Taking the Bus Back to Hell

Taking The Bus Back To HellOne by one the lost souls step off the bus to enjoy a Great Divorce1 Discount Holidays © holiday in Heaven, and one by one they realize they prefer living in that other place. The choice is theirs. They are welcome to stay, but to remain requires the surrender of that which they prefer to joy.

They are not prepared to make that sacrifice. Call it self-exclusion, self-alienation, self-damnation the essential element of the libertarian model of hell is the creature s free rejection of the divine gift of eternal life. The damned would rather endure the dreariness and boredom of the grey town than suffer the love of the Father. The bus runs every day. The ride is free. The residents may avail themselves of the Discount Holidays © holiday as many times as they wish. But repeatedly, perpetually, everlastingly, they decline the invitation to move to the realm of Joy.

But what of the poor Ghosts who never get into the omnibus at all?

Everyone who wishes it does, replies the imaginary George MacDonald. Never fear.

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.

Taking The Bus Back To Hell

So far the libertarian and universalist are in full agreement. But a question remains: If rejection of God brings ever-increasing diminishment of being (symbolized by Lewis as insubstantiality) and therefore ever-increasing suffering (for suffering there must be the further one distances oneself from the source of happiness) how can anyone sustain perpetual resistance to the offer of Joy? Will not everyone eventually break? Jerry Walls acknowledges this point in Heaven, Hell and Purgatory2: We can only absorb so much pain, so if hell forcibly imposes ever-greater suffering, no one could resist forever (p.

78). One solution is to minimize the horror amd privations of hell. Lewis s grey town hardly resembles the inferno of Dante. The lost do not appear to be desperately unhappy.

We might even imagine damnation as providing its own perverse pleasures and satisfactions, thus rendering the unbearable bearable (see Is Hell a Place You d Ever Want to Visit?3 ). Several months ago an Orthodox priest emailed me and suggested that I had misunderstood the nature of damnation. It s not all or nothing, he maintained. We should think of damnation as a continuum. When an unrighteous person dies, he is permanently established in his character. Some are very wicked, some moderately wicked, some mildly wicked. Did not Jesus tell us that his Father s house has many mansions (John 14:2)?

We may suppose that the very wicked will experience a torment far more intense than the mildly wicked. The torment, of course, is not externally imposed but is rather the subjective response to the divine presence. As Alexandre Kalomiros4 writes:

God, like the sun, never stops shining on good or wicked alike; that rational creatures are, however, entirely free to accept or reject this grace and love; and that God in His genuine love does not force His creatures to accept Him, but respects absolutely their free decision. He does not withdraw His grace and love, but the attitude of the logical creatures toward this unceasing grace and love is the difference between paradise and hell. Those who love God are happy with Him, those who hate Him are extremely miserable by being obliged to live in His presence, and there is no place where one can escape the loving omnipresence of God. Hell is Heaven experienced differently, and at least according to the continuum model, this experience will vary from person to person in relative degrees. The proposal enjoys an initial plausibility, as it accords with our experience of personal relationships; but it seems to have little support either in Scripture or the liturgical hymnody of the Last Judgment5, both of which present eschatological reprobation as the greatest tragedy imaginable for the human being.

Instead of being condemned to experience the full consequences of their rejection of God, the damned are merely confirmed in the degree of blindness, selfishness, and malice in which they died. We might even imagine many of the lost remarking, While I would prefer not to be subjected to God s presence, I suppose it could be a lot worse. Certainly it s better than having to attend the opera. We come back to our initial question: if God eternally offers forgiveness and salvation, how do we explain the obduracy of the damned? Lewis offers this explanation:

For a damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth clenched, their eyes fast shut.

