Lewis: Hell Cannot Veto Heaven

The Great DivorceOne of my favorite C. S. Lewis books is The Great Divorce. This fanciful account of a busload of occupants of hell getting an opportunity to visit heaven allows Lewis, through conversations between the passengers from hell and heavenly denizens, to discuss all the objections to the faith raised by those who reject it.

In one such discussion, Lewis deals with those who say it’s unfair that those who enter into eternal bliss should be so happy when the rest have to endure eternal torment. In the words of one of his characters, he provides this rejoinder:

What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved. . . .

That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it. . . .

The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

Although we will mourn for those who selfishly chose to follow their own path rather than God’s, that cannot diminish the utter joy of living in the very presence of the Lord. Those who are hellbound have no grounds to demand we be miserable. They have made their choices; we have made ours. In one very real sense, God sends no one to hell. Here’s how Lewis expresses it, again in The Great Divorce:

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.”

All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.

It all comes down to our choice. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we live a life apart from Him. And that earthy choice will go with us into eternity.

Lewis: Made for Another World

Mere ChristianityWe are earthbound creatures. We are transfixed on what we see around us. C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, reminds us that we are meant for a fuller existence, and that there is a reality we cannot see fully now, but if submitted to God and His will, forgiven of our sins and living righteously, we will see it. He also deals with a common misconception:

Most of us find it very difficult to want “Heaven” at all—except in so far as “Heaven”  means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world.

Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. . . .

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

I’ll just simply add “amen.”

Lewis: The Nature of Heaven

There have been many attempts to describe heaven. All undoubtedly fall short of the reality. We also have some misconceptions about the nature of the afterlife—although that term “afterlife” is a misconception in itself because that’s when life truly begins. C. S. Lewis addresses this in Mere Christianity:

I Cor. 2-9There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.”

The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. . . .

People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.

Heaven will not disappoint. Of that I am certain. How can the very presence of the One who gives life meaning be a disappointment? Lewis also notes that it’s just fine to desire heaven. As he explains in The Problem of Pain,

We are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested [i.e., unselfish]. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.

Those who have never humbled themselves before God would find heaven to be hell because it admits no one who lives for self. It’s made only for those who seek God’s face and rejoice to be with Him.

Lewis: Your Place in Heaven

Problem of PainWhen you give a title to a book like The Problem of Pain, you may scare away readers. But if the author is C. S. Lewis, more will be attracted to it than repulsed. And despite the “downer” title, it’s really quite an excellent perspective on dealing with the difficulties we face in life. Lewis also offered this encouragement in the book:

Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular dwelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions.

For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you, the individual reader. . . . Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him, and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. . . .

Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it.

The pain we experience in this short stay on earth is more than worth it in the end.

Lewis: Redefining Happiness & Comfort

C. S. Lewis 3People are always striving to be happy. The problem is the definition of the term. It’s always self-centered and focused on how we feel. As a result, we drift toward the quick and easy, anything that makes us “feel” good. In just two sentences, C. S. Lewis lays bare the barrenness of that approach:

Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best.

The key there is the phrase “while it lasts.” Scripture tells us that sin gives pleasure for a short time, but it ultimately leads to emptiness. The search for the “comfortable” is illusory; what we need is the truth that will challenge us and teach us the real source of happiness, in the process redefining the term. Lewis goes on to say,

As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

That’s because comfort and happiness, as understood by the unrenewed mind, are illusions, pale shadows of what we find in a relationship with God once we have put away our sin and received new eyes. There will be happiness, there will be comfort, far beyond anything we imagine while bound in sin. But it won’t be based on selfishness. We’ll finally comprehend that what the Lord offers us is the real definition of those terms.

Lewis: The Source of Happiness

There is a genuine happiness and a false happiness. Some people seem to make it their goal in life to be happy, but when that is your goal, you miss it entirely because it’s based on self-centeredness. You run around trying to get happy or find someone or something that will make you happy, but it’s all artificial. Happiness, in itself, is not the be-all and end-all of life. Your expectations make all the difference. In an essay, “Answers to Questions on Christianity,” C. S. Lewis discusses this:

If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.

Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end.

The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t true happiness, though. One just needs to find the source. Lewis explains in his classic Mere Christianity:

God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.

That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

We are restless and unhappy until we find our peace in Him. Therein lies a happiness that won’t be found anywhere else.

C. S. Lewis & Happiness

Lewis: The Danger of the “Great” Man

Reflections on the PsalmsThere are many good reasons to have commemorated the 50th anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death. His writings will continue to live and breathe new life into others until the Lord’s return. The insights he offers often can be counter-intuitive. Here’s an example from his Reflections on the Psalms, as he bids us to reconsider which type of sinner may be the more dangerous:

It seems that there is a general rule in the moral universe which may be formulated “The higher, the more in danger.” The “average sensual man” who is sometimes unfaithful to his wife, sometimes tipsy, always a little selfish, now and then (within the law) a trifle sharp in his deals, is certainly, by ordinary standards, a “lower” type than the man whose soul is filled with some great Cause, to which he will subordinate his appetites, his fortune, and even his safety.

But it is out of the second man that something really fiendish can be made; an Inquisitor, a Member of the Committee of Public Safety. It is great men, potential saints, not little men, who become merciless fanatics. Those who are readiest to die for a cause may easily become those who are readiest to kill for it.

A sobering thought for today as we experience those in politics, especially, who have grand designs for our lives. It’s only a small step, really, from presumed good intentions to outright tyranny.