Dwarfs for the Dwarfs: Can Aslan Pierce our Infernal Deafness?

If the greater hope is to be fulfilled, then it must be possible for those who die in a state of mortal sin—and thus outside of Christ Jesus—to repent of their sins and turn to God in faith. Yet how can such be possible? So many die without faith in Christ and his mercy; so many die in sin and iniquity; so many die with hearts possessed by hatred, greed, pride, and lust, so many in adamant rejection of their Creator. Why think everyone would eventually choose God if given even infinite opportunities?1 The history of human depravity suggests other­wise. We can easily imagine at least one holdout, if not billions. William Lane Craig speaks of transworld damnation: in every possible world, hell is populated. How do we know this? Because there is hell!

Why did God not create a world in which everyone freely receives Christ and so is saved? There is no such world which is feasible for God. He would have actualized such a world were this feasible, but in light of certain true counter­factuals of creaturely freedom every world realizable by God is a world in which some persons are lost.2

We may also speak of  a given person as possessing the property of transworld damnation: in every feasible world in which that person exists, he or she always freely chooses to reject God and is therefore always lost. It does not matter how many chances one offers to the trans­world damned. They remain obstinate in their rebellion and impenitence. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27).

Multiple Church authorities, Eastern and Western, tell us that repentance is impossible after death: no post-mortem penance, no further opportunities to alter one’s orientation toward the Creator. Our eternal destinies are irrevocably fixed. There is only the waiting for the final judgment and the resurrection of the dead. Some have speculated that once the soul has been separated from the body, it loses its capacity for new self-determina­tions. Others propose that personal liberty presupposes the freedom to definitively close oneself to transcendence. If in this life we were on a trajectory toward the light and love of God, so it will be for all eternity; but if toward darkness and self-absorption, so also it must be.

One of the most terrifying scenes in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia occurs at the end of the The Last Battle. Aslan returns to re-create Narnia. But there is a group of dwarfs who seem to be trapped in their own little world:

“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.”

The omnipotence of Aslan has reached its limit. His roar cannot pierce the self-generated deafness of the dwarfs. They have built a wall around themselves through which not even the divine Creator can make his voice heard.

This is a powerful story in which, I believe, we can all find ourselves. We know the possibility of hell within our souls. We know how easy it is to live in delusion and bitterness and hatred. We know the power of the darkness. And yet … is the story of the dwarfs the final word? Do we really have the power to so cordon off ourselves that not even the omnipotent Creator can roar his word and summon us to himself? Is divine Love really so impotent? Is the crucified and risen Christ so easily defeated?

Scripture itself provides the crucial hint that matters might be otherwise:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear con­science, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:18-21)

After his death the eternal Son in his human soul invades hades and preaches the good news of salvation, not just to the righteous but to impenitent sinners. The Latin Church has traditionally restricted the rescue mission to the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, but not so the Churches of the East.3 After the Lord destroys the gates of hades, he preaches the gospel to all the departed—none are excluded—and extends to all the gift of his victory over death. The Orthodox Church sings:

Our horrible death has been slain by your resurrection from the dead, for you appeared to those in hell, O Christ, and granted them life. (Sun.1. Mat. Can.O.9 [BB])

Hell was emptied and made helpless by the death of one man. (Sun.2. Mat. Can. O.6 [BB])

… who rose from the dead and emptied hell, wealthy before with many people (Sun.4 Mat. Sessional Hymn [EL])

Who now is not amazed, O Master, as they see death destroyed through suffering, corruption taking flight through the Cross, and hell emptied of its wealth through death. (Sun.8 Mat. Can. O.4 [EL-BB])

Going down to those in hell, Christ proclaimed the good tidings, saying: “Be of good courage, now I have conquered! I am the Resurrection; I will bring you up, abolishing the gates of death.” (St.3 GT Fes. StichLC [EC])

At present all is filled with light, heaven and earth and the netherworld.; let every creature celebrate the resurrection of Christ. (Paschal canon, third ode, first troparion)

