Is Hell Tough Love?

It all depends on who you ask.

And to make matters more interesting, there are some who don’t believe in hell, and still others who are annihilationists–believing hell to have an expiration date.

But to describe hell as a form of tough love is another story.  Let’s say you hold to that version of hell, which says, eternal, conscious torment in the lake of fire–how can such a place be tough love?

At this point, we need to define love.

Whatever we believe about love, for it to truly be love, I think it ought to be redemptive and restorative in its aim.

If not, then call it something else.  Don’t call it love.

Also, when defining love, we often say love is freedom; that is, it respects the choices of others.  If we then hold to this nuance of love, should we be compelled to lend credence to C.S. Lewis’ famous quote?

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”—The Great Divorce

Is C.S. Lewis correct?

When our kids do something wrong, out of love, we discipline them, hoping that they will not repeat the wrong, but actually do what is right.  We refer to this as tough love.

Come to think about it, God sending sinners to hell cannot be termed tough love.  Let’s not call it tough love.

Let’s call it something else.

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7 Responses to Is Hell Tough Love?

  1. David Loving says:

    Insofar as I believe in hell, I tend to see it as an act of mercy. If we really look at the images of heaven in scripture, they tend to picture it like nothing so much as a worship service–all the heavenly host singing the Sanctus before the throne. Someone who has spent their entire life avoiding worshipping God would be absolutely miserable in that context. Perhaps God’s final act of mercy is simply to let them be. That’s one reason I find Lewis’s imagery in The Great Divorce so fascinating — ultimately no one is forced into hell, they choose it because heaven is far too real and too painful to bear. I don’t know that Lewis’s vision is right, but I have a sense he may be closer to something than the baroque images of popular imagination.

  2. Jon Hughes says:

    Interestingly, the Greek for fire is “pur”, from which we get English words like purify. There are three legitimate ways in which Bible believers can understand the fires of hell: 1) Fire is pain (eternal conscious torment); 2) Fire consumes (annihilationism); 3) Fire purifies (universal reconciliation). Here’s my admittedly biased reply to your post, T.C.:

    Yes, hell is tough love. You can do it the easy way, or you can do it the hard way, but God will ultimately have His way – and Christ’s words will truly come to pass that being lifted up He will “drag” all men to Himself (John 12:32, cf. John 6:44). Every self-respecting Calvinist should be a Universalist. Phooey to free will. The only truly free will is God’s, and He will have all men to be saved!

    Everyone will be salted with fire (Mark 9:49 – the context is Gehenna); some will be saved as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:15); some will not get out of Gehenna until they’ve paid the last penny (Matthew 5:26 – note the context of the passage as a whole, and the word “therefore” in vs 23).

    God Himself is the consuming fire. Heaven and hell are different states of being in the presence of God. No one can truly go from His presence (Psalm 139:8). An attribute of His is holiness, but His essence is love (1 John 4:8,16), and His holy love – tough love, if you like – will result in every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to His glory. Eisegesis says that this will be forced confession on the part of those who remain unwilling rebels; exegesis will have none of it: this is worship on the part of willing creatures.

    Does all this sound a stretch? It depends on your overarching view of Scripture. My Bible says that God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on all (Romans 11:32), and that all the nations of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations – note it doesn’t say some from every nation – will bow down before Him (Psalm 22:27).

    This is glorious. Tough love will bring it about. Sanctification is a painful process – whether in this life or the next. That’s not to deny that hell is retributive. But it’s more than merely retributive, and therefore there is a purpose to it beyond a pointlessly endless and sadistic pain imposed on perhaps the vast majority of mankind in a corner of God’s reconciled universe in which all things have been made new and every tear wiped away.

  3. TC Robinson says:


    Interesting input. Question: if we’re to conceive of hell as God’s final act of mercy toward those who wish to have their way, What then is mercy?


    A few years back, I reviewed E.P. Sander’s much smaller work on Paul, and from Romans 11:32, he advances a kind of universalism. The very thing you’re doing here. It also has a flavor of Rob Bell’s “Love Wins,” though you’ve arrived at your conclusion in a different way.

    Perhaps we press the images in Scripture too literally? Perhaps we’re simply heirs of the medieval readers on hell? Or perhaps we simply need to rethink this whole matter of hell altogether?

    “Every self-respecting Calvinist should be a Universalist.” The problem with this is double-predestination. For the Calvinist, they go together. You can’t have one without the other, thus heaven and hell (though some do not want to admit this; this was John Calvin’s view).

  4. Simon says:

    I would agree with Lewis here. It is a similar view to that held by NT Wright, Eastern Christianity, and increasingly by top Roman Catholic theologians – JPII no less.

  5. Jon Hughes says:


    Hans Urs Von Balthasar and Karl Rahner were a couple of top Roman Catholic theologians who inclined towards Universalism.

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