Book Reviews

The Problem of Hell

I just read the chapter on hell in C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, having been persuaded by Bidwell Presbyterian pastor, Greg Cootsona.

I have to say I have always considered C. S. Lewis as a sort of standard for Christian orthodoxy. If there was ever a doctrine I had questions about, if I were to learn about it from Lewis, that would settle the question. And so I come to his chapter on hell. At once it makes me realize how little of his works I have apparently read, and how much else is there, and why haven’t I been more diligent to use Lewis as a resource through all the arguments of the last decade. It also makes me wonder why those who often seem to quote Lewis on every other page of their own works have completely disregarded him in the argument over Rob Bell’s new apparently universalist book.

Their views are different, but neither of them resembles the Fundamentalist view. Rob Bell thinks hell is a state of mind, and that ultimately, God’s love will melt the cold heart and the human soul will turn around and step into heaven. Lewis, on the other hand, recognizes the power of omnipotent God to know when a soul will never agree to turn, like a schoolmaster who knows the point at which it’s pointless to make a student retake a test. But Lewis points out that retributive torture is only one of the descriptions of hell that Scripture gives us. It also uses images of destruction and banishment. Like burning a log, you end up with remains (ashes and gas), so what suffers in hell is not a human soul, but the remains of one—a “damned ghost”. Finally, hell and heaven don’t coexist on parallel planes or timelines. While heaven was made for man, hell was not, and so they are not a yin and yang. Existence in hell is not about duration but of “finality.” “It is ‘the darkness outside’, the outer rim where being fades away into nonentity.” and so, Lewis sounds an awful lot like an annihilationist.

This is not the medieval view of Dante or the paintings. And it is not the view of the world of Evangelicalism which came out in full force to condemn Rob Bell (as if they couldn’t see it coming?). The biggest thing is that we should not use hell to scare stoners and heshers into praying the sinner’s prayer. It’s not a tool to condemn “the other”. It’s a tool to condemn ourselves. A few years ago When struggling with the doctrine of election I finally came to the point where I realized if God were to send me to hell, he’d be perfectly justified to do so, and would be glorified in it. This is the humility Paul felt, the “chief of sinners”, and the position of all the Reformers, as sinners saved by grace alone. As Lewis put it, “In all discussions of Hell we should keep steadily before our eyes the possible damnation, not of our enemies nor our friends … but of ourselves. This chapter is not about your wife or son, nor about Nero or Judas Iscariot; it is about you and me.”

Posted from my iPhone

Location:Manzanita Ave,Chico,United States


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