Chapter 7 Synopsis:
“Grace and generosity aren’t fair; that’s their very essence…that’s how things work in the father’s world. Profound unfairness. People get what they don’t deserve. Parties are thrown for younger brothers who squander their inheritance.” This is the promise of scriptures – this is the result of the life of Jesus. God does not “send” people to hell, people choose hell. “Hell is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story.”
Using the story of the prodigal son and the distorted view of the father which the older brother has, Bell rightly draws out the ways in which our doctrine of hell can result in our own distorted view of God. Our “view of God” is a doctrine. He rightly explains that this “view of God” or this “doctrine” can become more sovereign in our lives that God himself. We can actually begin to worship our own view of God above God. We can make it more sovereign than the scriptures & the way Jesus retold the story of history. This is an oblique indictment of those who are calling him a heretic right now.
His insistence is that God must be consistent throughout all modes of our existence, throughout the human experience. God cannot be loving father one moment, and jail-keeping tormentor the next. He rightly notes (as a pastor would) that this view of God – that he turns into this tormenting torturer after we die – keeps many people from truly loving God. We cannot contrive a doctrine of hell which requires God to be loving one second and cruel the next.
“God extends an invitation to us, and we are free to do with it as we please. Saying yes will take us in one direction; saying no will take us in another…we do ourselves great harm when we confuse the very essence of God, which is love, with the very real consequences of rejecting and resisting that love, which creates what we call hell.” It’s about relationship, so talking about “in” and “out” totally misrepresents the nature of life and eternity. Bell uses the distinction between “entrance” and “enjoyment” to talk about the difference in views of the kingdom of God between himself and his critics. He writes, “We see this destructive shaping alive and well in the toxic, venomous nature of certain discussions and debates on the Internet. For some, the highest form of allegiance to their God is to attack, defame, and slander others who don’t articulate matters of faith as they do.”
Bell is saying that forgiveness is unilateral – it is universal. (this BTW totally violates limited atonement and unconditional election for all of you Calvinists following along 🙂 All have been forgiven. We can either refuse to believe it or accept it. That choice leads us to very different paths of life; paths eventually leading to heaven or hell. He has done all that needs to be done in love and mercy. All that is left is to trust. To throw ourselves upon his mercy. To follow him wherever he leads us.