We mostly know about “the sorrows of death” that Psalm 116 refers to. But what exactly are the “pains of hell”? Some of us might think that these occur in a geographic location. Others of us might see hell as a mental place rather than a physical one. And then, too, there are even those of us who can make the case that living on earth is living in hell. However we view it, hell is not where we want to be.
That’s what makes one of Lewis’ thoughts in The Problem of Pain so startling. Because we have free will, he wrote, “…the doors of hell are locked on the inside” (130). Read that again. “On the inside.” According to Lewis, those behind “the doors of hell” are there willfully and intentionally. They are there because they refuse to “will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good” (130).
The challenge we all face is that we like who we are—most of the time. And self-abandonment sounds like we’re going to have to leave at least part of that person we like behind. As Jesus says: “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (NIV Luke 17:33). This doesn’t seem at all natural to us or logical. It certainly didn’t to me.
But then, at a pivotal time, everything in my life began to break down. I lost my marriage, my financial security, my health and my faith. When I finally yielded and called “upon the name of the Lord” as Psalm 116 tells us to do, the amazing thing for me was that I didn’t even have to lift my arm to unlock the door. Once I gave up completely, the Saviour did it all. He lifted my arm and me and opened the door.
And, also in defiance of all natural logic, what I’ve found since that saving moment is that the more I surrender, the freer I become. The more I let go of being me, the more individuality I have. The more I yield, the safer I feel. Wholly comforted. And Christ does it all. “I love you, Lord, my strength” (NIV Ps. 18:1).