Pt 4: Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 4:  Chapter 8 – Hell

In his chapter on hell, Lewis takes the three notions of “destruction”, “eternal torment”, and “privation” and then works them into a systematic unity. This leads to two difficulties. First, Thiselton points out: (a) that the Bible has three traditions in it about hell that seem to contradict one-another: (i) hell is eternal torment; (ii) hell is eternal destruction, or annihilation; (iii) all are saved; (b) that all three traditions have been considered to be “orthodox” in the history of the church, even though “eternal torment” has been the dominant view in orthodoxy; (c) that it would be hermeneutically-premature, given where scholarship has reached, to press these three contradictory traditions into a unity in favour of any one of the traditions, which seems to militate against Lewis’s conclusions.

Second, if Thiselton is correct, then Lewis entirely dismisses one biblical tradition – that of universal salvation. Even if it were right to press all the traditions into a unity then Lewis would still have to press (i) “hell is eternal torment”; (ii) “hell is eternal destruction, or annihilation”; and (iii) “all are saved”, into a unity – along with his emphasis on “privation”.

Some, for example D.A. Carson, are adamant that eternal torment is the nature of hell, and that all who do not believe in Christ go there. Lewis, on balance, seems to favour a kind of qualified annihilationism whilst still holding onto a perspective-dependent notion of eternal torment. Others, such as G. MacDonald (alias R. Parry), reconcile the biblical traditions in favour of “all are saved, but in some cases only after prolonged periods of punishment in hell”.

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History and Truth (greatness and brokenness)

History is always told from a certain angle or perspective.  We’re told that history is written by the winners; and that the only thing we ever learn from history is that we never learn from history or that we are condemned to repeat the history we do not know!  Even good history is offered from a particular perspective, no less than a good map is produced from a certain angle for a particular reason.

Rowan Williams writes, “Good history makes us think again about the definition of things we thought we understood pretty well, because it engages not just with what is familiar but with what is strange.  It recognises that “the past is a foreign country” as well as being our past.

In the context of “truth”, history can be told from multiple angles, and seeming opposites.  “Well they can’t both be true!”  Yes they can.  I recently discovered my notes taken from an unknown place and time given by Bible scholar D. A. Carson.  He spoke of the same [American] history being told in two different ways, both accurate, both true, both very different!

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Drifting?

just-do-itThe Christian life is not easy.  It takes determined, hard graft, long-term view of life. Many people fall under the spell of easy-living, and for some unearthly reason, when some people become Christians, they expect their life to be one of ease, one sweet breeze.  Where oh where did they get that from?  What dark corner of the heart hides such a banal and idle sentiments?

But this is not so.

Not so, say the Scriptures, not so says Jesus, not so says Paul, not so says the witness of the New Testament.  Hebrews is a book of amazing theology, great exhortation, but also some sober warnings.  The very first warning says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).

In other words, if we do not “pay attention”, we will drift away…..away from God, away from Christ and all His salvation splendour.  Not drifting away requires a determined, hard-graft, long-term view of life.  The Christian life is much more about growing potatoes rather than eating chips; it is much more about feasting like kings rather than snacking like peasants or starving like fools

Carson-PlenaryOnce again, Don Carson nails it…..

“People do not drift toward Holiness.

Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance;

we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom;

we drift toward superstition and call it faith.

We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation;

we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism;

we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

 For the Love of God, p.23

CROSS

The God Who is There

Slavoj Zizek, Slovinian philosopher and cultural critic, said that the only way to be a true atheist is to go through Christianity.  This series of videos will do just that!

D. A. Carson takes us through the whole Bible storyline in this excellent series designed for those who know nothing or very little about the Bible or the Gospel.  Enjoy.