecatory psalms straight through Revelation 19 in which the righteous take pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. The crack in heaven is really a disingenuous way to deal with the problem. To say that a parent will not fret over their child’s damnation because hell is just a crack is just a way of avoiding the problem rather than dealing with it.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Failure to seek the kingdom of God is what accounts for most of the misunderstanding about hell.

    So much of what Jesus taught about this life gets relegated to the afterlife – hell being one of the more prominent examples of that phenomenon.

    Lewis has given us so much. Reading his trilemma in Mere Christianity marked the pivotal point in my life. The variation in his descriptions of hell is his tacit admission that, while he himself didn’t know exactly how to define it, orthodox descriptions were surely off the mark.

    Furthermore, I think Lewis would have accepted the biblical case for everyone going to heaven if someone had laid it out for him.

    • Scott F

      “Reading his trilemma in Mere Christianity marked the pivotal point in my life.”

      Wow. The trilemma is a more famously bad Lewis argument than GD!

  • pete

    Mike….

    When the apostle’s said at Pentecost “Judas has gone to where he belongs” (Acts 1:25), do you really think they meant “heaven”?

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Pete, that phrase is the complement of “left this ministry and apostleship” and the more literal English translations render it as “go to his own place.” Thus there’s no basis for saying that it refers to heaven or hell either one.

    Besides, in the apostles’ worldview at the time, everyone who died went to Sheol (Hades). Jesus was not left there and was the first person exalted to heaven at death. Fortunately for them and us, He wouldn’t be the last.

    • pete

      With love, you are wrong:

      “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
      (Mark 14:21)

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Indeed, Judas did himself no favor. But let us not go farther than the word of the Lord where Judas is concerned.

        • pete

          I am only going by the Word of the Lord as far as Judas is concerned.

          He is not going to heaven. The Bible says that clearly.

          Otherwise, in reading Acts 1:25/Mark 14:21, a universalist would be confessing the following/making the following exegesis:

          “It would be better for Judas if he had never been born at all..(Mark 14:21)….. Judas has now gone to where he belongs (Acts 1:25)…… and that place is…..

          Heaven?

          C’mon

          I’m not trying to be unsettling, or a jerk, but if I can show you from Scripture that Judas isn’t going to heaven, you should probably re-think your position on the Judgment of God

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            I know you have nothing but good will toward me, Pete. Same here.

            I think it’s quite a stretch to get out of those two verses that Judas went to a place of eternal conscious torment (ECT) called hell – especially when none of those terms are in those passages. I’ve also indicated that “to where he belongs” is a translation not found in the more literal versions. Your interpretation requires one to believe that the only thing worse than no being born is assignment to ECT hell.

            Beyond all this, however, the cosmology of Jesus and the apostles wouldn’t allow your interpretation in any case. There are only two cosmologies presented in the Bible: the biblical-era cosmology (which had Sheol [Hades] as the compartment below for all the dead) and the cosmology of the new age (new heaven and earth; no lower compartment ["there was no longer any sea"]). All the NT books appear to have been written before the Second Coming and therefore the new cosmology was not yet in effect and Jesus was the only dead person ever to go to heaven.

            I would gladly stand down if you, or anyone else, can demonstrate scripturally where I am wrong. As it is, I’ve written a biblical case for everyone going to heaven which no on has been able to refute. Although I wouldn’t be happy if everyone wasn’t going to heaven, I would be happy not to be such a lone voice.

            • pete

              All of your observations aside, you still have to deal with how “it would be better if he was never born” can equate to going to heaven.

              As for ECT vs. Annihalationism, I may have more of an exegetical burden than I do for Particularism vs. Universalism.

              But dealing for a minute with “there was no more sea” you also have “the lake of fire”.

              In the ancient near east, “the sea” was understood to be the forces hostile to God and creation. Notice in Revelation 13 we have a “Beast from the Sea”.

              Each of Daniel’s 4 beasts (Daniel 7) come from “the sea”. In conjucntion with the hybrid beasts, and the Israelites keen sense of order in creation, this would have been an appaling image to them.

              Notice in Revelation 17:15, the “many waters” are people who are controlled by the Great Prostitute….

              All this is to say that “sea” or “many waters” imagery is used to convey a sense of active rebellion to God’s purposes.

              So when “there is no more sea”, there will be no active rebellion to God’s purposes

              In Revelation 15:2 we learn the following:

              “And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God”

              Clearly the “sea”/earth dwellers are contrasted with the saints who obey the commands of Jesus.

              These people in the “sea” do not get to go to Heaven. They will be judged according to their deeds. (Revelation 20:13)

              Notice that the same verse says that it was THE SEA who gave up the dead.

              Death and Hades (or Sheol) was then thrown into the Lake of Fire…….. so annihilationism is not an option.