Those who are held by the bonds of hell, in seeing your bounty, go towards the light, O Christ, on joyous feet, praising the eternal Pascha. (Paschal canon, fifth ode, first troparion)

Death gave up the dead it had swallowed, while hell’s reign, which brought corruption, was destroyed when you rose from the tomb, O Lord. (Sun.3 Mat. Can. O.4 [EL-BB])

Strange is your crucifixion and your descent into Hades, O Lover of mankind; for having despoiled it and gloriously raised with yourself as God those who were prisoners, you opened Paradise and bade it welcome them. (Sat.5 Gt. Ves. StichAp. [EL-BB])

Western Christianity does not grasp the radical significance of the harrowing of hell. During 25 years of preaching as an Episcopal priest, I do not think I preached on our Lord’s descent into hades even once. And then I read Met Hilarion’s book Christ the Conqueror of Hell, and Holy Saturday took on a very different meaning for me. Christ’s entrance into hades was not a one-time event, with no significance for anyone else. The gates of death have been broken, and hades is now filled with the vivifying presence of the glorified Son. In the words of St John Chrysostom:

This place of hades, dark and joyless, had been eternally deprived of light; this is why the gates are called dark and invisible. They were truly dark until the Sun of righteousness descended, illumined it and made hades Heaven. For where Christ is, there also is Heaven.4

Christ preached to the sinners of hades. Death was neither a barrier to their hearing the gospel nor to their repentance. We have no reason to believe that some, perhaps all, of the impious did not respond to our Lord in conversion and faith. How therefore can we dogmatically teach that there is no repentance after death? How dare we declare the impotence of omnipotent Love!

(14 May 2013; rev.)

Footnotes

[1] In their essay “Escaping Hell,” Andre Buckareff and Allen Plug propose that a God of infinite love would offer to the damned infinite chances to escape their punishment; also Valery Kuzev, “The Problem of Hell and the Second Chance Theory.”

[2] William Lane Craig, “No Other Name.” Cf. Tom Talbott, “Craig on the Possibility of Eternal Damnation.”

[3] See Hilarion Alfeyev’s lecture “Christ the Conqueror of Hell,” which summarizes the thesis of his book of the same title.

[4] John Chrysostom, Homily on the Cemetary and the Cross; quoted in Alfeyev, p. 64.

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5 Responses to Dwarfs for the Dwarfs: Can Aslan Pierce our Infernal Deafness?

  1. Curdie says:

    I know this won’t be sufficient evidence for those determined to morally justify eternal conscious torment, but Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus seems to answer the question titling this article with a resounding “Yes.” It’s hard to imagine a soul more hardened against Christ, more “deaf” if you will, than that of Saul, and yet that hardness was shattered in an instant on the road to Damascus.

    It baffles me how relentlessly some Christian teachers have tried to deny the possibility of post-mortem change. To me it seems like a position which is only possible to justify to yourself if your religion requires you to defend a hell that is both neverending and morally acceptable. Sure, if evil people remain blatantly unrepentant forever, that might help some thoughtful Christians feel a little better about the “justice” of damnation. But it’s certainly not a picture we see in the Bible, particularly if you’re a literalist who regards the weeping and gnashing of teeth of those outside of the party or the sorrowful cries of the rich man to Lazarus as literal realities.

    It also begs the question: How would creating a system in which the (usually arbitrary) moment of death locks souls into their current moral trajectory benefit God? Not to sound too utilitarian, but really, what would be the advantage of that system? It certainly doesn’t appear to benefit God or his creatures in any way. It feels immediately apparent that a process in which a soul is never locked into its own moral corruption, but is forever allowed to turn back to the Good, regardless of how far into the abyss she may have descended, is better for all parties? Is that not also the story of the Prodigal Son? Would God not want a world in which there would be more opportunities for the Heavenly joy at the unrepentant sinner from Luke 15, rather than less? Maybe I’m overthinking it, but the idea seems so silly when you apply a little pressure to it.

