Articol de Valentin Teodorescu
1. Lewis’ view of the afterlife, especially in the books The problem of pain and The Great Divorce
C.S.Lewis’ book The Great Divorce has a title which reflects very well his view about Heaven and Hell. Between Heaven and Hell there is ‘a great divorce’. ‘If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.’ Moreover, from an afterlife point of view, not only Heaven, but even Earth and eventually Purgatory, will be Heaven for those who are saved, and vice-versa, not only Hell, but even Earth will be Hell for those who are lost. What is the rationale for such an extreme separation?
The motive of such a strong ‘divorce’ is the way these two groups chose. The reality of our human freedom and responsibility stays beyond this separation. Our choices on this earth matter more then we imagine. Lewis rejects the idea that there is a second chance for the people who chose on this world wrong. He considers that ‘if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given. God, in His divine omniscience is like a master who knows, when boys and parents do not, that it is really useless to send a boy in for certain examination again’. The conception of ‘second chance’ is not to be confused for Lewis with that or Purgatory, for there souls are already saved.
The Hell, in C.S. Lewis’ description is a place inhabited by the people who loved themselves more than anything else. These are the people to whom God told in the end: ‘Thy will be done’. What is very interesting and new for me in Lewis’ description of Hell is the fact that ‘in a sense, the doors of Hell are locked on inside, and the people there enjoy forever the horrible freedom they demanded, and therefore are self-enslaved’ That seems to me puzzling at first sight, because in the New Testament, in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the damned there wish to come out of Hell. However, Lewis agrees with this biblical image. Probably in a sense, in his view, all the damned ghosts want to come out from that place, to be happy, but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good: ‘better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven’.
This attitude of self- centeredness is common to almost all the damned personages from The Great Divorce. Whenever they have to choose between loving themselves and loving the others, they prefer themselves, even if that means their returning to Hell. Because they are so selfish, they hate the others , and for that reason the Hell is a place where people live separately: they cannot support each other. In that sense, Sartre’s well-known statement „L’Enfer c’est !’autre”, is very real here. The only torture of the people in Hell is their selfishness manifested in each one’s specific sins. In the sense, the wrong use of freedom , the sin, devours the people who submit to it. In the end they are not even persons; rather they become finally un-persons, un-men (as the grumbler lady becomes in the end only a grumble).
On the other side, Heaven is the opposite of Hell. If the people in Hell tend to become non-persons, tend to be less and less themselves, on the contrary, in Heaven people become more and more themselves. The blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through eternity, more and more free. Their choice was to tell God: ‘Thy will be done’. They loved God more than they loved themselves. Somehow the law of heaven is the law of abandon: he that loses his soul will save it. Hence it is truly said of Heaven that ‘in heaven there is no ownership’. To its fellow-creatures, each soul, we suppose, will be eternally engaged in giving away to all the rest that which it receives. There will be in the end a kind of eternal holy game, in which every player must by all means touch the ball and then immediately pass it.
There will be, as in the end of the novel Perelandra, an Eternal Dance, an eternal and happy and perfect union between distincts, on the model of Holy Trinity (and together with the Holy Trinity). In opposition with Hell, which is a place of shadows, more unreal than Earth, the Heaven will be the place of the full reality. We will be there more real than we ever dreamed, in the presence of the Triune God, the perfect Reality. It will be there the beginning of the Great Story, the Morning, the end of our dream here on Earth.
I totally agree with C.S. Lewis vision of the afterlife. I find that it helped me to solve some of my previous difficulties very well. My only reserve regards his belief in Purgatory. I doubt that there will be such a place, because I consider that if a person really believes in Christ, then that should be demonstrated in his daily life. I doubt that in Heaven will be ‘believers’ who lived on earth in ‘joyful’ sinning. If they lived on earth in sin and were believers, then probably they suffered a lot because of that (not necessary more than the more ‘holy’ believers, but enough as to not consider that their life on earth was happy and to crave for Heaven). And maybe the fact that probably even in Heaven will be grades of reward can be helpful when we think at this problem.
2. Lewis’ view of the Devil
I consider that the way in which C.S. Lewis describes the Devil is very Orthodox, from a Christian point of view. That orthodoxy on that image of Devil was shocking for Lewis’ contemporaries, because such a conservative conviction was unexpected from a distinguished Oxford and Cambridge scholar. However, in the Preface to The Screwtape Letters, Lewis explains that ‘there are two opposite errors into which our race can fall about the Devils: one is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.’
As we can see in The Screwtape Letters, the demons are very involved in the lives of the people. In that sense Lewis agrees with the Apostle Paul that we have to wrestle „not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers and the rulers of the darkness of this age” (Ephesians 6:18).
In The Screwtape Letters we see that the devil’s fight for a human soul is terrible. Whatever happens, an unbelievers’ soul have to be as much as possible kept far away by thinking to God. Any distraction is good in that sense. In fact the best way of avoiding any contact with Heaven is to not leave him to think at all.
If the tempted person is a believer, the strategy is to keep him as far as possible by any authentic contact with God, encouraging as much as possible his selfishness. The most terrible mistake is to leave him die being a Christian.