First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouth for food, or they eyes to see. Here is the conclusion of the perditional process: in their irrevocable rejection of Love, the damned have become incapable of even the tiniest degree of repentance. They have lost their desire for the Good. They have lost all freedom. They have become their sin. God, we may postulate, continues to desire their salvation, yet his desire must remain eternally unfulfilled. Fr Lawrence Farley6 elaborates:

Smuggled unnoticed into this picture of the penitent person in hell crying for mercy is the unexamined assumption that the people in hell remain more or less as we knew them in this life. We think of people we have known who were not really religious, but who were not openly evil either.

We remember their good points, their virtues, perhaps their sense of humour. We remember their smiles as well as their frowns, and above all the times that they were good, and the times they admitted that they were wrong. It is this person, intact, as remembered, that we imagine enduring the pains of hell, and it is this which tears at our heart. Certainly love could not bear that. But I would suggest alternative picture of the lost. We see this alternative described by C.S. Lewis in his chapter on Hell already mentioned The Problem of Pain, and portrayed dramatically in his book The Great Divorce.

There those in hell were literally shadows of their former selves. All that identified them as the persons that others knew or even as human had been burned away by the sin lurking and growing inside them. Or, to vary the metaphor, the cancer of sin and self-will had eaten away all their humanity, including their free will. All that was left was sin the hideous lust, the unrelenting rage, the suicidal self-pity. If we could look down from paradise into the place of punishment we would not see a human being, much less the human being we knew. All the created humanity of the person with its potential for love, knowledge, self-transcendence, joy, and especially repentance, had long since eroded away to nothing. In The Great Divorce, C.S.

Lewis offers us an example of this horrible transmutation in an old lady, soaked in self-pity, perpetually grumbling and whining. Her damnation consisted of the fact that she was no longer simply a grumbler, but only a grumble. As Lewis guide and theologian puts it:

The whole difficult of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing. But ye ll have had experiences It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticising it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticise the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.

The besetting sin or the interior spiritual cancer may not be grumbling or self-pity. It may be lust or anger or pride or a thousand other sins which smother the soul and erode its capacity for joy and repentance. But the final result is the same. Sin ultimately destroys the human soul, as fire destroys wood and reduces it to ashes. Looking at the pile of ash after a conflagration, one would never guess that it had once been a beautiful wooden statue. It is the same with the damned: to quote Lewis again (from his The Problem of Pain), What is cast into hell is not a man: it is remains .

In essence, the damned have ceased to be human at all.

Taking The Bus Back To Hell

It s a profound, terrifying vision of eternal damnation. But is it metaphysically possible, given the eternal act of creation? God is not just an Other. He is the ontological ground and source of all being, more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. As the psalmist asks, Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? (Ps 139:7). There is no space that we can create that excludes the divine presence; no wall we can build that omnipotent Love cannot pierce. Human beings can no more deafen themselves to the voice of the Savior than they can unilaterally unmake themselves.

In George MacDonald s great fantasy novel Lilith7, we are presented with the story of the ultimate redemption of the queen of hell. The lesson she must learn is that she did not create herself and cannot decreate herself. As long as Lilith continues in the delusion that she is an autonomous, independent, self-sufficient being, she remains a slave to the Shadow. As God seeps into her soul, her anguish grows. She cries out for annihilation. Unmake yourself, then, she is told. Alas, I cannot! she replies.

You know it, and mock me! How often have I not agonised to cease, but the tyrant keeps me being! I curse him! Now let him kill me! Lilith has been forced to acknowledge a fundamental truth of her existence: she is not her own Creator. This truth is agony to her, but it is also the doorway for her repentance. Lewis s vision requires us to believe that human beings can undo their creation as images of God, that they can alter who and what God made them to be.

MacDonald saw the matter more truly, I believe. Sinners may dream of autonomy, may fantasize of being their own Creator and de-Creator, but this is no more than delusion. And every delusion can be shattered. In my previous article8 I asked the reader, Can you imagine yourself as choosing, definitively and irrevocably, absolute misery over infinite happiness? I reiterate the question. Can you really? But perhaps you still can.

