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Mere Christianity: Last word on Tebow for now;
back to the future life; heaven and/or hell - 2

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JONAL ENTRY 1218 | January 17 2012

The final word on Tim Tebow's rookie NFL season and his exceptional stand for his faith through it comes from Sallie Covolo, who sent this on Monday:

"Tim Tebow did pull off a miracle in the playoff game. He had atheists praying to God that he would lose!" ~Rush Limbaugh

Back to the future life; heaven and/or hell - 2

Before playoff fever overtook us on Saturday, we'd been discussing heaven and/or hell and I'd promised to say something here about my mentor C.S. Lewis's views on the topic. When I wrote in the previous installment that Rob "Bell's doctrine that everyone or at least everyone who wants to eventually gets into heaven is what the church has always called the heresy of universalism" is essentially the same thing C.S. Lewis believed. But he was less sure of it than Bell seems to be and hedged his writing on the topic behind qualifiers.

I am fairly sure that Lewis says somewhere in his letters that he believes anyone who wants to go to heaven will eventually get there (but can't find proof) and I'm sure he said that the door of hell is locked on the inside (meaning anyone inside can unlock it and leave) but I can't prove that at this writing, either. But his main work suggesting the view that hell may not be a done deal once one arrives there is his 1945 novel, The Great Divorce. The storyline of that classic work is that people in hell (or perhaps it is more akin to the Catholic conception of purgatory; Lewis never names the bleak city could even be London at its 19th-century worst) are given a bus daytrip to visit heaven. There they are shown around and invited to stay.

But the first aspect of the story that probably insulates Lewis from the charge of universalism is that in the story most people—all but one, in fact—are not interested in moving up to heaven. They'd rather nurse their resentment toward God and have things "their way" despite the bleakness of their current place of abode; they'd rather remain true to "their" religion than bow their knee to Him and change their thinking. And in a number of places in his writing, Lewis warns that attitudes of self-sufficiency like these acquired in life are likely to become so engrained that they will never be repented; he describes a grumbler, for example, who eventually turns into a grumble. It seems that Lewis believed that, given a second chance at salvation, most people would reject it as they did their first chance, where Rob Bell seems to think hardly anyone would turn down a second chance.

The second aspect of Lewis's book that keeps it from being labeled universalistic is that in the end it is described as all a dream in the sleeping subconscious of its author. The same literary technique was used by one of Lewis's literary mentors, John Bunyan, who ended his classic allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, with a similar statement: "So I awoke, and behold, it was a Dream."

A third hedge against Lewis's being judged for his universalist tendency is that in this very story, he is one of the characters, and his own even more important mentor (than Bunyan), George MacDonald, is the one assigned to show Lewis around heaven. And in their discussions Lewis asks MacDonald (who had been a Scottish Presbyterian preacher with some unorthodox views who supplemented his ministerial subsistence with income from writing)—Lewis's fictionalized character asks the fictionalized MacDonald about his own belief that everyone will eventually be saved. MacDonald answers that he was in error on that and that he now stands corrected. Neat, huh?

As The Great Divorce illustrates, Lewis's view of punishment in the afterlife did not stress physical torture as much as the images invoked in the phrase "hellfire and brimstone preacher." Through his innuendo, at least, Lewis took the side of believing that those consigned to spend eternity estranged from their Creator were adequately punished without adding a literal burning of their flesh to it. And I think he was biblical in this, as the story Jesus told about the rich man in hell and Lazarus in heaven (referenced here last time) seems to support it. The rich man's torture is not so much the physical pain he was suffering as the anguish of not being able to get any relief from his lonely vigil, waiting forever for nothing. Those of us who have spent nights when sleep would not or could not come have had a foretaste of this kind of "hell," I venture to say.

Orthodox Church theologians often propose, along this line, that everyone goes to the same place in death...namely into the presence of God. For some, that is heaven; for others, it is hell. For some, it is a light that enlightens the whole universe and makes it a playground of endless delight; for others it is a light that makes them uncomfortably warm and is so bright they have to squint so much they can't see anything. And Lewis is in line with this idea when he suggests in several places that nothing would be less enjoyable to those who cannot stand the idea of a Creator God, perfect in His justice and even in His Love, than having to spend their eternity in His presence.

One of the places where Lewis writes of this is in the final chapter of his Narnia volume entitled The Last Battle. It describes a community of dwarves, who had been hypercritical all their lives and convinced that the God of their world, Aslan, had been an idol created by those who had to cling to false hopes. When Aslan takes his followers into the New Narnia, the heaven of their world, he takes in the dwarves as well. But whereas everyone who loves Aslan is awestruck by the beauty of the New Narnia, all that the dwarves can see and experience is a "smelly old stable" that looks more like hell to them than heaven. And that would have been just what they would have expected the afterlife to be like.

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy