Lewis: The Unfathomable Anguish of Hell

Regular readers of this blog know that each Saturday I pull quotes from the vast resource available from C. S. Lewis. The past couple of Saturdays, I’ve focused on his comments about hell. Why, some may wonder, would I dwell on that topic? One reason is that we live in a society that pretty much dismisses hell as a fantasy or, at best, an illustration of something more “real” but less frightening. Well, hell is real. And, if you take the Scripture seriously, it is the destination for the majority of humanity. Therefore, I make no apology for spending some time highlighting it, if for no other reason than to make us think soberly about eternity.

Problem of PainIn Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, he paints a portrait of hell as the absence of genuine humanity, and shows the contrast between heaven and hell on that score:

To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being in 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 centered in its self and passions utterly uncontrolled by the will.

A couple of chapters later, in the same book, Lewis helps us understand what it might feel like to have been so close to heaven, only to lose it all:

We can understand Hell in its aspect of privation. All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will awake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.

Is that perhaps the real hellishness of hell, to spend an eternity in unfathomable anguish of soul for having allowed eternal bliss to slip from one’s hands? Can anything be more of a hell than to have glimpsed what might have been?