Is this true? Did C.S. Lewis believe in the concept of Purgatory? See for yourself.
Below are Lewis’ words:
“Of course, I pray for the dead (i.e. the dead in Purgatory). The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best with unmentionable to Him?” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on prayer).
“How do I know all her (Joy, Lewis’ deceased wife) anguish is past? I have never believed before—I thought it immensely improbable—that the most faithful of souls could leap straight into perfection and peace the moment death has rattled in the throat.”
Again, referring to Joy (his deceased wife),
“I know there are not only tears to be dried but stains to be scoured.”
“The job will not be completed in this life; but He means to get us as far as possible before death.”
Therefore, it seems self-evident that Lewis wholeheartedly believed in some concept of Purgatory.
Now before I give my thoughts regarding Purgatory, I want to be clear on what Lewis believed (and didn’t believe) about Purgatory.
Some would say C.S. Lewis believed in the (recently popularized) sanctification (i.e. cleansing) model of Purgatory, rather than the classic model of satisfaction (i.e. punishment for your sins).
But if you are like me you are wondering, "What is the sanctification model of Purgatory?"
Basically, it is the idea that Purgatory is necessary to make the Christian fully or completely sanctified before you enter Heaven.
“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first.” “It may hurt, you know”—even so, sir.”
Again, this is fascinating. Lewis believes that Christians will actually demand to be placed in Purgatory. The beauty and purity of Heaven will still be too much for their sinful disposition, so the Christian must be purged so that they can reside in their eternal home. But let us not overlook that (according to Lewis) God seems to be willing to complete the process of Sanctification unilaterally, which continues to be the theological position of most Protestants.
So, is Lewis’ correct? Should Protestants reexamine this doctrine, especially since most of us revere the legendary Oxford Don for his literature and his apologetics?
Here is my answer in four distinct arguments:
#1—There is not one explicit (or implicit) verse advocating the concept of purgatory.
Those who oppose this doctrine often argue this point: There is no biblical evidence. And if there is no biblical evidence, then there is no theological evidence. What else do we base our theology on?
#2—It cannot be reconciled with justification by faith alone.
This was the main objection by the Reformers. The concept of Purgatory (i.e. the satisfaction model) requires justification by works. In other words, it is your works that releases you from Purgatory. It is your works that satisfies the wrath of God. It is your works that reconcile you to God. And finally, it is your works that grant you entrance into Heaven.
The truth: The doctrine of Purgatory distorts the gospel of Jesus Christ, therefore, it is heresy.
#3—Scripture seems to teach immediate placement of individuals in Heaven (and maybe in Hell).
What else can we conclude from the interaction of Jesus and the thief on the cross?
Luke 23:42 And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
It seems clear that Jesus and the thief went immediately into Heaven.
Someone may ask, “Is it possible Purgatory is Paradise?” I mean, didn’t C.S. Lewis believe in something like that?
Yes, he did.
Notice the words of Lewis’ guide in The Great Divorce:
“It depends on the way you are using the words. If they leave that grey town (i.e. Hell) behind it will not have been Hell. To any that leaves it, it is Purgatory. And perhaps you had better not call this country Heaven. Not Deep Heaven, you understand. You can call it the Valley of the Shadow of Life.”
Interesting, isn’t it?
Ok, let us reason together for a moment. Now if there is any legitimacy in the sanctification model of Purgatory, isn’t the thief on the Cross the example Par Excellence? In other words, if anyone needed the “sanctifying work of Purgatory”, it is the thief on the cross, because he had no time to grow in sanctification or prepare himself for the beauties of Heaven.
So it seems reasonable to me that if you add the conversion of the thief with the finality of Hebrews 9:27, the reader must conclude that when you walk through death’s doors, there is no opportunity for purging, learning or changing your mind. All sales are final.
#4—The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard
I believe this is main scriptural evidence against the sanctification model of Purgatory.
Matthew 20:1-16 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' 7 They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' 13 But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' 16 So the last will be first, and the first last."
So now if we use this parable as the grid for understanding Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross, then this guy was paid for WORKING ONE HOUR.
Do we have the right to condemn God for being gracious to the thief? Let us remember that God does not have to show His favor to anyone.
Apparently, it brought God glory to save a wretched sinner just moments before his death.
Someone might ask, “Was it legitimate?” or “Was it a foxhole conversion?” Well, we have two options at this point. Either Jesus knew his heart or He didn’t. Oh….and if your answer if Jesus didn’t know, then He lied to the thief. Absurd!
C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest storytellers and apologists ever to walk the face of the earth. Christians should not hesitate to read his works over and over again. But was he right about Purgatory? Nope. Dead wrong…..no pun intended.