Why C.S. Lewis could be in Hell (5-minute read)

by Derek Snook

Why C.S. Lewis could be in Hell

“C.S. Lewis was a universalist,” said a friend of mine. There were four of us gathered round a table at an apartment in Brooklyn. We were deep into a game of Settlers of Catan, and even deeper into a mini-keg of Heineken when our conversation landed on the matter of eternity.

"That’s when my friend—who I love and respect— pointed out that C.S. Lewis was a universalist on the basis of his children’s book, The Last Battle. The implication was that universalists will wind up in hell alongside just about everyone else. My argument was rendered void. Bummer."

I had been describing my friend Kate who doesn’t identify with any religion. She hosts refugees despite fear of her neighbors lashing out at her. I remember her expression of excitement when she told me, “pest control just came and said this group of refugees don’t have bedbugs!” She had to adopt this procedure since refugees had brought bed bugs with them in the past, but she didn’t seem too troubled by it. “There's a joy that comes from solidarity with the poor," she concluded.

“The path is both broader and narrower,” I suggested sagely, between sips of Heineken. “It's broader because ‘you know a tree by its fruit,’” I continued. “Good fruit comes from Christ: patience, perseverance, love, hope, humility, faith, and courage. It’s narrower because ‘Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter God’s kingdom.’ Those who enter do the will of God. A relationship with Christ reveals itself not by a label but by fruit and doing the will of God. None of us can know for certain the relationship somebody else has with Jesus." Satisfied with the traction I’d somehow found, I paraphrased C.S. Lewis to conclude my point. “We do know that everyone who calls on the name of Christ will be saved; we do not know that everyone who calls on him calls him by name.”

That’s when my friend—who I love and respect— pointed out that C.S. Lewis was a universalist on the basis of his children’s book, The Last Battle. The implication was that universalists will wind up in hell alongside just about everyone else. My argument was rendered void. Bummer.

I had a few takeaways from this conversation I’d like to share:

1) Snakes like checklists (excuse the irony)

Everybody is going to hell according to somebody’s checklist.

Snakes use checklists to control. Following Jesus means giving up control. That's a conflict of interest for snakes.

Jesus broke so many checklists the snakes of his time didn’t stop at saying he was going to hell. They said he came from hell! If somebody tells you you’re going to hell, know you’re not alone— you’re in great company.

As a Christian, I've made checklists when I wanted certainty more than truth. I handled checklist conversations like hostage negotiations. If somebody said my checklist wasn't good enough I argued it was. Or I made a mental note that they are going to hell instead of me. I twisted their arm and they twisted mine. The loser found a different group that reinforced their own position.

Snakes hiss in perfect harmony at checklists they have not approved. Then they bite. Snakes don't only enforce religious beliefs, they hiss and bite when people threaten their political, philosophical, economic, and other values.

I know these snakes well because I see one first thing every morning when I look in the mirror.

2) Relationships don't have checklists (yeah—this is a blog not a relationship)

If I ask a robot on a date, I can program it to say yes. If I ask a girl on a date . . .  I don't get many dates.

"Unfortunately, when I don't get what I want, I kick and scream and throw my toys. But I've found when I take deep breaths, sometimes little fruits start growing. I become grateful for what I do have. I become humble at how the world is so much bigger than me. I patiently wait for what I hope for. I trust I have what I need."

Life is more like a relationship than a checklist. I can eat healthy and exercise and save for retirement and recycle— and I should. But at the end of the day I can't make my heart beat once more or keep the world from imploding.

My friend Kate gets it. She has no guarantees if hosting refugees will infest her apartment with bed bugs. Nor if her neighbors may lash out at her. She has no certainty the refugees will not hurt her. She has no guarantee they will reciprocate her kindness or even be able to communicate in her language.

3) Fruit comes from relationships

Not getting what I want tests whether I see life as a checklist or relationship.

Unfortunately, when I don't get what I want, I kick and scream and throw my toys. But I've found when I take deep breaths, sometimes little fruits start growing. I become grateful for what I do have. I become humble at how the world is so much bigger than me. I patiently wait for what I hope for. I trust I have what I need.

Kate moves forward in the face of uncertainty and setbacks. It’s beautiful to watch. It’s also challenging. Because while I sit around and discuss Kate's eternal future, she's growing the fruit Jesus says come from him alone.

If I asked Kate if she had a relationship with Jesus, she probably wouldn’t give a snake-approved answer. But even if she did, who approved me to judge her heart?

You may disagree. I’m okay with that. I’m too concerned with my heart’s fickleness. A few days ago I saw myself in one performer’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” walking in NYC.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound," he sang. Then, frustrated with the results of his performance, he yelled, "What the hell! Y'all still ain't tipping. What I got to do? Get Jesus to come down and smoke a few of you?"

Then he sang on—as if nothing had happened—"That saved a wretch like me!”

C.S Lewis, Hell, eternity, common grace, refugees, poverty, solidarity