On Hell: What are you asking God to do?

In the eighth chapter, “Hell,” of The Problem of Pain (1940), C.S. Lewis writes:

To condone an evil is simply to ignore it, to treat it as if it were good. But forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered if it is to be complete: and a man who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.

***

To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being on earth; to enter hell, is to be banished from humanity. What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is “remains”. To be a complete man means to have the passions obedient to the will and the will offered to God: to have been a man—to be an ex-man or “damned ghost”—would presumably mean to consist of a will utterly centred in its self and passions utterly uncontrolled by the will.

***

I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside. I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man “wishes” to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved: just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.

In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: “What are you asking God to do?” To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.

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2 thoughts on “On Hell: What are you asking God to do?

  1. In other words, you may say that the damned skip happily into hell forcing its doors open as a proclamation of their freedom to do so, and then remain there utterly dissatisfied with their freedom from God yet never willing to yield their ability to stay in hell.

    • Lewis doesn’t say the damned are “utterly dissatisfied with their freedom from God.” On the contrary, God has given them what they want: total absence from Himself.

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