Perhaps you do not find my arguments compelling. Then let me rephrase the question: Can you imagine God ever abandoning you to the absolute misery you have chosen? If you cannot, not really, then there is the blossoming of the universalist hope! It is a hope grounded not in metaphysical schemes but in the God who died on the Cross for the salvation of all.

This hope, amounting to a conviction, writes Fr Andrew Louth, that there is nothing beyond the infinite love of God, that there is no limit to our hope in the power of his love (Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology9, p.


(Return to first article10)


  1. ^ Great Divorce (
  2. ^ Heaven, Hell and Purgatory (
  3. ^ Is Hell a Place You d Ever Want to Visit? (
  4. ^ Alexandre Kalomiros (
  5. ^ Last Judgment (
  6. ^ Fr Lawrence Farley (
  7. ^ Lilith (
  8. ^ previous article (
  9. ^ Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology (
  10. ^ Return to first article (

Two British places top National Geographic Traveler’s best trips of 2016

Congratulations to us. We’ve pretty much made it to the end of the year and now it’s time to start planning where we can escape to over the next 12 months. Thankfully, every year, the National Geographic pool together their editors around the world to work out which destinations are going to be the hottest places to visit in the next year and it’s a pretty great place to start. Alongside the Masurian Lakes of Poland and Brazil’s Rio Grande do Norte – an alternative to Rio de Janeiro – two British sights also made the cut.

Specifically, English landscape architect Lancelot Brown’s gardens were hugely favoured by the panel and the city which topped the list was Glasgow.

This year s Best of the World list truly represents travel s superlatives, said Maggie Zackowitz, National Geographic Traveler editor in chief. We pick ten of the most interesting off the list and highlight the experts’ top tips for each escape. They’ll have you packing your bag imminently…

Capability Brown’s Gardens, UK

Eighteenth century landscape designer Lancelot Brown’s parks in the UK are the travel equivalent of Jane Austen’s books. He reshaped formal British gardens into “rolling green parklands across the length and breadth of the country” with “sparkling lakes, softly sloping lawns, winding paths, and carefully framed views”. He was known for telling his patrons that their grounds had great “capabilities” which earned him the nickname Capability Brown.

National Geographic Traveler’s top tip: When visiting any Capability Brown garden, remember this phrase: “Forget flowers and think trees.” Brown’s natural landscape designs feature vast, undulating parkland and mature trees (not formal flower beds) to create views on a monumental scale.

Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil

OK, Brazil doesn’t lack beaches. They come come “a dime a dozen”, as the National Geographic puts it. But rather than flying to Rio de Janeiro, head further north to the state of Rio Grande do Norte which is increasingly becoming a hotspot thanks to private and public investment in the area and its 233 days of sunshine a year.

National Geographic Traveler’s top tip: Don’t miss “the world’s largest cashew tree”, o maior cajueiro do mundo, in Pirangi do Norte. It’s a ginormous tangle of tentacle-like greenery covering nearly two acres.

Glasgow, Scotland

“If Edinburgh is the blue-blooded aunt at Scotland’s tea party, then Glasgow, just 45 miles to the west, is the T-shirt-clad cousin kicking over the kettle on the way out.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. From music to art, Glasgow is a laid-back cultural hub and since 2016 is Scotland’s self-proclaimed Year of Innovation, Architecture, and Design, the western city it is where you want to be.

National Geographic Traveler’s top tip: Don’t miss The Turner Prize, Britain’s most esteemed contemporary art exhibition and award at Tramway, Glasgow’s former streetcar terminus. The prestigious award is in Scotland for the first time, culminating on January 17.

Masurian Lakes, Poland

Forget the Great Lakes of the USA. The region of Masuria in Poland boasts over 2.000 lakes as well as large forests and historic towns. It’s a paradise for sailing, windsurfing and outdoor activities. The travel magazine says, “Always popular with Polish vacationers, the region remains a quintessential example of the simple pleasures of traditional country life.”

