Thursday, May 03, 2012

Lewis's Discussion of Faith

Here. This includes his famous statement "I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in."

31 comments:

Payton said...

Lewis always has the answer. What a convenient chapter!

Faith is holding on to what your reason has shown to be true when later your emotions try to get in the way. Not the other way around, as some people would like us to believe. That is all we mean by it. That is all Christ means by it.

Cole said...

Hi Dr. Reppert,

I think a lot of people have a lot of misconceptions about the Bible out there. Don't get me wrong, there are some valid criticisms of Christianity but I'm finding the answers to things that I was decieved about when I was struggling with the faith. This article on faith is one of them. Another one has to do with fear. Often times I hear people complain that the Biblical God puts fear into people because of it's teachings on hell and God's wrath. Indeed, the Bible tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But in other places it tells us that God has not given us a Spirit of fear and that we can approach God with boldness now that His wrath has been removed at the cross. It's my belief that there are different forms of fear. Fear can damage our reasoning as well as hinder love. It can power anger and agression. But for all it's usual destructiveness, fear can be the starting point for better things. It can be a stepping stone for a decent respect for others. It can point to the path of justice. And the more I have of respect and justice, the more I can find the love which can suffer much, and be freely given at the same time. So, for me, fear is not always destructive because the lessons of it's consequences can lead to positive values. For the Christian fearing God is not an unhealthy negative experience. It is a deeply satisfying trembling and sweet humility that rises in the presence of God. Rest assured that the punishments in hell will fit the crimes. It's my belief that those in hell stay unregenerate. It's kind of like someone who gets sentenced to prison for commiting a crime but while he/she is there they continue to commit more crimes as they get time added on to their sentence. People in hell sin - God punishes - they sin - God punishes - they sin - God punishes - and the cycle goes on and on. In this way the punishments fit the crimes. I take a milder view of hell than most Calvinists. Although there are some who hold to the view that I describe. What about the sufferings of the cross? Well, keep in mind that Christ was carrying the sins of all His people. When you think about it, that's alot of sin! No wonder the suffering was so severe. Especially since it lasted for only a few hours. I trust God that the punishment was in direct proportion to the crimes.

Payton said...

Cole, I don't really think the cross was punishment for anyone's sin. I think Lewis accepts the Christus Victor model of atonement, for the record.

Nor should you really be thinking about Hell in terms of punishment. It is the necessary and natural result of sin. Not like how drinking and driving causes going to jail (that is only a euphemism for police intervention), but like how smoking causes lung cancer, or how hanging yourself causes you to die.

Like the fictional George MacDonald pointed out in the Great Divorce, Hell is a state of mind. Hell is being left to yourself because you reject everyone else. The gates of Hell are locked from the inside. There is no single of sin and punishment. Only the two states of love and hate. There are only two kinds of people in the world, those who say to God "Thy will be done", and those to whom God says "thy will be done!"

Victor, do you know of any links to the places in The Great Divorce and the Problem of Pain where Lewis talks about this? I can't find any.

Walter said...

Like the fictional George MacDonald pointed out in the Great Divorce, Hell is a state of mind. Hell is being left to yourself because you reject everyone else. The gates of Hell are locked from the inside.

Hell must be quite enjoyable for those consigned there, especially if they have no interest in ever leaving. I agree that this was Lewis's view of hell, but I suspect that many a Christian will dispute this locked-from-inside concept of hell.

Payton said...

Well I think they would do so wrongly. And I highly doubt anyone thinks the damned enjoy themselves, either way. Happiness does't consist in getting what you want. Oftentimes what we want is what's absolutely worst for us, and it turns out rotten to get what we want in the end.

Of course Lewis says this. He says the damned choose to hole up in themselves, and what they find there is hell. Unless God fixes you, you are mostly sin and corruption and hate and pride. All of these things destroy us. If we put ourselves first, we lose ourselves, and if we put God first, we get everything else thrown in.

Walter said...

Oftentimes what we want is what's absolutely worst for us, and it turns out rotten to get what we want in the end.