‘No sort of action pleases Hell so much as the easy road- the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts, the host of little choices which are molehills that turn into mountains. What Hell wants is a man finally having to say: I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’
However, the Devil is not equal to God. One should not fear that the Enemy is too strong to be resisted. God has infinite more power than him, because He is the Creator, but Satan is a creature. There is an ontological difference between them: God is the Divinity, Satan is just an angel (even if the most powerful of the angels). Satan is more like Gabriel than like Jesus Christ. For that reason a believer has nothing to fear as long as he listen to God and trust Him. But without God he is lost for sure.
In Mere Christianity, Lewis offers a rationale for his view on Satan. He considers that if we reject the atheism, a philosophical position which doesn’t take in consideration all the reality, then just two other options remains: the Dualism and the Christianity. ‘Just these two positions can explain at the first sight our universe, which contains much that obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that is bad and meaningless.’ The Dualism affirms that there are two equal powers ruling the earth: the Good Power and the Bad Power. However the Good Power cannot be equal with the Bad Power because the Good has always an ontological priority in relation with the Evil. The Good can exists by itself, the Evil needs the Good to subsist. The Evil is always a perversion of something good. For that reason, the Christian perspective, which sees God as the Creator even of Satan, and infinitely superior to him from an ontological point of view, is better than Dualism.
At the end of this little essay I can say that I totally agree with C.S. Lewis’ view of the Devil. If there is a little reserve, that is related to his quotations from Luther and Thomas More at the beginning of The Screwtape Letters. Personally I doubt, or rather I don’t know if the Devil cannot endure to be mocked.
3. Lewis’ on ‘the real risk that tests the reality of a belief’
There is a sense in which I agree with C.S. Lewis’ statement: ‘Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief”. But in another sense I oppose it, and I consider there are arguments supporting my position even in A Grief Observed.
In a broad sense it is always true that a real risk tests the reality of a belief. Immanuel Kant observed in his Critique of the Practical Reason that an action is moral only if it is done against our desires, just because it follows the categorical imperative. In a similar sense, from a religious point a view, a faith is proven to be real just in times of trial. In times like these, many so-called believers, who just declare with their mouth that they are Christians, will renounce to their claims immediately. The History of the Church witnesses that this is the common situation when the persecutions come.
However, the question is if this was the case with C.S. Lewis. Was he not a real Christian before his painful experience? It is difficult for anybody who reads his very deep and challenging books written before this event to believe that they are not a reflection of an authentic Christian faith. Many peoples confessed that C.S. Lewis’ books brought them to Christ. Then, we should ask ourselves: how to interpret his statement?
It is clear that in the face of the terrible grief of losing his wife, Jack seems to have lost his faith; not the faith in the existence of God, as he confessed, but the faith in His goodness. In the same time he felt that God has forsaken him, that He is absent. ‘But go to Him when your need is desperate and what you find ? A door slammed in your face’. In the chapter 2 he makes the statement that ‘you never know how much you believe anything until its truth becomes a matter of life and death.’ He said these words in the context of trying to pray for his wife, and feeling that ‘he is speaking into a vacuum about a nonentity’ .
In the chapter 3 of his book, Lewis continued to develop this idea affirming that if his house collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which ‘took these things into account’ was not faith but imagination. And he admitted that, if his house was a house of cards, the sooner it was knocked down, the better. And only suffering could do it.
However, soon his attitude started to change; in one morning ‘his heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks . And suddenly at the very moment when, so far, he mourned Joy least, he remembered her best.’ At the same moment, a change happened in his relation with God: ‘I have gradually been coming that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs.’
In the light of the previous statements of Lewis, I consider that the quote ‘only a real risk tests the reality of a belief’, as far as it refers to his experience of grief, doesn’t convince me that he had not a genuine faith before that painful experience. His terrible grief didn’t make him more lucid in those moments of great pain. On the contrary, it seems that his ‘frantic need’ in those moments blocked him the access to God and produced as an effect a temporary loss of his faith, as he confessed later.
As a conclusion, in my opinion a terrible grief doesn’t necessary bring us a greater revelation about who we are. Sometimes, on the contrary, it can blind in those moments our spiritual discernment. No doubt, in time, if we keep our faith in God (or recover it in case we lost it), our maturity and sensitivity can grow. An encouragement for our spiritual life is to keep and manifest our faith in God in all the times of our lives, whether difficult or normal (and especially in the moments of daily routine, when we tend to forget Him more than ever).
 C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, pg. viii.
 Ibidem, pg. 69.
 C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain, HarperSanFrancisco, 2002, pg. 126.
 Ibidem , pg. 130.
 Idem, The Great Divorce, pg. 71.
 Idem, The Problem of Pain, pg. 158.
 C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, HarperCollins Publishers, 1994, pg. 183.
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Bantam Books, 1982, pg. xiii.
 Ibidem, pg. 4-6.
 Ibidem, pg. ix.
 C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity, Touchstone, 1980, pg. 48.
 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, pg. 6.
 Idem, pg. 22.
 Idem, pg. 37, 38.
 Idem, pg. 44.
 Idem, pg. 46.