              Then notice, following the judgement, that anyone not found in the Book of Life will be cast into the Lake of Fire/Second Death (Revelation 20:15)

              And in further opposition to annihalitionsim:

              But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.” (Isaiah 50:11)

              ****the term “LIE DOWN” means death

              “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” (Isaiah 57:21)

              The appeal of annihalationism is that its sort of like a divine execution. Justice is said to be done, but the suffering of the wicked will be ended…. hence the wicked will experience peace.

              According to Isaiah, who Jesus quotes from most frequently, including the famous Isaiah 66:24…… there will be no peace for the wicked.

              They will not go to heaven; they will not be annihalated….. there will be no rest for them day or night and the smoke of their torment will rise forever. (Revelation 14:11)

              That is what the Bible says.

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                Pete,

                I acknowledge your view of what the Bible says on this subject. As I’ve said, I have written my view of what it says on my blog. At 12 chapters and 55,000 words, it’s impractical to reproduce here.

                May the truth win.

                • pete

                  agreed.

                  It’s always good to dialogue with you

  • David Evans

    I’m losing patience with this thread and with some of its contributors. I see Myers (who has, at least, written a successful blog) called “pathetic” and “a sad, crazy little radical” And Jerry Coyne (who has written an excellent popular book on evolution, and taken an unpopular position on freewill) called a “coward”. Oh, and I am apparently a “lapdog” for reading and supporting Myers.

    Is this Christian charity?

    • randal

      “I’m losing patience with this thread …”

      Don’t conflate the thread with those who post in it.

      • David Evans

        Agreed. For some reason the word “coward” hit a nerve and I posted in haste. There are some good things in this thread. And on the site in general – I enjoyed your chapter on carnivory.

    • Nepenthe

      I have to say that when I read some of those words myself (like pathetic, or stupid), I cringed…

      I have been looking at some of Myers posts myself (as Ray pointed his blog out to me). I have to admit that there was a post here or there, not to mention the comments others made, that made a feeling of nausea start to rise in me. Because there were words exactly like this (and worse) all over it. The particular post I was looking at, the creationists who posted remained civil… despite the free use of questionable words.

      And then I came here and read people talking about Myers in the same way… Maybe we should rethink using words like “idiotic” or “inane” or “stupid…” We can disagree or point out unteniable positions without those words.

      And of course, just because I posts on this thread, that in no way means I agree with calling him those things… Though I think he might possibly be a good example of someone who would, to his last breath, vehemently refuse the proposition that God might exist… maybe even if God was sitting on his chest.. ;)

      • David Evans

        I think Myers’ attitude may be an atheist version of what C S Lewis called “Obstinacy In Belief”, i.e. he thinks he has evidence for his position which no imaginable new evidence will overturn.

        I’ve argued with him (inconclusively) over this, but here’s an analogy for you. Suppose that you wake up one morning to see that the Norse gods and their adversaries have turned up and are enacting their version of the end of the world. I can think of several possible reactions:

        1 I’m hallucinating.
        2 Aliens or the CIA are putting on a very impressive simulation for their own devious purposes.
        3 I’m living in a computer simulation, and always have been. The programmers are conducting a long-term experiment on the psychology of religion.
        4 I was wrong. God and Jesus are myths, and the Norse religion is true.

        I suggest not many of you would plump for #4.

        • Nepenthe

          Hmmmm…. I would I agree that it might take some time of me living in the “new reality” before I really believed it were true… but really hard to say for sure for either Myers or myself until your there.

          But I think it might not be that hard for some people to “adjust” to new thinking as you think, depending, of course, on how divergent the “new reality” would be from their position.

          For example, a site I looked at not that long ago advocating that all beliefs were welome within the practice of Yoga. But there was a caveat to “keep an open mind” because some people had experiences in yoga that might alter their perception of reality… they might have an experience that was different from how they had always thought of the world, and they should be open to this. (you may say that this yoga would not be ‘strictly for exercise,” I’m guessing meditation would be a big component here)

          And of course, there are people who HAVE gotten into meditation and HAVE had experiences that have altered how they see reality, and some of them have been/are Christian. Some times these changes come in flashes, and sometimes they seem much more incremental. My point is: experience can be a powerful agent for change.

          So, in the Norse gods analogy, I would say on a scale of 1-10, that would would be a 7 for me to accept and adapt to. Of course, a Catholic viewpoint would be more like a 1 or 2. A deist position would maybe more of a 4 or 5, in terms of accepting a “new reality” based on experience. That’t all just hypothetical, throwing it out there type stuff.

          And I will be more careful about guessing where Myers would really be. Hard to know, when I can’t say for sure even for myself, right?

        • randal

          I’d go for 5: an elaborate marketing gimmick for the next Percy Jackson film.

