The debate around Rob Bell’s book ‘Love Wins’ peaked my interest but the book is not easily available in South Africa yet. So although I don’t normally like e-books I bought myself a copy to see what all the fuss is about. Nobody in the right mind likes the idea of hell but Bell raises the question is the traditional understanding of hell as being a place of eternal torment and punishment incompatible with a God of love. At one stage Bell asks:
“Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants? Does this magnificent, mighty, marvellous God fail in the end?”
For Bell the only way that God can succeed at being God is if heaven is for everyone, even if they don’t chose it first time round. His theory is that God’s love is so compelling that no one can reject it for eternity. Although I would love if Hell did not exist for I fear some people I love have landed up there (or will still) Bell’s understanding of Hell seems to me to not be based upon scripture, but upon reading into scripture. On many occasions reading the book I wanted to shout ‘Read the text!’ For example
- Hell is not an eternal punishment based upon Sodom and Gomorrah being restored in Ezekiel 16 – Nowhere in the bible does it say that Sodom & Gomorrah equals Hell nor does it say that their destruction meant that they could never be rebuilt again.
- The story of the prodigal son shows that God will go to great lengths to win back the prodigal. The problem with this is that the Son had to willingly come home – the father in the story is not out hunting the son down and dragging him home. The son comes home by choice and in repentance.
My worry about Bell’s book is the texts that have been neglected and the aspects of God’s character that are also neglected. Under even greater threat is the work of Christ on the cross – why did he have to die if God’s love trumps God’s holiness and God’s justice. Bell’s depiction God is one-dimensional and lacking mystery. If Bell is right that Hell is not a ‘real place’ and that heaven is for all because God’s love overrides any other aspect of His character then some of the last words of Jesus recorded on the cross should have been ‘What is the point?’