C.S. Lewis and predestination

C.S. Lewis ends The Great Divorce by tackling the paradox of human freedom versus predestination. (He was nothing if not ambitious.)

Part of his answer — if you can call it that (and I’m not sure Lewis would have) — is that we, as created beings, exist within time. God, on the other hand, exists outside of time. Which, if true, means he experiences past, present, and future simultaneously and not at all. (Is it getting weird yet?)

Lewis insisted that our choices, when viewed through the lens of time, are real. The future is open. We are free to choose or reject God. And of course, time is the only lens we have:

Time is the very lens through which ye see something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all. That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves part of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the lens of time.

So… we can only see freedom through the lens of time, yet freedom is the very thing that connects us to a reality beyond time. Huh.

The problem, for Lewis, is that when we try to look beyond the lens of time, we get right out of our depth. Our finite minds can’t handle it. Freedom and predestination — both of which Lewis accepts as true in some form — become irreconcilable enemies.

For Lewis, that’s because we are trying to wrap our minds around something far bigger (“big” isn’t even the right word for it) than we can handle.

What’s really interesting is what motivates Lewis to wander into this theological quagmire:

Every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two.

Translation: Lewis is adamant that predestination should not be allowed to ride roughshod over freedom. He accepts both freedom and predestination as true, but he regards freedom as “the deeper truth of the two.”

The price of destroying (or rejecting) freedom is simply too high to pay; doing so severs the connection between us and our Creator. God cannot be understood apart from love, and love cannot be understood apart from freedom — for love never, ever coerces.

11 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis and predestination

  1. Thank you for writing this. Sparing a long conversation, I can summarize by saying before April of 2011, I was a happy born-and-raised bible believing Christian who was simply on a ‘journey,’ and was turning the corner as a 20-something that was discovering how to engage my faith with the rest of my life and the rest of the world, etc., etc.

    Then I discovered Calvinism for the first time. Ever. So, my world kinda collapsed for the past 7-8 months.

    My pastor recommended I read The Great Divorce, and I can see why. I got the gist of what Lewis was describing through the book, and then this final chapter that you reviewed was incredible. Those final 2 pages from fictional George MacDonald are so weighty! But once read them over a thousand times (and more), Lewis’ perspectives on predestination and freedom are immeasurable towards my healing from the awful shock of Calvinistic theology (it was real bad, I was reading Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor for months hoping to find a crack in their every-action-is-predetermined-including-salvation-of-some armor!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can so relate! I was raised Christian and always had that child-like faith. Nothing shook it. Until pre-destination. I was surprised at how people didn’t understood how hard my faith was being rocked. They didn’t get it – but it had CHANGED my view of God. Had I been worshipping someone/something that never existed, except in my mind? My world felt like it was collapsing too.
      Looking forward to the healing you are talking of. Love Lewis and will re-read The Great Divorce immediately. 🙂


    2. Man this is crazy…I am also just entering my third decade of life (early 20s), and I am starting to feel so disillusioned and even mentally nauseous thinking about predestination. I have friends who seem to embrace it and have no problems with the “darker” side of this doctrine. I’m going to start studying what the Bible says about predestination more closely and I would love to re-read The Great Divorce. I’ve seriously been questioning whether I could continue in Christianity itself which scares me, but I’m trying to trust God to lead me in the right direction. I hope you all have been blessed in your search for truth and understanding.


  2. I completely agree with the first commenter! I have recently hit a hard spot in my life and am also just beginning my 20’s. And I have grown up my entire life in church and just believing it all. And I really do believe that i was active in my faith and learning tons of things from the Lord, but since this hard time in my life began i really distanced myself from God, religion, the church. just everything. and i thought things would kind of just pick back up (God wise) after a couple of months but it has now been about a year and the more i have thought over things and talked to people, I have become even more distant and really believe that i could just walk away from it all! The last issue that I came up to thinking about, which has lasted at least 2 or 3 months now, was the predestination issue. And i grew up baptist,,so i have never been taught that. and it was just so harsh for me, and that is when i realized that i think i could walk away from all of this..’christian’ stuff. but i just looked up ‘c.s. lewis viewpoint on predestination’ and came across your post! and i am so thankful because it has given me a new outlook..and a little bit more hope into searching more. So thank you so much!


  3. Thank you for sharing about CS Lewis view. While, he didn’t agree that God choose people , however, he did explain predestination clearly. So far the most convincing, simple and true view of predestination is by Roman Ri. It is incredulous how many people in the past and present have not seen the word predestination in context. Fortunately, Roman did. Here it does. >>

    In Ephesians chapter 1, Paul spoke about predestination. The key is in verses 12,13:

    12: In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him …. in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ …
    13: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation ….

    Who are “we” and “you? In context, “we” refer to Jewish Christians and “you” to Gentile believers. These pronouns do not refer to individuals. The key is to interpret according to context, instead of being side-tracked by a few words.

