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The Problem of Pain

Lewis, C. S. | Macmillan, 1962


pp. 120 - 122

Lewis explains retributive justice, the very idea of it. You need the concept of just desert or ill-desert. You need the concept that an evil man must never be allowed to remain ignorant of his evil, or satisfied with it. “Pain plants the flag of truth within a rebel fortress.” And it may lead to repentance. Lewis then pictures inimitably a ruddy and self-satisfied scoundrel, and asks (p. 121): “Supposing he will not be converted, what destiny in the eternal world can you regard as proper for him? Can you really desire that such a man, remaining what he is (and he must be able to do that if he has free will) should be confirmed forever in his present happiness–should continue, for all eternity, to be perfectly convinced that the laugh is on his side?” Lewis says we feel the tug between justice and mercy, and that we are moved even by mercy to want reality to come home to the evil man. P. 122: “In a sense, it is better for the creature itself, even if it never becomes good, that it should know itself a failure, a mistake. Even mercy can hardly wish to such a man his eternal, contented continuance in such a ghastly illusion. Thomas Aquinas said of suffering, as Aristotle had said of shame, that it was “a thing not good in itself, but a thing which might have a certain goodness in particular circumstances.” According to Aristotle, to be ignorant of evil or ignorant that it is contrary to our nature ”is manifestly bad. In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I’m afraid that is what he does.”