But there is no end to an eternal hell, so it defies belief that someone could get what they want, discover that it really is is rotten, then continue merrily on with their rotten circumstances forever and ever. If I found out that I made a huge mistake, I'd be knocking on the door, begging Yahweh to let me in.

Lewis's concept of hell is for those Christians who are squeamish about their loving Heavenly Father consigning people to an eternity of suffering with no hope of parole or pardon for the condemned.

Payton said...

You don't think there's some people who would get progressively more and more resentful? Or blithely continue on for some reason, all the while leading a meaningless existence?

Almost everyone on earth is like that sometimes. We've all seen it. I think you're being a bit idealistic.

But the Great Divorce is a great read. A much better argument for what I'm saying here than I could ever give. It's basically a short episodic novel. Fictional setting for non-fictional lessons and arguments. I bet it's free for download somewhere too. I'll look.

Payton said...
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Payton said...

But maybe this just shows you're not beyond redemption. I would do exactly the same thing. At least I certainly hope that I would.

But remember that this isn't a decision about pleasure vs pain. You wouldn't be turning right around saying you wanted heaven instead of hell. That's just self-interested rationality.

You do not get heaven by looking for heaven. You get heaven by looking for God. And you cannot look for God for the sake of heaven - which in the end is only your sake - but only for His sake.

God loves us. He does not want us to merely have the effects of loving him, whether we love him or not. If that were true He would not really love us. He loves us and wants us to love Him back.

Walter said...

You don't think there's some people who would get progressively more and more resentful?

For an eternity without ever changing their mind? No. Maybe that is just me being idealistic.

Or blithely continue on for some reason, all the while leading a meaningless existence?

That takes us back to what I said earlier. If people are blithely continuing on in hell then they must be quite content to be there. It's not much of a punishment to grant eternal contentment to your enemies. My question for you is can you or Lewis justify this concept of hell exegetically from your scriptures? Quoting Lewis is of no use unless you believe his writings should be added to the sacred canon somewhere after Revelations.

B. Prokop said...

I generally avoid speculation about the afterlife like the plague, but I recall with great amusement one theologian's idea (I can't remember who) that everyone "goes to Heaven" after death. It's just that not everyone likes being there, so that what is Eternal Bliss to the saved is Hell to the damned, although they're both experiencing exactly the same thing.

Anthony Fleming said...

I don't think it is very difficult to think hell is locked from the inside. I've visited quite a few people who have been in some pretty rough situations. Ironically, they often want to keep doing the same things to remain there.

A believer who is purposely living away from God may be experiencing what would be hell to the unbeliever or perhaps hell in comparison with how life can potentially be experienced.

Its not too hard to think, in this life and the next, that such a person would lock their doors from the inside thinking their life is what it is supposed to be.

Walter said...

Its not too hard to think, in this life and the next, that such a person would lock their doors from the inside thinking their life is what it is supposed to be.

It seems to me that the hell that you, Payton, and Lewis are positing sounds more like a lesser heaven for the non-elect, rather than a place of eternal suffering that Yahweh is inflicting upon the damned. I find your "lesser heaven" theory to be less morally repugnant to me than the traditional Dante's Inferno type of hell, but I am still less than convinced that you can make your case from the Christian scriptures for a hell that is locked from the inside. It seems to be an invention of Christians who are uncomfortable with God as a wrathful, merciless Judge.

Anthony Fleming said...
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Anthony Fleming said...

Walter, good points. I think the problem is sorted out when we take a moment and decipher between the essence of hell vs. whether there are literal punishments in hell, like demons poking people with pitchforks.

The word for hell in the NT is Gehenna, from hebrew ge hinnom in 2nd Kings 16:3, 21:6, Jeremiah 7:32, 19:6. Gehenna in the NT is pictured with a lot of vivid imagery like being a fiery abyss (Mk. 9:43), as an eternal fire for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41), and a place of eternal torment and unquenchable fire (Mk. 9:43).

However, the exact punishments in which hell will have, which is often seen in the apocalyptic writings, is not in the gospels.

Final punishment is pictured as outer darkness (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). The suggestion is that fire and outer darkness are ephemeral metaphors - to describe the indescribable.

