Monday, October 24, 2011

Love Wins

I just read the book. Literally, just finished. I'm not sure I should be writing about it now, I'm still processing it.  I did want to say a few things while it is still fresh.  First, I owe Rob Bell and my friend Lindsay an apology.  When I first heard of the book and what it was about I dismissed it.  I didn't go all John Piper and suggest that he had somehow died or become a servant of Satan, or whatever other nonsense was involved.  I was less than graceful in the way I talked about it.  I assumed I knew what it would say and judged Mr. Bell and his book before I ever read it.  I'm sorry about that.  I owe Lindsay an apology because she likes and respects Rob Bell (as do I, more now) and I acted like she should know better.  Turns out she does know better, at least better than me.

I wasn't entirely wrong about what the book says.  Bell says he isn't a universalist, but then says everyone goes to heaven.  He is not a universalist in terms of how. He seems to be a universalist in terms of who.  As in Jesus is the only way to heaven but eventually everyone finds him.  He also says that heaven and hell both exist here, simultaneously, and we can choose witch party we attend.  He reasons that at some point everyone, this side of death or the next, gets tired of partying in Hell and decides to knock knock knock on Heaven's door.  I don't disagree that there is a lot of heaven and a lot of hell here and I don't disagree that most of that is a result of the decisions we make.  There is some grey area here for me in that he describes rape as being hell, but he doesn't explain how the rapist chooses hell for himself and his victim.  What about her choices?  Some people don't choose anything, some people get hell here because of the decisions others make.  The book doesn't try to explain this or tell us what to do with it.

As I said above, Bell suggest that even after death we continue to have infinite opportunities to choose Jesus.  To submit to God's rule and live within His guidelines.  In Bell's view hell is like being sent to your room until you are sorry and agree to do what Daddy says.  The fire of hell exist to refine not so much to punish.  What I don't understand, and what Bell does an inadequate job of explaining is how that works.  Does God decide when you are really sorry and just bring you out of Hell? Do you have to somehow get a meeting with him to explain how sorry you are?  Does he, like I do with my daughter all to often, let you out before you learn your lesson just 'cause you're so cute he can't wait another second to cuddle you?  The process just isn't explained and that makes it difficult for me.

That being said, I loved the book.  I don't know why really, but I loved it.  I think Bell comes across a little snotty and condescending.  I think his arguments are thin and weak and wonderful.  It rattles me to think a point that was not well made and I don't really agree with could so closely reflect the heart of the God I know and serve.  I'm not a theologian and I don't want to be, but I've read and continue to read the Bible and I've experienced God in ways that just a few years ago I would not have thought possible for me.  I believe in the finality and power of the cross.  I have experienced God's relentless pursuit and unstable love.  I light of that I don't know how I can say that love doesn't always win.  It has for me, why not everyone.  I don't know enough to say for sure.  I have a feeling that Bell is mistaken about some things, but I hope he isn't.

The book is compelling because I hope its true.  Love is powerful and grace is big.  Love has conquered death and the grave.  The cross is sufficient and Jesus' sacrifice perfect.  Jesus came so that, through him, the world might be save - all of it.  Might?  Does God not know?  The Bible says it is God's will that none should perish.  Does he not get his way?  Is his will not perfect and unstoppable?  Just after Jesus says he came so the world might be saved he says those who don't believe in him are condemned already.  Condemned to what and for how long?  Verse 36 of John 3 says, "whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."  I have a headache.  I'm going to have to wrestle with this some more.

However, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it.  No matter where I end up landing on this thing I think one thing is clear.  We have a job to do now.  When we focus too much on the next life we start to ignore this one.  We trivialize or dismiss the pain of others as temporary.  Viewing our faith as a ticket out of hell does the world a disservice.  We are called to live and love here - now.  No matter how it ends or who is there, we have a responsibility to advance God's kingdom and message here in any way we can.  Heaven is having a little party and we need to make sure as many people as possible have the opportunity to experience it.

1 comment:

Lindsay Mizell said...

It was fun to read this. I also think it is really fun to find much respect and admiration even when you aren't sure if you agree.
Here's my thought on your response to this book...well actually I'm stealing it. But, I think the wrestling as well as the kind of wanting it to be true part is so good. I think it must be a glimpse of how Ecclesiastes tells us that God set eternity in us. it is...Shane Claiborne's (of course) description for a great article he wrote in Esquire magazine:
"If those of us who believe in God do not believe God's grace is big enough to save the whole world... well, we should at least pray that it is."
I would add that we should also pray for trust that God knows what he is doing. Trust that no matter what things look like, he is always, always good.

Read more: