Christ followers and churches need a makeover. Even my 2 1/2 year old seems to have hopped on this bandwagon. It’s not a bad vehicle to hitch a ride on, as long as people understand that they need to be part of the solution.
Rob Bell kicks chapter four off by highlighting a particularly befuddling reality many churches exemplify: webpages communicating their beliefs in God’s love and grace, right alongside their belief in Hell and eternal punishment. One of these things is not like the other.
“Welcome to our church.” Indeedily dokely!
Again, I’m not saying that belief in Hell is anything other than part of straight legit Christianity. It’s an important aspect of our faith, if only because The Rabbi talked about it so much. But I am in agreement with Bell when he notes that it’s really weird how churches share about Hell with people, especially in as public of a forum as a website. You’ve got the love right next to the hate–at least as how people of other faiths see it.
This chapter explores the ideas in Scripture that God wants all people to be saved, to enjoy a relationship with Him that we traditionally think of as being in Heaven for eternity. He checks 1 Timothy 2:3-4, Psalm 22:7 & 65:2, and Philippians 2:9-11. All talk about how someday every person in history will bow down before Christ in worship. Bell takes this idea and blends it with his thoughts that Hell is something people choose because that’s where their self-focused lives lead them. Hell is a place, a state of being that is chosen. People choose their way into Hell because they don’t want God’s way of life. This is a line of thought C.S. Lewis fleshes out in The Great Divorce. It makes more sense to me than God creating people in love and then shipping them off to exerience torment. (I didn’t father a child to want to torture her down the road–unless you call my future vigilance for showing her Muppet movies torture). But, if God lets us choose which path to take (even while wooing our hearts to Him) then the concept of Hell makes more sense. It ends up being what people want for themselves.
So, back to ideas from Love Wins. Eventually, all people who have chosen Hell for themselves will be unable to resist God’s love to the point where they want to leave this state of being. Bell asks again if God might leave Heaven open as an option for people with Hellish focuses to one day experience. What if they get to the point where they give in to God’s oppressive love (oppressive in a good way) and get to enter Heaven? He uses Revelation 21:25 to highlight a little line about how the gates of Heaven will never shut, allowing for people outside of Zion to enter.
At any time they want.
Day or night.
(Sorry about that. Just got a bug to write Bellian style!)
It certainly an interesting thing to note about that passage! Easy to miss. Maybe that’s the implication of that little detail; maybe not. It sure is cool to think about.
But, the same chapter in Revelation says that a laundry list of people still focused on their sins will have “their place in the lake of fire” (depending on the translation). So…is their place in the lake of fire somewhere that they can never move away from or not? The text doesn’t really say, but it seems like “their place” is a way of phrasing that something is fixed.
Here’s the problem with the doctrine of Hell: it seems like there is an overwhelming case made in Scripture that Hell is something permanent that people experience. But it can’t be as simple as a firey torture for all of eternity. Jesus uses two opposite metaphors to describe Hell, from which we get our belief.
The metaphors The Rabbi describes Hell: 1) a place of utter darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth; 2) fire where the worm never dies. If I’m wrong, let me know, but any type of fire present would negate utter darkness. Right? So there are some inherent difficulties with constructing a doctrine of Hell, especially when Scripture uses a lot of images to describe it and those images contradict each other.
The big questions Bell asks in this chapter is “Does God get what God wants?” He never really answers the question, a typical move Rob Bell makes that makes me love his style while simultaneously being frustrated by it. Bell says that a better question is, “Do we get what we want?” If we crave light and are desparate for grace, they are ours. If “we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god,” they are ours. Bell says that because of how love works, God does not force or coerce and always “leaves room for the other to decide.”
But, it still doesn’t answer the question if God allows people to leave Hell and enter Heaven.
Onto chapter cinco.