In C.S. Lewis’s masterful book The Problem of Pain, he describes the doctrine of Hell as “not tolerable” and “no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.” While I agree on so many levels it also forces us to ask hard questions about God’s purposes we don’t always understand. Lewis recognizes that not all will be saved and to which he assigns a free-will nature to the creature.
I veer away from Lewis on this point in the way he means it. I believe he fully assigns the creature the full liberty to “choose” or “not choose” God. However look at the internal struggle Lewis has as to the creature’s ability.
If the happiness of a creature lies in self-surrender, no one can make that surrender but himself (though many can help him to make it) and he may refuse. I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully ‘All will be saved.’ But my reason retorts ‘Without their will, or with it?’ If I say ‘Without their will’ I at once perceive a contradiction; how can the supreme voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary? If I say ‘With their will,’ my reason replies ‘How if they will not give in?’
Ah, so here-in lies the issue. How does the creature surrender? What do we know? We know that man has no ability in himself to save himself and he has no ability to choose God (Romans 3:10-18). He is dead spiritually without the ability to revive himself (Ephesians 2:1). Man is a slave to sin and while he does have the ability to make choices his will is ensnared and captivated by what he is enslaved, which is his love of sin (John 8:34).
Therefore, left to himself, man will never decide to follow Jesus even though this is a catchy little tune I sang at a church I was visiting once. There must be a force that acts upon the creature. This is where the electing purposes of God enter the scene and while I’m not writing about God’s election today, it is an important doctrine to work through at some point in the Christian journey.
What do you do with a rebellious creature that desires self.
to think of this bad man’s perdition not as a sentence imposed on him but as the mere fact of being what he is. The characteristic of lost souls is ‘their rejection of everything that is not simply themselves’.
Death removes this last contact. He has his wish–to lie wholly in the self and to make the best of what he finds there. And what he finds there is Hell.
While I truly hate that anyone would ever perish eternally in Hell I cannot shy away from this truth and neither can you if you are to speak the truth in love to your neighbor. The objections are common and mostly predictable. “Why would a loving God send anyone to Hell?” Well, that is a good question, but have you ever considered what is a just God to do with guilty criminals?
Look at how Lewis deals with this objection.
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.
This is really what lies at the heart of the issue. You can be a Calvinist an Arminian or anything in between and at the bottom of the discussion is that every man will make a decision about Christ. Hell is simply the reality of what they truly desire, outside of God’s regenerating work on the heart of man it is what we all desire.
But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– Ephesians 2:4-5