North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

An End to Suffering

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In response to my second excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, Babbling Brooks wrote up a nice post (which takes up scarcity from an economic angle that I’m not likely to cover anytime soon but which is quite valid) and tells us, as he winds up, that:

I’m not a religious man, partly because I’ve always found organized religion falls back on fear all too quickly to motivate good behavior. Fire and brimstone, the wrath of God, and bad little boys go to hell – not my idea of spiritual inspiration. But I do believe in God.

I want to take this up because it is a very common perception of Christian doctrine, as is the idea that Heaven is escapist, which I attempted to deal with here. People ought to be excused for thinking that judgment is a negative because there do seem to be churches that teach it that way. There are other interpretations, however, and once again I’ll use Lewis to make the point – he’s so much better at this than I am.

The selection that follows is from The Great Divorce, also one of Lewis’ very best. The Great Divorce tells a strange tale in which the narrator gets on a fantastic bus that takes him on a journey through Heaven and Hell. (Haven’t we all had commutes like that?) The narrator has a guide (most stories like this do; Dante used Virgil in his Inferno) based on a contemporary writer that Lewis knew and whose company he enjoyed – George MacDonald. MacDonald is less well known today, but there is at least one blog dedicated to him. Back of the North Wind has not been updated since early in December but it is a good one. Blogger Donal Grant discusses Hell here, here and here. The last post might be the best if you’re short of time. I hope to see him back blogging soon.

In The Great Divorce, the narrator asks if Heaven and Hell are only states of mind. MacDonald answers him like this:

“Hush,” he said sternly, “Do not blaspheme. Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains…

“Never fear. 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.” -[emphasis mine]

Later in the book, the narrator is still puzzled about why those in Hell are not rescued. MacDonald’s response is worth much reflection:

“Stop it at once.”

“Stop what?”

“Using pity, other people’s pity, in the wrong way… Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing, Those who choose misery can hold up joy up to ransom, by pity.”

The narrator persists and says that “some people on Earth say that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all who are saved.” MacDonald presses on:

“Ye see that it does not.”

“I feel in a way that it ought to.”

“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 until they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should veto Heaven.”

“I don’t know what I want, Sir.”

“Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject themselves… Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on having jaundice.”

The Great Divorce is a short book and well worth the trouble. It basically says that we are not strong enough to enter reality and we are here to build up our strength until we can. The metaphor is that of the Earth as a hospital for sinners, one of most common Christian literary themes. The souls in Hell, on the other hand, draw into themselves deeper and deeper until they almost disappear. They cannot stand one another either. They are all alone, desperately hoping to make the universe conform to them, rather than them to the universe. If I may include bit of Catholicism before I end, Mary is held is great esteem because she said at the Annunciation: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”


Written by Curt

January 11, 2005 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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