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    • Agreeing with you, on a personal note, it is hard to imagine a more hardened soul against God than I was between my 18th and 22nd birthdays. I wanted nothing to do with Christ, His Bible, His annoying people, or the Christian faith in general. I wanted…..SIN!! And as much of it as I could get my hands on without killing myself.

      One small note on THE LAST BATTLE (What hubris, that I am about to criticize Lewis!!!). The one thing he failed to do in the scene with the dwarfs was to have Aslan simply take away the darkness by opening the doors to the stable they are in and letting them see Him in all His glory.

      I have read Aquinas’s defense of the impossibility of a soul to repent after death and find it unconvincing. He claims that lacking a physical body, there is no ability to make further decision. Yet he appears to have forgotten, in his hasty desire to defend eternal torment from God’s all-encompassing and all-powerful love, that Satan has never had a physical body, yet went from being Lucifer, the Bearer of Light and highest among the angels, to being God’s enemy and the enemy of all good. Please explain that one, any of you Thomists who may have stumbled in here.

      At any rate, here is my simple explanation regarding free-will and the choosing of Christ, taken from my own personal experience:

      https://http4281.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/gods-hand-our-free-will/

      Liked by 1 person

      • thereluctantheretic17, Aquinas doesn’t forget it. On Aquinas’s account angels don’t go through time exactly the way we do, so every one of their free choices includes all the rest of their lives. They still make free choices, though; they just make their free choices once and for all. Every choice is like an incorruptible disposition. The whole point of the fall of Lucifer is that he was innocent with yet the ability to sin or choose God; he sinned and thus, Aquinas thinks, all of the rest of his life occurs within the disposition of that sin. The human mind is very different from an angelic mind in many ways, but Aquinas thinks that, to the extent an analogy can be made, death is to men as the angelic fall was to the angels, a position which he gets from Damascene. Aquinas’s position is not really that after death “there is no ability to make further decision”. Our ability to make new decisions remains intact. It’s that changing the disposition with which we decide requires corruption of the prior disposition. But our soul on its own is incorruptible and when we are resurrected our body will also then be incorruptible, so there’s no way to get corrosion of disposition after death. To take it out of scholastic terminology, Aquinas thinks that when we talk about dying to sin we are not using an airy metaphor, like many people think. Rather, we can be saved precisely because we can die, and our salvation is God using our mortality to confound our sinfulness; God’s redemption of us is, in providential turning of evil toward good end, literally using our sin-caused dying to undo our sin. But after death we are all undying souls who are resurrected in undying bodies. The damned and the blessed still make decisions; they just make decisions that incorporate a disposition that can no longer die, because they can no longer die. So Aquinas, roughly put. There are certainly things about this with which one can disagree, but it’s probably not going to be because Aquinas has forgotten some really obvious fact that makes the whole thing tumble down like a Jenga tower.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          The question of the primal angelic disobedience is particularly interesting. The scholastic solutions are, of course, highly speculative. My hypothesis is that they presuppose the impossibility of angelic repentance. If in the 13th century the question of apokatastasis were still open, the schoolmen would no doubt have come up with some very different speculative solutions.

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    • Grant says:

      It would also seem with St Paul God isn’t as concerned with our ‘free-will’ choice to evil forever so much as with his actual freedom, as he leaves Saul with little choice in that sense in the matter, he is pulled from his destructive path and flooded with the light and knowledge of the Truth. Confronted in a manner that leaves no room for his ‘free-choice’ to continue in evil as ignorance was removed, only if he were mentally deranged could he have continued but then he wouldn’t be free to freely choose in any case 🙂 .

      It certainly seems as if God is a lot less concerned with our freedom to keep being able to choose evil (which is a mistaken and incomplete act towards what we want and are actually reaching for) than our actually being free to achieve our true nature and desires, only the Truth makes us free, and we are only free to the extent we know and live it. And based on St Paul, and that He is no respector of persons, that seems to be where His concern lies 🙂 .

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