  • Nepenthe

    Ok, I’m getting a really late start on this thread, because it has really made me think. But before I go on and share my thoughts, just because I was thinking, doesn’t mean it was brilliant, ok? I’m throwing some ideas out there, to see what you think.

    I know some people would be all over me for saying God “can’t” do something, so I hope none of them are on this thread. :)

    Here is my question: Can God take away autonomy without permission? Yes, I realize some will say “Hey, He’s God, of course He can.” But think about it…? I get Randal’s arguement about the “rape of the will” and I’m not talking about it in those terms. I mean, can “automony” be a “take back” sort of thing?

    And what about the immortal soul…? If you annihilate a soul, then was it really immortal? Oh yeah, I know that there are lots of stories about people who lose their immortality, but if you can lose your ability to exist forever… did you really have it? I don’t know, just throwing it out there… perhaps by definition you can’t lose the “immortal” from “soul” and maybe you can’t take away “autonomy” without having permission first…?

    I think, once again, that if you start off with wondering how a maximally loving and good God could have hell, you will need to go further to “If God is maximally good and loving, and He could just give sinners the “antidote” to sin without their permission, why doesn’t He just do that right now? Why let people actually do all sorts of atrocious things to each other first, before giving them the treatment that saves them from hell? If you are going to do it anyway, I vote for now, anyway, because I’m tired of being horrified by people hacking each other to death with matchete’s and making child porn and that sort of stuff…

    • randal

      Plato believed the soul was necessarily immortal — it could not be created or destroyed — because it was a simple substance without parts. Some Christians were influenced by platonism to the extent where it provided a rationale for eternal conscious torment: if a soul is necessarily immortal then once it exists it must go on existing.

      But this misses the point that according to Christian theology God preserves all things in being every moment, including souls. Thus, any person who exists suffering in hell for a moment only exists because God actively wills that they exist suffering in hell for that moment. Anybody that exists suffering in hell for eternity only exists because God actively wills that they exist suffering in hell for eternity.

      There is no way around God’s active willing of eternal damnation.

      • Nepenthe

        Hmmmm… according to Christian theology, God preserves all things in being every moment, including souls…?

        Is that like me saying universalists are heretical? :)

        Are you talking about “In Him we live and move and have our being?” (Acts 17)

        Do you think, perhaps, that saying we have life and being might be a bit different than “we have eternal souls?” Do you have other biblical texts? Ya know, Calvinists give me all of Romans 9, and a lot of theology from sources outside the Bible, to support their view too… yet I disagree…

        I am not really sure about that either way, to be honest. I certainly wouldn’t be too dogmatic about any of this, and in a large part I’m playing “Devil’s Advocate.” I think there might be room in the fact that God breathed into Adam to give him life, to believe at that moment God gave Adam an immortal soul which could not be destroyed… and yet, of course, I’m also not saying that man is thus somehow “divine” because of this… hmmmm…

        I’ll think more about it all.

        • randal

          “Are you talking about “In Him we live and move and have our being?” (Acts 17)”

          That would be one relevant text. There are many other texts as well like John 1:3 and Col. 1:15.

          But the doctrine of divine preservation / conservation is rooted in more than biblical proof texts. It is an inference from the fact that God is absolute creator and sustainer of all things. If God is Pure Act and First Mover, the source of all being, then it follows that creation depends on his willing its existence every moment.

          • Nepenthe

            Randal, I never knew I could be so heretical! :)

            Funny thing is, I don’t know where the idea originally came from (I don’t think it was my personal study of Plato, at any rate) but I think I have just been assuming eternal soul = can’t be destroyed, and never put those references into a context where they would invalidate that.

            In other words, I have always thought of God as the Creator and Sustainer of all… but I think I was thinking “sustainer of the physical world” and not that souls would cease to exist apart from Him. Good to think about this. I’ll be munching on it for awhile.

            Here is an interesting reference along the lines of this discussion: Genesis 3:22. This verse, it might be argued, clearly states that the soul is not eternal. On the other hand, the verse seems to imply that it is possible to live eternally, outside of God’s will… (hypothetically only, of course, since because it was not God’s will, He made sure it didnt’ happen.)

            • randal

              You should look up an essay by Thomas Morris called “Absolute Creation”. It explores the idea that God is even the metaphysical ground of abstract objects (e.g. platonic universals). In fact, theologians have pondered for centuries how God might be the metaphysical ground of things like the number two.

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  • patzerdog

    Would a good God force everyone into heaven, even against their will? Even the ones who wanted to remain welded to their own egos? I think Lewis is possibly right–hell is for those who decide, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” and purgatory a remedial course for those who want to follow Christ in self-sacrifical love but can’t quite make it in this life.