Judgment, Hell, and the Life Beyond - with Apologies to C. S. Lewis
Talk about Hell is and has been a convoluted topic in the history of Christian thought. Though the view that Hell is a “place” where the unbelieving will spend eternity in conscious torment has been dominant for much of this time that time seems to have come to an end. In this post I want to consider (speculate) on a possible image for Hell that may address the issue of the ultimate fate of those who enact the “impossible possibility” (Barth) of resisting God’s love to the end. I’m not going to try to sort and categorize all the different views around this matter. Instead I want to explore an image that C. S. Lewis provides in his Narnia story The Last Battle (LB).
Now Lewis was a traditionalist in his view of Hell. He believed that if a human being did not do as God willed God would allow them to experience the result of their will. Essentially a free-will defense. Even in LB he has a version of the Last Judgment into which some are cast away from Aslan’s country and presence forever.
Yet within that larger perspective his treatment of the Dwarves is intriguing. They believed only in themselves. Not Aslan, the Christ-figure in the stories, nor Tash, the Calormene’s deity. They kept their distance from both preferring instead to keep to themselves and help neither. Yet they still make it into Aslan’s country! They remain huddled together and still believe they are in the smelly, trashy corner of the stable where they died. They experience nothing of the beauty and grandeur of his country. Aslan takes care of them and has the same feast the others' share brought to them. The Dwarves eat the feast but experience it as lousy stable scraps. They can hear Aslan speaking to them only as a fearful roar. He tells Lucy there is nothing more he can do for them. Presumably they spend “eternity” in that same mind set and experience of Aslan’s gifts as stable trash.
What if something similar awaits those who remain disobedient to Christ’s call (whether or not they profess his name)? What if Hell is “in” God’s new creation, a “place” where, though lavishly loved and cared for to the uttermost by God, they remain opposed to Christ and treat his gifts with disdain and contempt? God is faithful to love and care for all his creatures through the ages, and yet the will of the creatures to reject and think poorly of him remains as their “hellish” experience even of the paradise of new creation. This would not entail eternal conscious torment by God’s will or choice. Whatever suffering persons there undergo is of their own design and in their own minds. And who knows whether their obduracy would last through eternity?
This may seem like just a mashup of various (seemingly) incompatible elements of the church’s discussion through the centuries. And it may be. This is just some (idle?) speculation on my part by reading Lewis “against the grain” of his own view. Yet, I wonder if this is a viable way to render God’s sovereign love for the salvation of all and the justice of God and his respect for human freedom. I don’t “believe” this per se, and still think I prefer some version of Moltmann’s view and yet I can’t quite leave these ideas behind. I leave your decision up to you, dear readers, of course, and would appreciate any feedback (not anathemas however!) to these ideas.