National Geographic Traveler’s top tip: Do try s kacz, a knotted, sweet cake shaped like a spinal column and baked on spit – the culinary pride of Gi ycko (located between Kisajno and Niegocin Lakes).

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The 520-square-mile Big Island park – often called “the world’s only drive-in volcano” – is home to Kilauea, one of two volcanoes in the region that are among the world’s most active. It currently produces 250,000-650,000 cubic yards of lava per day, enough to resurface a 20-mile-long, two-lane road daily. Next year, marks 100 years of the park.

National Geographic Traveler’s top tip: Be sure to buy a souvenir at the Volcano Art Center Gallery located near the Kilauea Visitor Center where every handcrafted piece for sale “interprets the park through art”.

Eastern Bhutan

You are the first foreigner we have seen in 22 years, said a surprised monk welcoming an American trekker to his mist-shrouded outpost near Mongar. That’s one of the anecdotes from the National Geographic team who have travelled to the far-flung region of Bhutan. But the number of hotels has tripled over the past decade as the once isolated country opens to more visitors.

National Geographic Traveler’s top tip: “Khoma, a remote village in northeastern Bhutan’s Lhuentse district, is known for its intricately woven kishuthara (silk brocade) fabric. The complex silk-on-silk art form is passed down from mother to daughter (only women weave in Bhutan) in Khoma, where weaving is the primary source of income.”

South Georgia Island

The land is a British overseas territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean which is home to hundreds of thousands of penguins and a hundred-mile-long expanse of peaks and valleys. It s complete sensory overload, says Eric Wehrmeister, a Lindblad videographer on the National Geographic Explorer, one of the few passenger ships that visit this remote isle. It’s one of the few places in the world that remain as wild as when explorers first discovered it.

National Geographic Traveler’s top tip: “This British Overseas Territory is still reachable only by ship, and the five-day cruise from Ushuaia is strenuous, with summer temperatures in the 20s F. But brave it and you ll see mountains no human has climbed”

Winnipeg, Canada

The city was put on the map this year thanks to FIFA Women s World Cup and the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in 2014. “Winnipeg is a whistle-stop on rail and road trips across Canada…But this unpretentious prairie city proves itself worthy of more than a glance from a train window,” says the magazine.

National Geographic Traveler’s top tip: “Use the efficient Winnipeg Transit public bus system. Routes connect the airport to downtown (5:50 am until 12:49 am), where you can ride the free Downtown Spirit.”

Explore the old churches of Manila before whisking off to some of the thousands of islands in the Philippines. It was noted for its friendly people, wildlife and it’s World Heritage Sites including The Banaue Rice Terraces – a 2,000-year-old area carved into the mountains of Ifugao by ancestors of the indigenous people. It’s commonly referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.

National Geographic Traveler’s top tip: “Play and stay in, on, and above the water at Apulit Island, one of four El Nido Resort properties in northern Palawan.

Guests arrive by boat and stay in traditional Filipino cottages (50 total) set on stilts above the water.”

Okavango Delta, Botswana

In the last few decades conservationists have reversed the near collapse of this balanced ecosystem due to European and American hunters in the 1900s.

Now it’s one of the places to see the Big Five of the traditional African safari: elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros.

National Geographic Traveler’s top tip: To maximize game-viewing opportunities, plan an itinerary including overnights at two or more safari lodges in different parts of the delta.

The full list of National Geographic Traveler’s Best Trips 2016:

(In alphabetical order)
Capability Brown s Gardens, Britain
C te d Or, Burgundy, France
Danube River
Eastern Bhutan
Glasgow, Scotland
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hokkaido, Japan
Masurian Lakes, Poland
New York City
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
San Diego/Tijuana
South Georgia Island
Tangier and Smith Islands, Chesapeake Bay
Winnipeg, Canada

Visit nationalgeographic.com1 for more details on each destination.


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