Virtually all Arminian and semi-Arminian arguments boil down to the basic philosophical assumption of incompatibilism, that is, that there can be no such thing as responsibility without genuine moral ability. They therefore hold that the will cannot be predetermined, whether by God or anything else, because otherwise we would not be responsible for our actions. In this way of thinking, our choices wouldn’t even be our will at all, really, if there wasn’t an absolute metaphysical possibility that we could have willed otherwise, even with all else being the same.
C. S. Lewis took this approach as well—when it suited his argument (for example, in using the free-will defense for the problem of evil—see his book The Problem of Pain). But at other times his reasoning seems to suggest a more compatibilist view of how things work. In particular, I find it interesting how he seemed to forget his incompatibilist leanings when it came to defending the justice of hell for the unrepentant. “The doors of hell are locked from the inside” was his famous summary of his approach (quoted from The Problem of Pain, though also apparent as his basic assumption in The Great Divorce). We shouldn’t picture people in hell as wanting to be in heaven, and God forcing them to stay in hell against their will. Rather, they find the idea of life with God repulsive. They actually continually choose to stay in hell. They will never change their minds.
I’m not completely comfortable with the vision of hell Lewis suggests, which includes the idea that people may even have a modicum of happiness there. But in my opinion he was absolutely right on this point, that no one in hell will ever want to submit to God at heart. This must be the case, not only because the human heart apart from God’s grace is evil, but also because salvation is free for the willing, so that Jesus can promise that whoever comes to Him will not be cast out (John 6:37). Thus, those who are cast out will apparently continue in their willing refusal of God for as long as they exist (leaving aside the question of eventual annihilationism). It will always and continually be their choice, even though there will never be any possibility of them choosing otherwise.
My point here is to demonstrate how I think Lewis’s line of reasoning on this topic actually rests squarely on Edwardsian/Calvinist/compatibilist concepts of the will, not on the Arminian/incompatibilist concepts that he otherwise seemed to adopt (at least when talking about free will). Many with Arminian leanings will disagree with his argument about hell entirely, of course, which is fine. But for those who find it compelling, they should realize that what they are saying in effect is that man’s continual decision to remain in hell is his own willing choice even though he has no possibility—no moral ability—to will otherwise. In other words, responsibility comes from making choices that of necessity stem from who you are, not from some indeterminate “possibility” quality of your will as the Arminians always assume.
You should have been a Calvinist, Mr. Lewis. I like your argument, but I like striving for consistency between my argument and my theology even better.
This page copyright © 2011 Edward A. Morris. Created June 16, 2011. Last updated September 16, 2011.
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