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C. S. Lewis - 'Problem of Pain' and the Meaning of Life in Heaven

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Out of the books that we have been assigned to read for this class, I have hands down found The Problem of Pain, and more specifically, the “Heaven” chapter to be the most thought provoking. Throughout this chapter, Lewis examines the very nature and purpose of our souls, and thus, simultaneously makes the answer to “the meaning of life” more and less translucent.

So, what is the meaning of life? The typical, knee-jerk response for evangelist Christians is “the meaning of life is to give glory to God and to live for eternity in Heaven.” Lewis’ “Heaven” chapter poses problems for this answer. Lewis states that, “Heaven offers nothing a mercenary soul can desire” (Lewis 639). However, later in the chapter he details that we each have “a signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want” (Lewis 640), that will only be fulfilled in Heaven. How then, can this be? If the non-mercenary, true Christian’s desires are to simply be with God and bring glory to Him, then how is it possible that we are each, mercenary and pure of heart alike, blessed/cursed with an unfulfillable desire that only Heaven can quench? If Heaven alone can quench all of humanity’s desires, it seems clear to me that Heaven must offer something of great importance to all human beings.

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I would like to assume that what Lewis is referring to is mankind’s foolish tendency to continue to chase secular ideas and perishable creations in order to finally feel happy and content, the phenomenon my pastor back home refers to as the “Cul-de-sac of Stupidity.” However, Lewis never so much as hinted to this, but instead described each person’s unquenchable desire as “an unattainable ecstasy hover[ing] just beyond the grasp of your consciousness” (Lewis 641). If Lewis were implying that this is the innate sinful desire to worship the creation rather than the Creator, placed in our hearts by God, fulfilled only by the Spirit, he would have explicitly stated so. However, when this desire is unpacked, it is actually a desire for Jesus that we all are born with. We come into this world constantly wanting more, chasing unattainable things that will not bring us joy, in an attempt to fill the hole in our spirits. Although people go down different roads in order to try to fill this hole- the opposite sex, substance abuse, success- this desire is really only a desire for Jesus, disguised, because Jesus is the only thing that can fulfill this desire. If the camouflaged desire for Jesus had been the “unattainable ecstasy” (Lewis 641) Lewis was referring to, and it is our own unique unattainable desire that marks our soul signatures, would that not make each of our soul signatures exactly alike?

However, it cannot be true that our soul signatures are identical. One thing Lewis does make explicitly clear is that our soul signatures are uniquely our own, given to us by God, and “[our] place in heaven will seem to be made for [us] and [us] alone” (Lewis 640). In this case, I am unsure how Heaven is not only enticing for the mercenary soul, but for the pure of heart as well. And according to the rest of the chapter, Heaven is exactly what each and every one of us is longing for. So, at this point in time, we can conclude the meaning of this life is to gain access to an eternal one in Heaven.

The soul signature topic poses yet another possible explanation for our purpose on Earth. Lewis states, “your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance” (Lewis 640), and this is so “each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the Divine beauty better than any other creature can” (Lewis 642). These two statements make it easy to conclude that our purpose on Earth is crafted by God, and is unique to every soul.

Although romantic, what Lewis is saying here comes laced with a dark side. If it is true that “each of the redeemed” has a specific soul signature that will worship God for eternity, what does that say for the non-redeemed? Let’s say, in this instance, that your soul signature outlines your calling, your vocation, and therefore the meaning for your life. It goes without saying that when you are crafted by God in the womb, God also stamped on your soul signature prenatally. What Lewis is essentially saying is that the unredeemed have not been given a soul signature, and that this was decided prenatally by God. Therefore, according to this theology, Lewis is stating his beliefs regarding predestination: that God hand picks those who He wants to give His “seal of approval” so to speak, and therefore decides who He wants to redeem. And continuing with what we established earlier, that your soul signature determines your purpose on Earth, then those who are unredeemed have no purpose on Earth.

“What is the meaning of life?” is such a frequently asked and vague question, that it is almost asked satirically now. Christians know the knee-jerk response, but those outside of faith consider themselves to be meandering around in their bubble of life searching for something meaningful, for a purpose in their daily trials and triumphs. We were put here on this Earth for a reason: what is that reason? However, Lewis states that everyone who is redeemed has a unique soul signature. This is because our soul signatures are put into place so that we will be able to uniquely worship our own piece of God. Another characteristic of a soul signature is that produces a side effect of an unquenchable and unattainable longing for something more. If these longings only accompany the presence of soul signatures, and soul signatures are only present on the redeemed, and whether or not you receive a soul signature is determined before your birth by God, would you not be able to know whether you were destined for Heaven or Hell? If you experienced these longings, you were redeemed, blessed with eternal life. If you did not experience these longings, you were simply not included in the in-crowd that is God’s pre-chosen people. If your soul was not constantly yearning, and did not feel the illusive presence of “that something which you were born desiring” (Lewis 639), then according to this chapter, the presence or absence of this desire would be the litmus test for your eternal destination.

