“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside . . . they enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved: just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.” C. S. Lewis. 
Is it true, as C. S. Lewis willingly believed, that all who are in hell are there only because they choose to remain there, and that, rather than being there against their will, its inhabitants have actually locked the door from the inside? Is it true, as he taught, that man’s libertarian free-will is so absolute that even God Himself must ultimately submit to it, abandoning lost sinners to an eternity of misery, in the end saying to them, “thy will be done”?  Whose will prevails when all is said and done? God’s will that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, or the fallen sin-bent will of lost sinners who came into this world spiritually stillborn and blinded by the god of this age? These are some of the questions that I hope to answer from Scripture in this blog.
First off, I would like to point out that C. S. Lewis seems to have tentatively been a hopeful Universalist. In his novel, The Great Divorce, he depicted himself as having died and gone to hell. In hell he took a bus to heaven with several others, most of whom did not want to remain there and promptly reboarded the bus back to hell. When he arrived at the edge of heaven he was greeted by George Macdonald, his mentor in life who was a Universalist. In his conversation, C. S. Lewis acknowledged the fact that both Macdonald and the Apostle Paul had spoken as though they believed that all would be saved, but he then proceeds to present MacDonald as being uncertain in the afterlife concerning the final salvation of all because of man’s inviolable free-will. Here I quote part of the interchange between Lewis and MacDonald in heaven:
C. S. Lewis: “In your own books, Sir,’ said I, ‘you were a Universalist. You talked as if all men would be saved. And St. Paul too.’
George Macdonald: “Ye can know nothing of the end of all things, or nothing expressible in those terms. It may be, as the Lord said…that all will be well…and all manner of thing will be well. But it’s ill talking of such questions… 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. And wouldn’t Universalism do the same?” 
Reading this, I wondered what Macdonald thought of C. S. Lewis presenting him as though he were merely a hopeful Universalist in the afterlife, considering that he was such a strong advocate for Universalism during his lifetime. C. S. Lewis here actually presents George Macdonald as uncertain concerning the final salvation of all, reasoning that both Predestination and God’s determined will that all be saved must somehow be subordinate to man’s sovereign libertarian Freedom which not even God can overcome, thus rendering the final outcome unknowable.
From what I have been able to gather from the writings of C. S. Lewis, his free-will theodicy, by which he justified the presence of evil and suffering, was so extremely libertarian that God could neither consign unrepentant sinners to hell against their will, nor could He be certain that His determined will that all should be saved would ever be successfully accomplished.
C. S. Lewis actually believed that God did not know what the final outcome would be when He created man with a free-will, but reasoned, “apparently He thought it was worth the risk.”  C. S. Lewis was the most influential forerunner to what later came to be known as Open Theism. I present the scriptural arguments against Open Theism in a series of two blogs: Open Theism – Does God know my Tomorrow.
Are the only People in Hell those who choose to remain there?
Some would argue that the word hell shouldn’t even appear in the Bible. While it is true that the actual meaning of our English word hell has been greatly distorted by Greek mythology and the creative imagination of men like Dante, etymologically speaking, the word Hell is totally consistent with the meaning of Hades which in Scripture is simply the unseen or hidden realm of the dead. The Greek word Hades is a composite word, made up of the negative particle a, meaning “no” and eido which means “to see.” Even outside of Scripture it simply referred to the invisible realm of the dead. When Hades was originally translated as “Hell” in the Old English, it meant essentially the same thing as Hades. The old word hel or Helle simply meant “that which is covered or concealed,” i.e. the invisible realm of the dead. 
The word itself simply speaks of the unseen realm of the souls of the dead. Not everyone in hades is seen to be suffering, since both the souls of the righteous and the wicked alike are seen to be in Sheol or Hades, awaiting the resurrection of their bodies (Gen 37:35, hades LXX). Even the soul of Jesus went to Hades, while His body was preserved from corruption in the tomb until His resurrection (Acts 2:31).
Obviously, if, as some affirm, the soul does not have an existence apart from the body, and Sheol or Hades is nothing more than the grave, then this whole discussion would be irrelevant. I demonstrate from Scripture that the soul has a conscious existence apart from the body in my blog, Is Sheol the Grave, and also in my book, Extermination or Restoration?
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we see that both men died, and their souls went to Hades or the unseen realm of the dead. Lazarus was carried by the angels to Paradise, which was called Abraham’s bosom prior to Christ’s resurrection and ascension, at which time He took Paradise with Him to the third heaven (Eph 4:8-10, cf., 2Cor 12:2-4).
