Monday, June 08, 2009

Hell, Calvinism, and those wretched Dwarfs

You die a faithful believer, you are ushered into heaven, and as you begin to sing your song in the heavenly choir, you notice the people in the fires of hell, suffering eternal torment wailing and gnashing their teeth. Your initial reaction is to

A) Feel sorry for them, and ask, as Lucy did concerning the Dwarves in the Last Battle, what can be done for the poor wretches.

B) Sing louder, praising God that while God's glory is demonstrated in the just punishment of the wicked, you reflect on the wonderful graciousness of your own salvation, that you were spared, by grace, the punishment that you otherwise would have received.

I'm A all the way, which makes me a lousy Calvinist.

This is the passage from the Last Battle.

“Aslan,” said Lucy through her tears, “could you — will you — do something for these poor Dwarfs?
“Dearest,” said Aslan, “I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do.” He came close to the Dwarfs and gave a low growl: low, but it set all the air shaking. But the Dwarfs said to one another, “Hear that? That’s the gang at the other end of the stable. Trying to frighten us. They do it with a machine of some kind. Don’t take any notice. They won’t take us in again!”
Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised the golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said “Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.”
But soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at least they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding nose, they all said:
“Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”
“You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being
taken in that they cannot be taken out.

This is the only conception of hell that has ever made any sense to me. But perhaps there is another option Aslan isn't considering here. Maybe Aslan can perform and act of irresistible grace and convert the dwarfs into dwarfs who are for Aslan as well as for the dwarfs, and can release them from the prison of their own minds. Or predestined that they never get into that state of mind in the first place. If either of those is a plausible alternative, then Aslan's reply to Lucy collapses.


Doug Gibson said...

If I was taking an exam, I think I would say that for Lewis, free will is required for redemption, and the individual human must choose to be redeemed - the ability to choose, to create, is inherent in our nature, and is part of what it means to be created in God's image. By overcoming the will, an irresistible salvation would deny this crucial part of our created nature.

At this point, I would also mention that Lewis returns repeatedly to the idea that one may choose salvation after death. This scene from The Last Battle seems to indicate this by stating that it is the dwarfs' choice in the present that separates them from Aslan. As a result, salvation seems always to remain an option, which is another sort of universalism entirely.

The idea of choosing after death forms the entire premise of The Great Divorce, and is touched on towards the end of The Pilgrim's Regress, where hell is depicted as an adult version of the dwarfs' status - a space that allows one's willful separation from God without also allowing the individual's complete destruction.

Obviously both TGD and TPR can be read merely as allegories for our living experience, but especially in TPR, hell is presented as that place in which sinners are saved from themselves, and in which their continued existence is punishment enough - or rather, is an act of grace which they convert to punishment.

But outside of an exam, I'd leave the question alone.

PersonalFailure said...

The question really is, of course, whether or not Aslan, or the god he represents, is truly omnipotent. If he is omnipotent, then yes, he can make the dwarves both for dwarves and for Aslan. If he is not, then no, the dwarves will remain only for dwarves.

This still touches on predestination, though. Are dwarves the way they are because they choose to be so, or because they are dwarves? Are dwarves capable of being any other way? If they are not, then their punishment, whether Aslan can change it or not, is intrinsically unfair. It would be like punishing an earthworm for never learning to fly.

Crude said...

Part of the problem depends on what hell is like. Why should we assume it's nothing but eternal fiery/physical torment? There could be fierce but just torment for particular sins, eventually fading away to a simple sense of loss from a fundamental rejection. I'm thinking here of some Catholic views of limbo, as well as purgatory - both seen as a part of hell. Aslan's hell seems similar to this - the dwarfs are in a rotten state compared to heaven, but there are joys to it. In this case it's their pride, their allegiance, various fleeting pleasures.

Oddly, it seems that the replies to Aslan may not be necessary. Aslan is only saying that whatever would help the dwarfs from being in their state requires an act on the part of the dwarfs - he doesn't say that they will be in the state they are for all time. So Aslan is offering constant assistance to those dwarfs, and should they ever come to realize it, they will be able to take advantage to whatever degree they allow it.

