As I get further into Rob Bell’s book, particularly the last chapter, I feel more and more in unfamiliar territory. This does not smell like home. Reformed theology makes my heart leap but this, to be honest, leaves me a bit cold. I know that is a very subjective observation though and others will find the opposite to be true. What matters is how something lines up with the truth of the bible. In chapter 7 of his book Rob talks about the story of the prodigal son.
Talking about the elder brother he says:
“hell is being at the party, It’s not an image of separation but integration. In this story heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other.”
I would caution that any notions of integration drawn from this story need to be processed in the light of the separation passages (Mat 25:32, Mat 8:12, Mat 22:13, Mat 25:30, Mat 25:11).
“Millions have been taught that ….a loving heavenly Father, who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them, would in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormentor who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony. If there was an earthly Father like that we would call the authorities” p 173,174
“if your God is loving one second and cruel the next, if your God will punish people for all of eternity for sins committed in a few short years, no amount of clever language or good music or great coffee will be able to disguise that one true glaring untenable, unacceptable, awful reality.” p 176
I do find this sort of thing hard to understand and relate to but here are a couple of my thoughts on the matter:
1) People may continue to reject Jesus for all eternity. If a person hates a god who will judge sin, it’s possible (and biblical Rev 16:9,11) that they will continue to do so even under that god’s judgment.
2) For God to be loving, does he have to love everybody in the same way for all eternity? Does he love Satan?
3) The Bible says God is loving because he sent his son to die for us. This he has done. Does the refusal of some to take him up on his offer reduce God’s love?
4) We must be careful in mapping all aspects of God the Father, and God the Son, to their earthly image bearing counterparts. God is the ground for all justice and will punish all wrongdoing. We (and he) will forgive because he (not us) will see justice done either on the cross or when Jesus returns.
“ We are at the party. but we don’t have to join in. Heaven or hell. Both at the party” p 176
“ 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.”
God is love but he is also Holy and just. Reading through the book of Revelation does not leave me with the impression that resisting God’s love creates hell. Disobeying God and rebelling against him makes us objects of wrath and rightly liable to God’s judgment.
He talks about church leaders who are so burnt out slaving for Jesus now, that they don’t enjoy life now, nor do their wives or their kids. They have a sneaky feeling Jesus has let them down. “it is the gospel of the goats”. A good point! There are some real gems in this book.
“let’s be very clear then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin and destruction. God is the rescuer.”
Speaking for myself, my problem was that I had done things that God would rightly punish me for. I would have been excluded from his presence to bless me and experience his anger against me for the things I had done. My problem was that I was wrong and that God was good. Dangerously good for someone like me who wasn’t. What is the solution? In his love this Holy God sent his son to take my punishment in my place. To experience the exclusion and wrath I deserved. I do not have a problem thinking that God rescued me from God since my problem was his wrath and my solution was his love.
“Our beliefs matter.
They matter now for us
and they matter then, for us.
They matter for others, now
and they matter for others then.” p184
I think he may be saying that it matters if you believe in Jesus now in this life because of the difference it makes now in this life. The sooner you believe in him, the sooner your life will be changed for the better. Knowing Jesus now and being tortured, is better than walking away from him now (thus avoiding horrible pain) and walking back to him later.
“On the cross Jesus says “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. (Luke 23). Jesus forgave them all, without their asking for it.
Although Jesus didn’t forgive them, He asked that they be forgiven, I guess it’s safe to assume his Father granted his request in some way but how? I would see it as a cry from the cross expressing the very purpose of the cross which is the forgiveness of our sin. The means by which that forgiveness is worked out is in the preaching and response to the gospel. To interpret Jesus’ cry as a request for all to be forgiven (either all present at the time or all people over all time) creates problems with passages that seem to suggest that not all are saved (Mat 7:13, Rev 20:15).
“forgiveness is unilateral…God has already done it” p189
I would say forgiveness is available to all now in this day of favour because of what God has done through Jesus. I do not think that the bible implies that all are forgiven now because of what Jesus has done. It would be odd to be an object of wrath and yet forgiven at the same time.
“Everybody is already at the party. Heaven and Hell, here now, around us, upon us, within us” p 190
True in a sense, but any hints or expressions of the reality of heaven and hell now, as God allows the wheat and weeds to grow up together, must not detract from the knowledge that God will one day separate the two.