    At that time, Jewish Christians resented that redemption was offered to the Gentiles. It meant that the God of Abraham was not exclusive to them any more. This was a drastic departure from their proud heritage for the past 2000 years. Unable to accept such a change, the Jews wanted to cling on to traditions by observing Sabbath and circumcision. Claiming that they were God’s favourite and redemption was offered to pagans only after Israel did not believe, they insisted that Gentiles should follow Jewish laws and customs. So much hostility existed that even the apostle, Peter, avoid the Gentiles for fear of offending the Jews. And Gentile Christians at Ephesus and Galatia felt discouraged and confused.

    Aware of these difficult and divisive issues at hand, Paul wrote to the Gentiles Christians at Ephesus to explain that God had always pre-planned to offer redemption to the Gentiles too. Speaking as a Jew, the apostle used the pronoun “we” from verses 4 to 11: “He chose us to be holy and blameless… we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him.” Ephesians 1:12 is a key verse: “We were the first to hope in Christ.” Weren’t the Jews the first to hope in Jesus? The first believers were Peter, John, Stephen and thousands of Jews who turned to Christ after the resurrection. The word “we” refers to the Jews – and this is a salient point to take note of. Many people interpret wrongly, thinking that “we” refer to each of us, individually.

    Notice the change of pronoun to “you” in verse 13: “You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.” As a Jew speaking to Gentiles, Paul said that “you” – the Gentiles – having heard and received the gospel, had been included in God’s redemption too. After Peter received a vision earlier, the disciples had preached to the Gentiles and they became part of His plan. In context, the word “you” referred to Gentiles as a people, not to each person.

    God had predestined to offer redemption to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles – which together means everyone. The offer to Gentiles had been pre-planned since the beginning, not suddenly – not because Israel did not believe. When God called Abraham, He said that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” [Genesis 12:3]. And after Jesus’ atonement, for our sins, these words were fulfilled. The Lord offers redemption to everyone, not choose who to save individually. God does not handpick who should go to heaven. After hearing the gospel, each one decides whether to believe or not. People have to make the choice.

    What did Paul or Peter mean when they said “God’s elect” or “chosen by God”? These are expressions of humility, not meant to be taken literally. Back then, Christians won’t say they chose to accept His offer of redemption because it would seem to place them at a higher level than Him. Even though they had to make the decision to turn to God, they humbly said that He chose them. It was a subservient manner of writing to show reverence to God: It was such a privilege to be part of His Kingdom, which they did not deserve; glory and thanksgiving for His grace and mercy – that is the spirit of the words.

    Back then, the name of the Lord was highly revered and they spoke of God in honorific words. Today, we don’t speak or write this way anymore, hence words such as “chosen by God” puzzle us because we interpret literally. The way we speak of God now is less formal or even casual, which is different from biblical time. As we read the Scriptures, be aware that it was written more than two millenniums ago; as time change, some elements of language change too. And in religious writings, especially, some words and expressions are not intended to be seen in a factual manner.

    Adapted from the book: “Understanding Prayer, Faith and God” (2016 edition)

    About the book

    In my interaction with Christians, I have seen that many have doubts about prayer. As we weather crisis, economic upheavals and vicissitudes of life, our faith is scorched by trials and adversities, one after another. “Does prayer really makes a difference?” is a common question among us.

    Understanding Prayer, Faith and God’s Will discusses real-life challenges that we face in prayer. Initially, we are motivated by words such as “pray and you will receive”. However, when some serious prayers are not answered, our conviction is affected. “Why are prayers not answered as the Bible says?”

    Much of the problem stems from the way we misinterpret the Scriptures. A compass that is set wrongly will cause us to veer off course, and we will never arrive at the destination. This book explains what Jesus said about prayer and removes wrong notions that cause us to err and doubt. Understanding the truths will strengthen our conviction to pray again.

    “What is God’s will for my life?” is another common question. At church sermons, we are told to pray for His guidance. However, even though many serious Christians have tried, God’s will seems to be a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces that we cannot find. This book discusses how the Lord called Abraham, David and Paul, and expounds biblical truths that are not told before. It provides clarity in the way we will see – and seek – God’s will. With knowledge and understanding, our faith will be made complete.

    Are you puzzled by verses such as “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”? What did God mean when He said to Isaiah, “They shall hear but do not understand … Make the hearts of these people callous”? Did the Lord cause the people to be spiritually blind? Understanding Prayer, Faith and God’s will reveals the truth, and serves as a guide for people to read the Bible fruitfully.


    1. I’m sure that God hardened Pharoah’s heart… EVEN HARDER THAN IT ALREADY WAS. Pharaoh was never gonna choose God. He thought he was God. And God chose Moses for a job but the Moses who accepted it was falsely humble. As a young man Moses killed an Egyptian slavemaster, as al old man he slammed a rock to bring water, and even while he was selected to be deliverer he told Moses to God he needed to assign Moses his silver-tongued brother to help him. Moses bless his soul had an attitude that he could and should be the one to “Take Care of Business”. That’s why God had to chastise him with two forty year stretches in the desert first herding smelly sheep then herding constantly kvetching Jews. And still Moses’ arrogance kept him out of the Promised Land.


  4. This is an outstanding book that deals with this topic. “ Gods strategy in human history”, Roger T Forster & V. Paul Marston. Their treatment of the word “harden”or “Chazaq”in Hebrew” is excellent.


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