“That Hell should be able to veto Heaven”

June 2, 2014
"But watch that sophistry or ye'll make a Dog in the Manger the tyrant of the universe." (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

“But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in the Manger the tyrant of the universe.” (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

In an earlier post on C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, I used Lewis’s words to reflect on how we can live with ourselves on the other side of eternity, knowing the harm that we’ve caused people in this life. Given that we retain our memories, will we not have guilt-ridden consciences?

In chapters 12 and 13 of the book, Lewis tackles a another question about our consciences: how do we live with ourselves in heaven knowing that some people we know and love will be in hell. In heaven, will we no longer have pity or compassion? How can we not feel sorry for people who aren’t with us?

The narrator confronts his heavenly guide, George MacDonald (the Teacher), with these kinds of questions after witnessing a conversation between a heavenly resident named Sarah Smith and her (literally) damned husband, Frank, who is allowed a visit with her. (Before you ask: Lewis himself isn’t arguing that this is what happens in eternity. The events in the book take place in the narrator’s dream.) Sarah loves Frank perfectly, but she won’t pity him, no matter how hard he tries to play on her sympathies.

Is there no place, the narrator wonders, for compassion in heaven?

(I was unfamiliar with the reference to a “dog in a manger.” It’s explained here.)

‘Is it really tolerable that she should be untouched by his misery, even his self-made misery?’

‘Would ye rather he still had the power of tormenting her? He did it many a day and many a year in their earthly life.’

Well, no. I suppose I don’t want that.’

‘What then?’

‘I hardly know, Sir. What some people say on Earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved.’

‘Ye see it does not.’

‘I feel in a way that it ought to.’

‘That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it.’


‘The demand of the loveless and the self-imporisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.’

‘I don’t know what I want, Sir.’

‘Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no loner able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.’

‘But dare one say—it is horrible to say—that Pity must ever die?’

‘Ye must distinguish. The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of Pity, the Pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honesty—that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.’

‘And what is the other kind—the action?’

‘It’s a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world’s garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses.’[†]

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarperOne, 1946), 135-6.

One Response to ““That Hell should be able to veto Heaven””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:


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