What do you think about C. S. Lewis’s book A Grief Observed and his views on purgatory?
Question from a reader:
What do you think about C. S. Lewis’s book A Grief Observed? He talks about purgatory, and if seems as if the Heaven you write about and the Heaven he writes about are two very different places. Is his purgatory the intermediate Heaven?
Answer from Randy Alcorn:
A Grief Observed is the equivalent of Lewis’s book of Ecclesiastes. He’s speaking with a perspective severely limited by his grief. His raw emotion sometimes trumps his actual beliefs with the agony of his grief. In other books he expresses more considered beliefs, while in A Grief Observed he expresses his emotions, and when he speaks of beliefs they are beliefs hanging in the air tentatively (though they likely felt permanent at the time). They are less long-term convictions than the expression of his immediate emotional devastation.
There are many good insights in the book, some of them good precisely because they capture so eloquently the questions devastation and grief express. But you have to remember the context in which Lewis wrote it and the fact that he didn’t even want it to be known that he was the author (he wrote it under a pseudonym). It is Lewis brilliant in his distress, but it is not Lewis soundest in theology.
Yes, at times in various places Lewis speaks favorably of purgatory, though never as atonement, but purification, which would be the first but not only stage of his intermediate Heaven. I disagree but understand.
In The Problem of Pain he speaks more clearly of Heaven, and especially in The Last Battle, Lewis’s depictions of the New Earth are unmatched and invaluable. In other places, in my opinion, at times his thinking about the afterlife was too much influenced by his fondness for Plato. As an example, in A Grief Observed, he dismisses the idea of heavenly reunions. However, 1 Thessalonians 4 extends comfort to readers because they’ll see their dead loved ones again—we’ll be together with each other and with the Lord. That’s why Paul says we shouldn’t grieve as those who have no hope. As for reunions in “earthly terms,” the Bible emphatically teaches ultimate resurrection and life together on the New Earth.