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Love Wins - An Easter Reflection on Heaven and Hell

April 07, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 129

This is not a conventional book review. These are my reflections on the controversy stirred by Rob Bell's book, Love Wins.

I finished reading Love Wins well over a month ago, but have been reluctant to write anything about it, because I fear no matter what I write, I will offend. And this is true! If I oppose Bell's theology, I offend those who support him. If I support his theories, I in turn offend those who oppose him. My personality type prefers to avoid conflict. Does that make me a coward?


But today is not that day. I'm going to speak from my heart, and potentially tick off some people.

I hope that isn't you.

Before I begin, I want to admit something. I am mortal, I am not omniscient, and I don't have everything figured out. In other words, I'm not God. Every single thing I've written below could be wrong. And if so, I pray God would continue to shape and form my thinking to understand His absolute truth. Why? Because I believe in absolute truth, I just think man's feeble attempt at deciphering it often creates dogma that directly opposes the very heart of God.

Now, to begin.

Love wins? No, Love won. Love won at the very foundation of the earth. Love won because God, Jesus, and the Spirit are timeless, and Jesus was slain at the very foundation of the earth (Revelations 13:8). God exists now at creation, at the crucifixion, and in eternity with those who've passed from this temporal life. This timelessness has always been outside my ability to comprehend, because I'm trying to do so with a finite mind enslaved to the ticking click of this planet. But even that clock is deceptive. I am timeless, at least, my spirit, my core, is. It's only the decay of creation (including my body) that offers the illusion of time. In The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, a fictional story about one man's trip from hell to heaven, a character states the following:

"Time is the very lens through which ye see-small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope-something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all. That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves part of eternal reality."

Lewis suggests time is but a lens the finite uses to perceive small chunks of eternity. Why am I emphasizing time so much? Because it's a lousy tool to help us understand the complexities of heaven and hell. So let's throw it out for a moment, and look at the death and resurrection of Jesus. First off, Jesus has alwaysbeen then tributary of love which connects God to man, and man to God. It was always God's plan. Even in the Old Testament, Jesus' salvation existed (Revelations 13:8). Just because the "instance" of the cross happened in first century A.D., doesn't mean its reach was limited to that moment. Otherwise, we, who exist now, would be in trouble. But there is no time, so the cross still stands, and will always stand, along with the resurrected Jesus, for all eternity.

Here's where things get dicey. Rob Bell suggests in his book that "all" people will eventually be wooed by this great love of God through Jesus. Although he doesn't make this suggestion outright, it's easily inferred through the questions he asks throughout his manuscript. For instance, in the chapter entitled, Does God Get What God Wants, Bell asks:

Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants? Does this magnificent, mighty marvelous God fail in the end?

It doesn't take a deep thinker or Biblical scholar to decipher the intent of this question. Nor does the fact this question is asked in controversial Love Wins invalidate it. Lots of people wonder why a loving God would allow Hell. It seems contradictory.

Ok, so let's ask ourselves the same question. Why does a loving God, who sent Jesus to redeem anyone, as long as they believe-wait a minute, believe what! Oh yes, that Jesus died to save them from their sins. At least, that's what you'll hear in Sunday School.

"But teacher, what happens to those who don't believe?"

"Well, they burn in hell, forever."

Let's admit it. That sounds horrible. I hate it. Don't you? And so does Bell. In fact, he hates it so much, that he's written a book to try to dissolve the idea of eternal hell and suggest all mankind eventually will succumb to the love of Christ in eternity. Why does he wish to promote this theology? My opinion is that he is in a continual crisis of faith. Bell cannot believe in a God who would actually permit something as terrible as hell. An eternity in such a place is more than he can fathom, as it should be for all of us. I WILL NOT fault Bell for being disturbed by hell. Nor will I fault him for writing Love Wins. We are all entitled to ask questions about the Bible. Personally, I believe too many Christians worship the Bible as God, rather than understand it is an earthly element full of spiritual life that points to God. It is God that gives the Bible life, and meaning. If God is not real, the Bible is merely the collective rant of various madmen. People too often take the Bible, misinterpret it, and create dogma. When that occurs, any book that goes against our personal interpretation of the Bible (and there are nearly as many unique interpretations as there are readers) makes us freak out. But why?

Because I think many of us are experiencing our own crises of faith along with Bell. We don't think God is big enough to defend absolute truth. Or, we think the ideas in such books will ultimately crumble Christianity. We feel we must defend the doctrine to ensure the survival of Christianity. First off, I am not against doctrine, nor its defense. Doctrine is exciting, because it is the process of interpreting the Bible to better understand our infinite God. But when doctrine becomes God, we've got a problem. God doesn't look too highly on idol worship. He knows it is not good for us. It is the heartbeat of hell.

Uh oh, I said it. I just let the cat out of the bag. I believe in hell. But I don't think it's like what we learn about in Sunday School-you know, a raging, literal lake of fire. No, I think it's worse. And not because God wants us there (2 Peter 3:9), but because God loves us right into hell. You see, my entire foundation as a human rests on this single foundation, this single description of God that I can actually understand.

