Free Will, Predestination, and Eternity in C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce

In writing The Great Divorce, Lewis had clear inspiration from writers such as Dante, Augustine, Milton, and even George MacDonald. These writers had influence not only on the dream vision structure and the eternal imagery of Lewis’ book, but also on Lewis’ theology. From Milton’s assertion of free will to Augustine’s insistence on predestination, and Dante’s exploration of both, Lewis’ theology is derivative, but also explorative, of the theologies of these greats. My aim will be to explore Lewis’ beliefs in relation to those of his influences, providing relevant socio-historical context and analysis.

Traditionally, the doctrines of predestination and free will are seen as a binary opposition, but in The Great Divorce, Lewis finds a balance between them, arguing that the two are not mutually exclusive. He defends the doctrine of free will in the preface of the novel by stating that, depending on an individual’s choice, earth will become either Heaven or Hell (Lewis ix). He also concedes validity in the doctrine of predestination, however, in that an omnipotent God must have divine foreknowledge and therefore necessarily plays a part in determining the result of human choices. If God is able to anticipate a choice, which Lewis argues He is, then by opting to permit that choice’s occurrence, God in a sense predetermines the chooser’s fate not instead of granting free will, but through the individual’s free will. According to Lewis, God’s refusal to interfere with human decision (free will) implies predestination; God ultimately plays a key role in the chooser’s salvation. That being said, Lewis asserts that God ignores no one, that He pursues and makes Himself apparent to all people. My analysis of Lewis’ theology will seek to explain in depth how Lewis reconciles these two doctrines in his novel. My argument will hold that Lewis’ belief in free will does not necessitate the rejection of predestination. I will argue that Lewis suggests an individual’s fate is subject to both God’s plan and to his or her own choices.

Lewis’ theology also suggests that human choice and free will is an active component even after death. In Tony Richie’s essay, “Hints From Heaven: Can C. S. Lewis Help Evangelicals Hear God In Other Religions?,” he establishes an argument that Lewis’ writings suggest postmortem opportunities for salvation. In The Great Divorce, this argument is clearly supported in that the narrator finds himself in the Eternal realm and posed with the choice between Heaven and Hell. Richie’s analysis of  Lewis’ theology helps to set up my argument that Lewis’ novel suggests an individual’s freely made decision is still heavily subjected to God’s ardent pursuit. I will show Lewis’ theology to hold that God’s persistence and omnipresence (in and after earthly life) establishes predestination without debunking free will.

To provide support for Lewis’ view, I will address the ways in which his theology is Biblically grounded. In The C. S. Lewis Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Hekkert and her coeditors draw a parallel between the Biblical passage of Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, which addresses the aspect of choice in a human’s following of God, and Lewis’ commentary on free will in his book, The Weight of Glory (Hekkert 220). This suggests that Scripture and Lewis’ personal theology regarding the coexistence of free will and predestination are cohesive. This evidence will help my analysis of the effectiveness and legitimacy of Lewis’ theology.

My approach to this argument will begin with and stem from an analysis of Lewis’ depiction of Eternity. I will define his vision of the afterlife as a spectrum from Hell to Heaven, with Earth in the middle and death being merely an essential part of one’s process for reaching one end or the other. From there I will explore the way that Lewis’ narrator continues to be posed with choices after death, and the extent to which he makes these choices freely and with the aid of external and spiritual influences. Drawing from the arguments of Richie, Hekkert, and others, as well as the theologies of Lewis’ influences, I will attempt to establish the extent to which Lewis reconciles the doctrines of free will and predestination.

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