If predestination is the way of the world, additional questions arise. Is there even a purpose in life if human beings’ fates are sealed before they are even born? Why would those who are redeemed strive to live a decent life and even bother with praising God, and then simply succumb to their own desires if their fate is desirable regardless of what they do? If predestination is the case, there is no meaning of life for the redeemed other than indulging in life’s pleasures because their Heavenly pleasures are secured. And for the unredeemed, although their fate is much less lovely, their purpose is identical: live for yourself because your time here is short. Predestination is a common belief for many denominations of Christianity, but when broken down, it cannot withstand the “meaning of life” test, because with the doctrine in place, life would be completely meaningless.

Leaving the predestination scenario behind, the meaning of life is sealed for those who are redeemed: you are destined to live a life simply to worship and bring glory to God. But what shall we say of those who are not redeemed, if predestination is not believed in? If instead we all have a soul signature and are all crafted to be capable of forwarding the Kingdom, what can we say about the souls that are lost to Hell? According to the theology that is set up by Lewis, your soul is given to you by God, is uniquely and only yours, and is handcrafted by God to bring glory to Him in a way that no other human being can. If everyone has a soul, then it is up to simply your own free will to decide your redemption status. In alignment with this theology, for every soul that is lost, there would, therefore, be one aspect of God that would go unpraised for eternity.

Taking into consideration that I am not the God of the Universe, this still seems rather foolish to me. It would seem senseless that God would choose to leave empty spots on the heavenly roster if each and every person has their purpose and job in the Kingdom. Along with predestination, another non-universal doctrine is the possibility of a second chance after death for those unredeemed during their time on Earth. It has long been speculated that unbelievers will get another chance at accepting Christ and receiving eternal life after their death. Would this not be the only logical option left on the table?

Predestination leaves the lives of humans meaningless, and on sheer eye test, makes the God of the Universe appear cruel and cold and much unlike the description of our Heavenly Father in the Bible. Therefore, if the traditional belief system is the reality, that you and you alone decide your eternal fate by the free will granted to you by God, Lewis’ theology, which I personally believe in, disintegrates. According to Revelations 21, there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” and “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” This passage describes the fate for the redeemed as being pretty idyllic. Thus, after reading how amazing the afterlife will be, it makes even less sense for God to leave any pieces of the puzzle out by not allowing everyone in Heaven. Since we have established that predestination cannot possibly be the doctrine in place, letting pieces of Himself rot in Hell along with the lost souls seems the only corresponding alternative unless a second chance option is put into play.

There are three options on the table, and all three seem unrealistic and nonsensical. If a second chance was available for all the unredeemed souls after their death, wouldn’t that also alleviate the meaning of life? If you could accept Christ after your death, that would indicate that you could throw your life on Earth away, just as you could if predestination was in place. Why would you not live for yourself if you could just postpone living for Him until after your death? Procrastination is the way of the world, and would certainly be the way mankind would behave if a second chance were available.

So now I am sure you are probably wondering when I am going to stop telling you what the meaning of life is not, and start detailing the long sought-after answer to the question of the century: what is the meaning of life? Well, here I have presented you with three options, all of which are senseless and ultimately alleviate any meaning that life might hold. Therefore, I have concluded what each and every person before me has concluded when they begin to search for the meaning of life: that the answer to the meaning of life is to remain hidden. Look at it this way: this is the God of the Universe we are attempting to figure out. He knows every intimate detail about every person that has been, is, and will be on Earth, and His thoughts for each of us outnumber the grains of sand on every beach. His power and knowledge extend far past our very comprehension. I have come to the conclusion that the meaning of life is never meant to be found. The fact that we are even trying to understand the very foundational mystery of life is proof that its answer is not meant for us. Instead of simply living our lives according to the Bible, we want to find the true answer for ourselves, and this thirst for enlightenment can be boiled down to pride. And is a thirst for knowledge and understanding of the beauty and workings of God’s creation unhealthy or sinful? Absolutely not. But we were not meant, nor is it even necessary, to understand essentially the inner workings of God’s mind. However, the reason for our lack of success in the search for the answer to the meaning of life extends far beyond pride. God is so incomprehensibly complex that even if we were to discover or be enlightened to the meaning of life, despite how we may feel about ourselves, we are very fragile and dim sighted beings, so how could we even begin to understand the answer?

God did not leave us to fend for ourselves on Earth. He left us with the Holy Spirit as well as His very guidebook: the Bible. We are called to blindly follow Him and His teachings because that is what will lead us to joy and eternal union with Him. Thus, the meaning of life is to not know the meaning of life, and be content with it.

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