The real essence of hell, that we know from the gospels, is being excluded from the presence of God and being able to enjoy his blessings (Mt. 7:23; Mt. 25:12).

Interesting enough I cannot find another place in which gehenna is used in the New Testament. If the early Christians did not threaten people with a Dante torture then I don't believe other Christian's should probably make such large speculations either.

The real essence of hell then is being outside the ultimate joy and promise of God. Hell will not be a celebration, but it does not mean, however, that those who are in hell will have a longing to be out of it. I think the Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis illustrates this in a very interesting way.

Anthony Fleming said...

Wow..I need to re-word some things from my first comment.

I wrote, "A believer who is purposely living away from God may be experiencing what would be hell to the unbeliever or perhaps hell in comparison with how life can potentially be experienced."

I should have wrote, "An unbeliever who is purposely living away from God may be experiencing what would be hell to the believer. It is "hell" in comparison with how life can potentially be experienced."

Walter said...


The real essence of hell then is being outside the ultimate joy and promise of God. Hell will not be a celebration, but it does not mean, however, that those who are in hell will have a longing to be out of it.


At least six times in Matthew's gospel we have the phrase "weeping (or wailing) and gnashing of teeth" used when Jesus is teaching about the judgment afforded to sinners. Compare:

Matthew 8:11-12
Matthew 13:41-42
Matthew 13:49-50
Matthew 22:12-13
Matthew 24:50-51
Matthew 25:29-30

Sounds to me like people will definitely be longing to get out--at least according to the author of our first canonical gospel.

Anthony Fleming said...

Walter, a good and challenging point. I am actually aware of those verses. You might be right.

I'm not saying that those in hell will see their situation as "desirable" but that doesn't mean they want to do what is necessary to have the alternative. For me, having grown up in a family of many alcoholics I can say this view is not a difficult one to accept. Many who drink themselves to death do not see their situation as "desirable" and there is a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yet many will literally fight for their alcohol if you try to take it away. Phrases like "maybe you should stop drinking" are often seen like fighting words.

I have been to quite a few AA meetings. It is actually quite amazing the things they agree on like needing a higher or objective power to get them out of their drinking. What's even more fascinating is their agreement on how they could recognize that drinking was destroying their life, yet they were more fearful of quitting alcohol than what might happen to them if they remained.

Crude said...

Walter,

Sounds to me like people will definitely be longing to get out--at least according to the author of our first canonical gospel.

You can find people wailing and gnashing their teeth even in this life. Anthony gives some great examples in that regard.

Pointing out that hell is supposed to be a punishment and involve suffering, even a lot of suffering, isn't a problem for Lewis' view. It's built into the idea.

Crude said...

I'll note something else. People are 'longing to get out' even in Lewis' version. Again, that's compatible with a scenario like Lewis'.

I'm reminded of a quote - I wish I could find it - by that great philosopher, Emo Philips. Where he talks about how some people want to be thin, but they really don't. Being thin involves eating less and exercising, and does not involve swallowing whole wedding cakes when the opportunity arises. But some people love their cake. And when push comes to shove, the cake wins.

That doesn't mean they won't dislike being fat.

B.L.T. said...

I'm not sure if I agree with Lewis's definition. Isn't it the case that to have faith in God requires us to be willing to believe things which don't make sense to us? Just look at God's command to Abraham to kill his son. Abraham didn't know anything, if he didn't kill Isaac he might have been disobeying God, and if he did kill his son, he might have committed murder and broken his covenant with God. Either way Abraham risked committing a heinous sin. But he chose to kill Isaac and did what God asked of him. Doing something which seems absolutely immoral to us and something that doesn't make sense for God to command, seems pretty irrational to me. And yet the Bible states that we should be willing to do it for God, how does this info affect C.S. Lewis's definition of faith if we can't believe in something which is irrational?

Anthony Fleming said...

B.L.T,

Interesting point. The author of Hebrews however points out that God had promised Abraham to achieve his promise through Isaac (Hebrews 11:17-19.)

I overall agree with Lewis' idea but I also think it is good to distinguish between the different aspects or natures of faith in the Bible. For example, Paul's idea is one of consecration and trust to God. The author of Hebrews however is about looking past immediate circumstances and looking to the promises of God. Each aspect requires one to come to their own conclusions about God before one can really practice faith, even in James.