When the rich man died, he found himself in torments. Was it possible for him to simply get up and leave for Paradise at will, as Libertarians like C. S. Lewis affirm? Arguing from silence, they say that the rich man gave no indication that he wanted to leave the place of torments and enter Paradise. However, if he was only there because he wanted to remain there, why would he beg Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers so they could avoid ending up where he was, if indeed one could simply leave for Paradise whenever they chose to?
The obvious reason he wanted his brothers to repent before dying was because he understood that upon dying one must receive just retribution for what they have done in life. Lazarus’ retribution was Paradise, while the rich man’s retribution was the just penalty for his evil deeds. When the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue, Abraham made it clear that it was not possible for one to simply leave the place of torments for Paradise at will, when he said: “between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us” (Luke 16:26).
That does not mean that the retribution that the unrepentant receive in Gehenna for the sins committed in life is eternal and that they can never pass from torments to Paradise, but simply that they cannot leave without first receiving the just retribution for the deeds done in the flesh and/or repenting and being purified in the eonian fire. Jesus compared hell (Gehenna) to a prison, saying that one may not leave there until they have paid their penalty in full (Matt 5:22-26). “Until” logically requires an “afterwards,” and therefore rules out eternal retribution.
That it is possible for one to pass from undergoing correction and just retribution to Paradise once their correction has been achieved, can be seen both in Ephesians 4 and 1Peter where Christ is seen to have descended into Hades, preached the gospel to the captives held there and ascending with them to the third heaven:
“He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water… For this reason the gospel was preached (ευηγγελισθη, lit. ‘he evangelized’) also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:19-21; 4:6)
“As the scripture says, ‘When he went up to the very heights, he took many captives with him; he gave gifts to mankind.’ Now, what does ‘he went up’ mean? It means that first he came down to the lowest depths of the earth. So the one who came down is the same one who went up, above and beyond the heavens, to fill the whole universe with his presence.” (Eph 4:8-10 TEV)
Here we see that Christ descended into the lowest parts of Hades, even to where the spirits of the men who were disobedient in the days of Noah were imprisoned, in order that, although they were judged in the flesh they might live according to God in the spirit. Their spirits were regenerated, and they were received into Paradise in the third heaven, awaiting the first resurrection at Christ’s Second Coming.
Also, we see that the unjust who do not have part in the first resurrection unto life will be judged “according to their works” at the White Throne Judgment, receiving “their part” in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:13; 21:8). Jesus said that some will receive “few lashes” while others will receive “many” (Luke 12:47-48). These expressions all speak of a just and measured judgment, and rule out the possibility of infinite punishment for finite sins. Also, understanding that the eonian fire/correction is for the purpose of purification, it logically follows that, as soon as one has been fully purified, coming forth as pure gold, they will be taken out of the fire and restored. I consider the purpose and duration of the fire in my blog, Sulfur, Salt and the Refiner’s Fire.
However, the fact that retribution in Gehenna is not eternal, as traditionally taught, does not mean that the unrepentant sinner can simply choose to avert Gehenna and go directly to Paradise upon dying, foregoing God’s just retribution and the eonian fire, since, without holiness no one can see the Lord (Heb 12:14). Those tormented in Hades don’t have the keys, Christ does (Rev 1:18). He is the only one who can deliver us from death unto eonian life in His presence. In numerous passages we see that Jesus actually sends the unjust into outer darkness and eonian fire against their will. Here are some examples:
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' 23 And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matt 7:21-23)
“Then one said to Him, ‘Lord, are there few who are saved?’ And He said to them, 24 ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able… 27 He will say… ‘Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.' 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.” (Luke 13:23-28)
“And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matt 18:34-35)
There is a separation which takes place upon dying, or when Christ returns in the twinkling of an eye, gathering the elect from the four corners of the earth. Those who die in Christ go immediately into the presence of Christ, waiting to receive their glorified bodies in the first resurrection at His coming (2Cor 5:8; Php 1:23; Rev 20:5-6; Jn 5:29). The unrepentant are sent into outer darkness and eonian fire and remain in Hades until the second resurrection after Christ’s 1,000 year reign has ended. At that time, death (the grave) and Hades (the habitation of disembodied souls) give up the dead which are in them so that each individual may appear soul and body before the White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:13-15). Those whose names are still not found written in the book of life at that time are judged according to their works, receiving their part in the purifying Lake of Fire, being hurt by the second death.
The fact that the book of life is consulted at the White Throne Judgment indicates that some of the souls who missed the first resurrection will subsequently have fulfilled their part (μέρος), or just recompense, and been purified (washed their robes Rev 22:14 ASV), having their names written in the book of life and being received into Paradise. Then at the second resurrection they also will be made alive with a glorified resurrection body.