With that in mind both replies collapse. Aslan doesn't need to offer an act of irresistable grace (which may be a bridge too far anyway), and making sure they 'never get into that frame of mind in the first place' definitely strikes me as too extreme (by what right do we judge sinners to be valueless?)

Those are my thoughts at least, and maybe this goes too far afield of what you're saying - since you seem to be talking about Calvinism specifically.

Gordon Knight said...

Once we undersand Hell as purgative--as having a redemptive purpose,it ceases to be hell in anything like the traditional sense. I take it this is a good thing.

I have often tried to imagine the sort of intellectual gymnastics a believer in a loving God would have to go through in order to believe in everlasting torment for anyone.

For me, the doctrine of Hell is the chief stumbling block in the way of becoming a Christian. It was only after I learned of age'd universalist tradition in the Church that I could take Christianity seriously

unkle e said...

I agree with Crude and Gordon - I would find it very difficult to remain a christian and believe in everlasting torment in hell. I believe Jesus (and the NT generally) teach that hell is destruction, the end, what most non-believers already think will happen to them. So no-one, Calvinist or not, has to watch their loved ones suffering forever. Some people have the gift of this life only, others of us accept and receive the gift of eternal life also.

But I also believe that God will go to great lengths to "save" people, so the idea of a purgative/redemptive hell may be tenable. But as people tend to harden in their mindset as they ag, would anyone change then? As Lewis said, "the gates of hell are barred on the inside".

Crude said...

I should mention, I'm not suggesting universalism myself. I'm just saying that hell may not be unceasing anguishing torment. I'm also not saying that hell won't have any anguishing torment. Or that hell is, whatever it is, only temporary. I'm only saying the possibilities are multiple, the specifics aren't too clear, and our imagery is likely mistaken in some respects. Again, the mere theological idea of limbo, much less purgatory, illustrates (for my money, anyway) how multifaceted the question is.

But I do agree with CS Lewis that one component of hell is clearly related to one's own will.

Edward T. Babinski said...



Does freewill exist after you die?

If Satan could fall from heaven using his free will why won't the righteous in heaven ever be in danger of using their free will the same way?

If freewill exists in hell, why can't someone unchoose hell? Aren't time and God the best teachers? Can't God heal, teach, unblind blinded eyes, warm cold hearts, nudge them nearer to using their freewill in some other fashion than choosing hell, via education, experiences, so they have a chance to unchoose hell?

Can God--the only reality and truth--really be "rejected?" How is that even possible if its the one and only reality and everything else isn't?

How can God be rejected since literally everything is made directly out of the mind, heart, will and power of God, and out of nothing else?

If freewill exists throughout eternity why aren't people and angels able to choose hell and heaven, one and/or the other, possibly oscillating between the two for eternity?

I suspect that what freewillers really want to say is that freewill only takes one so far, and one's mind and opinions branch forth in a certain direction after a while and the ruts harden and change grows more difficult, especially with age and less new brain cells being produced, and with neural connections dying out with age, and then there's no more free will, it's all used up, the will has hardened like a clay pot in an oven of one's brief candle of a lifetime here on earth--and this earth is really just a huge net Yahweh uses to catch souls for hell, most of them anyway.

Such some questions.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Why is "eternal torment" mentioned not mentioned in the O.T., except in the last written book in the O.T., an inter-testamental work, the book of Daniel? Based on studying other inter-testamental works, it would seem that the idea of "eternal torment" for one's enemies arose during that time. See the Book of Enoch for example, or other inter-testamental works.

Prior to the inter-testamental period, biblical authors spoke about everyone going to the same place after they died, Sheol (with the exceptions of great heroes, such as Enoch and Elijah). The ancient Greeks held a similar view, everyone going to Hades, the land of the dead, with only a few heroes like Hercules rising up into heaven to be with the gods.

And the worst punishments and curses in the psalms do not mention "eternal torment," but specify "this worldly punishments," such as cursing one to suffer in this world, as well as one's wife and kids.

So, "eternal punishment" seems a relative "late comer" so far as theological notions go in the Bible.

Steve said...

The dwarves were not in hell. Those who looked at Aslan and turned into the darkness outside the gate, or the ones that Tash hauled away were in hell. From that, there was no turning back. The dwarves were in heaven, but could not enjoy it without letting go of their pride.