Rob Bell on Suffering: “Anyone who quotes Romans…they can’t walk with you”

Rob Bell was recently asked what counsel he had for a young man whose unborn baby’s life is in danger. According to CNN (HT to Jim Smith), Bell said the following to the man in this heartrending position:

Bell walked closer to the man and told him he could give him no easy answers. But he could tell him to avoid people who will try to comfort him by quoting scriptures like Romans 8:28 (“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God”) and by telling him his loss was somehow part of God’s mysterious will.
“Anyone who quotes from Romans and said it’s all part of a plan, they can’t walk with you,” Bell said.
He told the man to look for people who will be present with him and offer him “solidarity,” not “solutions.”
He said he would return to Atlanta in the years ahead and they would meet again and somehow things would be better for him.

Read CNN’s profile for the full story.

Bell’s disengagement with the evangelical world is well-known. A few years back, I wrote my own response to the former pastor saying the evangelical church was “moments away” from affirming same-sex marriage. Sadly, Bell continues to malign God and his holy Word. In the words quoted above, he not only backs away from divine truth, but silences it.

Bell speaks in the name of empathy–he promotes “solidarity.” But here is the reality: there is nothing solid in his vision of solidarity. Such gestures may be genuine, and they may lend some temporal comfort. But the Christian church does not offer hugs and soft words. We stand on divine truth (2 Timothy 4:2). The love and empathy we give is robustly doctrinal and theistic. We minister the wisdom of God to people shaken by the evils of a sin-cursed world. How does the binding of the broken-hearted take place in Isaiah 61, for example? It comes through the one who “preaches” good news (Isaiah 61:1).

There is a poor way to counsel folks, to be sure. Firing principles at people in awful circumstances is not true ministry, as the book of Job shows us. Our manner, our bearing, and our economy of words matter in such sad situations. Yet if the Scripture is not sufficient to help the needy, then nothing is, and our faith is just a faltering personal-improvement plan. We must make this plain: all things, including the deaths of loved ones, happen because of the wise and inscrutable plan of God. All things work together for good for the people of God, as numerous real-life examples show (Romans 8:28). In even the lowest of circumstances, we are made conquerors by God (Romans 8:37). In all our sojourn, whether facing life or death, we cannot be separated from the love of God, the love that is “in” Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). The love of God is true, and the very apex of biblical doctrine. It is not mushy, but forged in affliction, and anchored in the life-giving death and resurrection of the Son of God. The comfort we access and give, then, is inescapably theological.

When we grieve, we turn to the Lord. We are like David (2 Samuel 12), Jeremiah (2 Chronicles 35), and Job (see Job 1). We are not merely repeating sentences to ourselves in such moments; we are drawing our thoughts upward, from the dust and ashes in which we sit, to the throneroom of God, to God himself, to the unfading realities of life in the God-made world. We do not preach “Somehow” theology–somehow things will improve, though we have no idea how. Ours is not Somehow Theology, but Someone Theology. Jesus Christ rules and loves his church. He has entered into our self-caused nightmare as his Word declares (John 1). He has rescued us from sin, Satan, death, and hell (Ephesians 1). He is returning to gather his people and remake the world into a world of love (Revelation 21). These gleaming, glistening truths give us all we could ever need for ministry to the desperate. We minister them with compassion and humility, never overwhelming the sufferer, but always pointing them to Christ.

Such ministry is not dispensing “easy answers.” This work is giving the “living water” to those whose wells have gone dry (John 7:38). How we wish we could go back, and share these words with the struggling young man who asked them of Rob Bell, and who heard no wisdom, and gained no true comfort, but experienced only the rejection of God’s own word. Let us pray for him, and for his child.

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