Certain things are just understood.
God is love.
No one wants to go to hell.
Taken individually, there’s nothing especially controversial about any of those statements for Christians.
But pastor and author Rob Bell has written a controversial book that agrees with each of those statements, yet has managed to offend most of evangelical Christianity.
In his book, Love Wins, Bell determines that God’s love must win over everyone. He concludes that no one will go to hell because that would not be the action of a loving god. The problem? Bell has invented a god as he wants him to be, rather than as He has described Himself to be. Bell has also defined hell, not according to the Bible, but according to what he hopes it will be.
In defining God solely as a god of love, mercy, and compassion, Bell has managed to dismiss many of God’s other attributes, for example, His holiness, justice, righteousness, and purity. Rob Bell is not the first – nor will he be the last – to create a god in his own image. The danger, however, comes when he and others begin to believe in their creation.
Bell does not believe in the hell that Jesus spoke of: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).
Instead, Bell notes that everyone will end up in heaven, some immediately after they die, and some after a brief detour in a temporary hell until they finally repent and “love wins.”
But Jesus never spoke of hell as temporary. And Hebrews 9:27 tells us everyone must face death and then judgment. The Bible does not speak of temporary stopovers, no matter how wishfully some might consider it.
Bell says, “When we get to what happens when we die, we don’t have any video footage. So let’s at least be honest that we are speculating, because we are.”
Yet, I John 5:11-13 tells us we can “know we have eternal life because that life is in the Son. If we have the Son, we have life. If we do not have the Son, then we do not have eternal life.” This language is not speculative, it is a statement of fact.
In the April 14 issue of Time Magazine, Jon Meacham observes in “Pastor Rob Bell: What If Hell Doesn’t Exist?”:
“If heaven, however defined, is everyone’s ultimate destination in any event, then what’s the incentive to confess Jesus as Lord in this life? If, in other words, Gandhi is in heaven, then why bother with accepting Christ? If you say the Bible doesn’t really say what a lot of people have said it says, then where does that stop? If the verses about hell and judgment aren’t literal, what about the ones on adultery, say, or homosexuality?”
By following Bell’s assertions, then if love (as he defines it) wins, we lose.
We lose because sin runs rampant, unchecked by a need for repentance.
We lose because our sense of justice is betrayed.
We lose because right and wrong no longer matter.
What Bell and others have missed is that love already won.
Love won at the manger when God became man.
Love won at the cross when Jesus Christ died for sinful humanity.
Love won on the third day when His resurrected body left an empty tomb.
Love wins every time someone says yes to the gift of salvation that means the difference between life and death.
And love will win when God metes out justice before His throne on the day of judgment.
Anything else just isn’t real love…and we lose.
This made me think of a quote that has been very significant in my life…”There is a God we want,and there is the God who is. They are not the same God. The turning point of our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want, and start seeking the God who is.”~
Fabulous quote, Tracy…and so true!
I think that actually your first paragraphs about the ‘eternity’ of punishment are addressed in the book, around pp 26-34, 57f, 91-93 where the hebraic understanding of ‘aion’ and ‘olam’ turns out to be rather flexible or different to our understanding of ‘eternity’ in english thought. There are also interesting points in the book on how very often the ‘justice’ of God is followed by ‘restoration’.
Hell for Rob Bell is literal, but the punishment is purposeful and potentially not infinite for the sufferer.
On your second point in the latter half of this post, firstly apart from the unfortunate suggestion that Ghandi is the kind of person you wouldn’t want to meet in heaven, the quoted passage also suggests that life outside of Christianity is somehow ‘more fun’ than inside. Do we really believe that we gain so little from accepting Christ if it’s not done out of fear?
I thought it was for love and freedom we ran this race. Which brings me to your own point, I don’t think a lack of an infinite dimension for punishment does imply justice is betrayed and right and wrong no longer matter- firstly because there clearly are still consequences as far as Rob is concerned, immediate and future, but more importantly because if we truly loved God don’t we repent and try to do the right thing because we want to please him as much as we can and do our very best for him, much like we would with a human lover? Is repentance a result of fear or love?
as an addendum; If we’re repenting because we’re trying to avoid hellfire, isn’t that a selfish act and not really repentance anyway?
I may of course, have misunderstood you and remain open to correction.
Nathan, thank you for your thoughtful comments.
You asked an interesting question: “Do we really believe that we gain so little from accepting Christ if it’s not done out of fear?” The Bible notes that we are to both love and fear God. Fear, not in the sense of being terrified, but in the sense of a reverential awe of His character and His ways. There is a place for both in the Christian life. Fear of hell may first catch our attention so that love and gratitude will follow as we respond to what Christ has done for us.
Ava, even if it does work that way for some people, do you think that hell in this example is actually necessary so we can can respond in ‘love and gratitude’ to what Christ has done?
No, Nathan, I believe the Bible is clear that hell is necessary for the consequences of sin. Sad, but necessary.