Notable apologist and writer C. S. Lewis once wrote that "the doors of hell are locked on the inside". This indicates that people place themselves in hell, not that God places them there. What is the biblical basis for this claim?
Q. Notable apologist and writer C. S. Lewis once wrote that "the doors of hell are locked on the inside". This indicates that people place themselves in hell, not that God places them there. What is the biblical basis for this claim?
I don't claim the following to be the official biblical basis, but there certainly are passages that convey the idea that people "reap what they sow", earn their eternal fate by their own willful decisions:
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
[Galatians 6:7-8 ESV]
14 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
[Joshua 24:14-15 ESV]
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
[Romans 6:20-23 ESV]
5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
[2 Thessalonians 1:5-9 ESV]
15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
[Deuteronomy 30:15-20 ESV]
The quote is from C.S. Lewis's book The Problem of Pain chapter VIII (Hell) which shows that although God gives every opportunity for a human being to repent and choose God, a person can be so blinded by selfish reasons, including unforgiveness, wanting to do things his own way, pursuing good on his own terms, etc. Therefore, instead of the person saying to God "Thy will be done", he wants his own way, and God respects his freedom and says to him "Thy will be done" (a quote from another book, The Great Divorce). In other words, the person does NOT want what God wants. See Eleonore Stump 5 minute interview in the PBS Closer to Truth program Do Heaven and Hell Exist?.
Another interview in the same series with Paul Fiddes (the long version) applied "the doors of hell are locked from the inside" quote (min 3:15) to our decision to remain within the state of self-isolation when we use our free will to reject God within the creation, within the room that God creates for creation to dwell in God and to relate to God (min 0:29), which starts NOW but continues BEYOND death & history (min 1:30).
Love involves a unity of will, and therefore the choice of going to heaven involves our freely uniting our will with God's loving will. One character in The Great Divorce book thinks that he is much better than a murderer whose repentance God accepted, saying that if that murderer is in heaven he does not want to be there as well (implying that God is unfair). Other people in the book pervert love in various ways that they end up loving the things or the people they love more than God, and in this way they cannot unite their will with God's. The final consequence is that they would rather not stay in heaven when given the opportunity, illustrated in book of how several people refuse to stay in heaven after they boarded the bus between hell (or is it purgatory?) to heaven (see min 3:41 of the video linked above).
The Biblical basis is hinted at by many articles, one of them is this 2018 article from The Catholic Sun: 'The Gates of hell are locked on the inside':
- God's will that everyone is saved is from 1 Tim 2:4 and John 3:17
- God's will to accept and celebrate when even the worst sinner repents is hinted in the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:31-32)
- God's will to let people choose to go to hell ("locked from the inside") is hinted in the heavenly banquet parable (Matt 22:1-14) that they refuse to accept the invitation to heaven.