George MacDonald was driven from his first pastorate for expressing a form of universalism (the idea that every soul will eventually be reconciled to God) from the pulpit. His understanding of God's nature led him to the idea that God only punishes in order to instruct, and that such instruction ultimately and inevitably results in salvation. At the same time, he understood repentance for sin to be a necessary element of this process—some people merely accomplished this after death and through the agency of divine intervention.
These beliefs find their fullest expression in Lilith, published late in MacDonald's long and productive career. Much darker than his other adult fantasies, but also ultimately more hopeful, the novel follows the adventures of Mr. Vane through a largely evil landscape on his way to a house of beds where the sleeping dreamers await the end of the world. Vane has a series of otherworldly experiences culminating in a confrontation with Lilith whose beauty nearly overwhelms him, but with whom he must do battle. Eventually Lilith is overcome, not with violence, but with a desire to be free of her own bitterness, and she takes her place as one of the sleepers in the house of beds.
Lilith burns with a savage beauty distinct from any of MacDonald's other works. Far more theological, and far more dark, it is a nightmare journey through the wilderness of despair into the peace of Christ's love. Though MacDonald's beliefs were in many ways heretical, his compassion toward humanity and his sorrow at the largely self-inflicted pain they endure are just as vivid here as any improper doctrine. In fact it is this humanitarian spirit that informs the novel and leads readers far from familiar territory into a realm all mystery and wonder. And perhaps the greatest beauty is that MacDonald refrains from assertions, allowing us to ponder what we've seen in the peace in which he leaves us.