The Rob Bell hubbub is everywhere.
Whose side am I on?
I’m not on a side. I’m a student of the Scriptures, so I’m growing and learning and full of questions. And I greatly appreciate how Rob Bell is challenging Christians to sift the Scriptures and recapture a vision of Christ’s love… as well as Christ’s warnings about the wages of sin. If I’m on a “side”, I’m on the side of those who know they don’t have all the answers, and who are humbly approaching Christ with a desire to learn. And I’m not concerned about where that places me on any particular theological seating chart.
Bell’s new book Love Wins has stirred many Christians up into a hysteria of argument, anger, and in the case of John Piper, abrupt public condemnation.
(Piper, before he even read the book, posted a Tweet that said, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” Because, of course, Christians should always break fellowship in public when they hear a rumor about somebody else’s theological opinions. Right? Right?)
I haven’t read Bell’s book yet. I’ve seen some of the interviews he’s done on the subject of heaven and hell, and read a brief excerpt from the book. I’ve read Byron Borger’s comments on the subject, and Richard Mouw‘s… both of which take a very different tone than Piper’s. Today I read Matthew Paul Turner’s response.
And I’m startled, because I posted comments that are somewhat similar to Bell’s a few months back, before I’d even heard of his book, before I’d ever read any of Bell’s work at all. There was no protest at all. Now, granted, I don’t have an audience as big as Bell’s. But I didn’t get the feeling that this subject would throw Christian leaders into a public fury. So I’ve been surprised by the recent development.
So, regarding my thoughts on the issue at hand — that is, “Does Jesus plan to send bazillions of people to hell for an eternity of torment with no hope of relief?” — I’ll share what I have posted before. I still have much to learn on this subject, I’m sure. But I have always had trouble reconciling what I was taught about hell during my childhood, and what I encountered in Jesus’ teachings.
In a Facebook discussion about salvation and judgment, I very cautiously posted some of my own impressions:
Hell is the house we build for ourselves to wall out Jesus and his invitations. And even then, he shows up in the house, inviting. We can still choose to stay there.
So shall we sin, then, since his grace is irrepressible? Hey, you try it, and let’s see how that works out for you.Hell is the misery we get when we ask for it.
Hell is the falling down, the attacks by predators, the fear, the loneliness that comes from seeing the light and choosing to walk in the opposite direction into the dark.
Hell is what Adam and Eve tasted when they tasted the fruit that had been forbidden. Immediately, they were insecure. Ashamed. Afraid.
But God found them. And the judgments that had been promised them (that they would die on that very day) were lightened. They were offered grace. Hardship, yes. Suffering, yes. But grace and ultimately redemption.
We can become so lost that we can’t find our way back. Even so, he’ll find us there.
We can look at a kingdom of glory and choose to walk away and build a creaky little shack in the dark, where there is only sadness and self-loathing and emptiness. Still, there’s a knock at the door. Because he descends into hell to find us.
We are made in his image. His spirit resides within us, groaning. So if we’re ever in hell, he’s there with us, suffering, urging us to surrender.
And isn’t that the glory of love? If the beloved cannot choose to walk away and reject the glory of union, then there is no way to know the joy of two parties willfully embracing one another.
But I have difficulty believing that there is anything like eternal damnation unless there are souls that persistently choose it, no matter how far Christ goes to invite them out of it. I don’t think you’ll find anyone in hell saying, “I keep on asking God to help me and he won’t.” You’ll only find those who go on saying, “I have seen the Lord and I still choose this.”
But if Christ asked God to forgive his enemies even as he was killed by them, then I believe that grace trumps all. Is God going to answer Jesus and say, “No. I don’t forgive your enemies. I’m locking them up for eternity and they don’t get a second chance?”
Scripture tells us that every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. EVERY knee, EVERY tongue.
And “whosoever believeth in him” shall. not. perish. (John 3:16)
The writers of scripture chose the most frightening metaphors available to them to describe what life is like when one turns away from God. So we get pictures of fire, of gnashing teeth, or a devouring misery. And which of us hasn’t felt some of that misery? We invite it when we turn our eyes away from the light.
But the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church. Notice: The gates will not prevail. That means they’ll come down. They’re permeable. Even on the other side of them, you’ll find Christ can find you there.
I’m writing this with broken words, from a broken understanding, in a broken world, hoping that some glimmer of truth comes through the cracks. May God grant me insight if I am wrong, as I so often am.
But whatever the case, I take steps toward hell every day in my foolishness. He always welcomes me back, accepts my repentance, blots out my sins, grants me what I don’t deserve. So I trust him. I trust him completely, even in matters of heaven and hell.
I’m grateful that no one has yet said “Farewell” to me for this.
I’m even more grateful that I can trust Christ to go on offering me love and grace as I seek to grow in understanding of his love.