Those whose names are not found written in the book of life at that time will not willingly go into the Lake of Fire of their own free-will, but rather must be forced to undergo the second death:
“Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:13-15, c.f. Matt 5:29)
As I argue in my blog, Fear Him who can Destroy both Body and Soul, the second death is the destruction of soul and body in Gehenna. If we do not destroy the dominance of the flesh and the soul-life now, we will have to undergo it in the afterlife, since, without holiness no one will see the Lord. Certainly no one would ever willingly choose to be hurt by the second death in the Lake of fire if they were free to avert it and enter directly into the kingdom of heaven. God created us with a “free-will”, but our will is subordinate to God’s sovereign determined will. Man’s is not free to circumvent God’s determined judgments apart from repentance, as history demonstrates.
What we see repeatedly emphasized is that those excluded from the kingdom will want to enter but will not be able to (Luke 13:24-28; Matt 7:21-23; 25:11-12,41,44). In fact, Jesus repeatedly said that they will weep and gnash their teeth when He tells the unjust to depart from Him into the eonian punishment which is figuratively described as a furnace of fire and outer darkness (Matt 13:42; 22:13).
God will not eternally abandon anyone to their own “Free-will”
While it is true that God, just as any loving father, does not grant our every wish, and some must undergo eonian correction against their will, neither will He abandon man to his own depraved “free-will”.
The term “free-will” in reality is a misnomer, since the will of each individual is restricted and impaired by numerous factors. None of us were able to choose the environment in which we were born. We didn’t choose to be born with a bent to sin. We didn’t choose our parents. We couldn’t choose whether to be born in a Christian home or an atheist or Muslim home. The list could go on. All of these things, and many more, limit or influence our “free-will” decisions. In fact, most of mankind never even heard the Gospel in their lifetime in order to be able to decide whether or not to receive Christ of their own “free-will”.
All these limitations considered, how could our heavenly Father eternally abandon any of His offspring to their own free-will, saying to some, “thy will be done”, as C. S. Lewis affirms, especially considering that fallen humanity is spiritually dead in trespasses and sins and blinded by the prince of the power of the air? (Eph 2:1-2; 2Cor 4:4). Jesus said: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws (ἑλκύω, ‘effectually draw’) him” (Jn 6:44). While the invitation is open to all, man is so lost that no one can come without divine assistance. It is not simply a case of unwillingness, but inability.
However, rather than God effectually drawing only the elect to Himself while consigning most of humanity to eternal torment, as the Calvinists believe, or forever abandoning the lost to their own free-will, as the Libertarians claim, the Scriptures throughout declare that God will draw all men unto Himself, albeit each one in his own order (1Cor 15:22-23). The elect of this age are merely the firstfruits of God’s new creation in Christ, in which all will finally be reunited in Christ and made new in the final Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times (Eph 1:10; Rev 21:5). I consider this in more detail in my blog, Who are the Elect of God?
While Jesus said that no one can come to Him without being effectually drawn, He also said that He would draw all unto Himself. He said:
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw (ἑλκύω, ‘effectually draw’) all to Myself.” (Jn 12:32 LITV)
So, we see that God’s elect firstfruits are those who are drawn unto Christ in this age. But in the coming ages He will draw all unto Himself. God has sworn by Himself that all the ends of the earth will look to Him and be saved, bowing the knee and confessing Jesus Christ as Lord (Isa 45:22-24; Php 2:10-11). Christ will continue reigning until all have subjected themselves unto Him, at which time He will also subject Himself unto the Father that God may be all in all, entering into eternity (1Cor 15:28).
Libertarians like C. S. Lewis argue that God cannot save all mankind, since He must respect man’s autonomous free-will. To me, that is like saying that a father, out of respect for his son’s free-will, should not exercise restraint to keep his son from throwing himself off of a high building to his death. Any loving father would restrain his son against his will, if necessary, even confining him in a clinic for whatever time is necessary for the restoration of his mental and emotional health.
How much less would our heavenly Father allow any one of his wayward children to inflict upon themselves irreversible ruin. Rather, he confines them in eonian correction until they come to themselves and are fully restored. Whatever time it takes, no matter how many ages it may take for some (like the self-righteous Pharisees), to recognize their condition and their need of the Physician, God has sworn by Himself that all will someday look to Him and be saved. God has all the time in the world at His disposal, and He is more than able to bring circumstances to bear upon even the most obstinately self-willed sinners like Jonah fleeing for Tarsus or Paul on his high horse, working in each one of us to both will and to do of His good pleasure (Php 2:13). Furthermore, He has sworn that he will do it. Our heavenly Father will never abandon forever even one of the children of men:
“For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict willingly,
nor grieve the children of men.” (Lam 3:31-33)
 C. S. Lewis. The Problem of Pain, p. 130.
 C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce p. 75: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.’”
 The Great Divorce p. 120
 Mere Christianity, p. 48