In terms of Jesus, he appealed to his own works and evidences for people to believe in him. He satisfied honest skepticism, even after his resurrection.

In Christianity today, I would say that John 20:29 is the most misunderstood verse in the entire Bible. As if we must not actually "see" or require evidence in order to believe. The original language does not denote that people are blessed because they do not require any evidence to believe. It appeals to those who would believe that Jesus would rise based on what he heard from him and works or evidences they witnessed from him that helped demonstrate who he was and where he was from.

Anthony Fleming said...

B.L.T.,

I do think however that God is above and he can see things beyond our scope and therefore his logic is not limited to his knowledge. Therefore, there are things he may say or do that do not make sense.

In Abraham's case, it really did not make sense. However, he still believed God, had talked to God, and knew that God had swore by himself to keep his promise. So, while it did not make sense, he also had reason to trust God.

Good point just the same.

Crude said...

BLT,

And yet the Bible states that we should be willing to do it for God, how does this info affect C.S. Lewis's definition of faith if we can't believe in something which is irrational?

For one, even biblically, Isaac had reason to trust God. The command wasn't irrational in the sense of not making sense or going against evidence in a relevant way - it was just an extreme command, unexplained.

I can trust a person and have reason to follow a command of theirs, even if I don't understand their reasoning. Trusting their character, their profession, etc.

B. Prokop said...

Anthony,

I quite agree with you that John 20:29 is misunderstood by many, many people.

What is often overlooked when reading and interpreting John is that he so often says the very same things as the Synoptics, but in a different manner. For instance, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have the account of the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. John does not, but he does have the "Bread of Life" discourse in Chapter 6. Likewise, the Synoptics recount the incident of the Transfiguration. John does not, but does contain the line "and we have seen His glory". The other three Gospels have the Agony in the Garden. John does not, but he does have the passage about the grain of wheat that must die in order to bear fruit. There are numerous other examples.

And among them is the Great Commission, recounted in the Synoptics, but not in John. Instead, what we do have is John 20:29. Here Jesus is essentially telling the Apostles that they have been blessed with having seen, so now they must in turn go out and tell what they have learned from this to "those who have not seen". The verse in question is John's characteristically different way of expressing yet another idea found in the Synoptics, in this case the Great Commission.

Anthony Fleming said...

B. Prokop,

Good points! To add another one to your list; Jesus' favorite idiom and perhaps most important,"this age and the age to come," in the synoptics is worded as "there is a time coming and is already here" in the gospel of John.

B. Prokop said...

Yes, and I am not aware of anyone ever exploring this unique relationship at length. Here is another example I am particularly struck by:

John doesn't directly mention Jesus's birth in Bethlehem, but he does obliquely bring up the issue when Nathaniel asks, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Or even more to the point, in Chapter 7, where John records this revealing exchange: "Others said, "This is the Christ." But some said, "Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the scripture said that the Christ is descended from David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?"

Now everyone agrees that John was the last Gospel to be written, so he had to have been well aware of the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. Therefore, when viewed with this in mind, these two quoted passages from John actually end up supporting the two previous accounts just by raising the issue!

Payton said...

You know gnashing of teeth is an expression of contempt and pride? It was a common sort of facial expression that people would describe in order to signify these emotions.

I think my version of Hell is the worst one imaginable. It is worse than pain, because even pain is only bad because it is only a privation of your painless state. It is only a property of its experiencer. Its evil is a privation of your good. But what if you were the evil? Hell is worse than anything imaginable, because Hell is yourself.

Walter said...

You know gnashing of teeth is an expression of contempt and pride?

To my knowledge it is used as an expression of rage. In other words, there would be sorrow and rage in hell. I will admit the logical possibility of a person being locked into a self-destructive cycle of addiction could be representative of a hell that is locked from the inside. But being a logical possibility does not necessarily mean that it is objectively true.

Chris said...

FYI - Atta Rehman's comment is spam - I saw the exact same comment on a post at Secular Outpost. And note the link at the end.

Victor Reppert said...

That's why it got deleted.