God is love. (1 John 4:8)

This is the first verse I've chosen to believe in the Bible. And it is by this verse that I interpret the rest of the Bible, and all of life. Without it, I have no foundation. Without it, the genocide in the Old Testament, the flood, and hell would drive me to insanity. But no, I believe that verse, because I've both experienced, and offered love in my earthly life. I know what it is, how it feels, and its power. It is outside the realm of science, outside the realm of explanation, but so simple, and intuitive, that even a child can master it. It is the essence of God that fills all creation, the outpouring of the cross as it stands eternal. With it, communities thrive. Without it, wars erupt. Love inspires, creates, and motivates. Love is patient, kind, doesn't envy, doesn't boast, isn't proud, seeks the good of others, and is not easily angered. It doesn't delight in evil, rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, and preserves.

Love NEVER fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Good heavens, love sure sounds powerful! In fact, I'd pity anyone who didn't want this love. It would be like-well, fighting against something that's all powerful. If love was the engine of eternity, and you didn't want it, it would be like touching a hot stove. You'd want to withdraw your hand, but in the case of love, it would be impossible. The heat would always be surrounding you, because you're inside an eternal stove fueled by love, whether you like it or not.

But why would anyone not like love. How could love itself be the very real fire of hell?

Because some of us live with the mindset that we are our own God, and our ideas, opinions and self-worth is more important than the naturally outward and other-centric nature of love. We demand, yet offer nothing. So in the presence of love in its absolute fullness, that mentality reaches a crisis. Like two similar ends of a magnet, self-God, and real-God don't get along too well. The loving north pole of God's magnet will always try to press into the self-loving north pole of the self-lover, even as the self-lover continually pushes back. You see, self-love demands God turn his magnet around, so the self-lover can absorb God into his or herself. After all, self-lovers think they are God. At the same time, God, who is love, asks us to turn our self-loving magnet around and connect with Him, for eternity. He wants to draw us into Himself. We are all the same magnet, but each chooses different response to God. When we allow God's magnet to pull us close to him, we experience heaven. When we try to push God's magnet away from us, we experience hell. And since time doesn't exist, this is our eternal state, right now. What I mean is this decision is etched in the realm of forever, in the book of life. Yet here on earth, the decision is only observable through the tainted lens of time. We interpret who is "saved" and "un-saved" based on their acceptance of Christ, and the fruit of their life. But we don't know in what moment of time, weather in the past, or future, the individual manifested the eternal decision. All I know, well, believe, is that this decision is final, was final, and will always be final, because again, time really doesn't exist.

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self choice there could be no Hell. - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Sometimes it's very hard to decipher who's made what eternal decision. For instance, Bell has difficulty believing that Gandhi is in hell, or rather, experiencing hell. Gandhi did a lot of good, and exhibited fruits of love. So is he experiencing hell? I don't know. I don't have access to his heart. I don't know what he thought of Jesus. Only God can truly weight the motivations of the heart. Although I can certainly judge an individual's actions here on earth, I'll leave the judging of souls up to God.

This leads to another question proposed by Bell, one I really don't have an answer to. Is death the final indicator of our decision for love through Christ? As I looked for an answer, I found one key verse used to argue that death seals the deal for heaven or hell.

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this, the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27).

Unfortunately, this verse is too vague to answer the question for me. In fact, to me, it doesn't really address the question at all. All it states is that after death, there is judgment. OK, but what is this judgment? Does Jesus ask, "now that you see me, do you want me," offering us a final choice? Or does He say, based on our earthly decisions, "I never knew you, away from me evil doer."? The verse simply doesn't say. So I'll have to leave this one as- I don't know. And that's OK. I don't have to know everything right now. Perhaps someday, I'll get some more insight and form a more concrete opinion. Right now, I simply believe that since God is love (my foundational theology), and that He will somehow make sure anyone who actually wants Him, gets Him, for all eternity.

To again quote The Great Divorce: No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.

I hope you come away from reading this with some better insight on how, perhaps, heaven and hell work. I've barely scratched the surface of all my thoughts on the matter, and am even today, continuing my ponderings about God, and eternity. The life we all collectively live here on earth is fascinating, and worth studying. While I form opinions based on the foundation of Biblical scripture, another lens, like time, into the mind of God, others base their viewpoints on different foundations, such as science, or religion. The earth collectively cries out for understanding and meaning, and that is ok. What is bad is when we defend our own interpretation of meaning to the point where we lose sight of the ultimate element of creation, the love of God. Lack of love creates the filthy element of hell alive even in the temporal: wars, broken families, corrupt corporations, domestic violence, and bigotry. It's especially sad when Christians themselves get so caught up in dogma that they start exhibiting unholy anger towards their opponents. Although anger itself is not bad, too frequently, we Christians fail to see the deeper causes stirring the mindsets of ourchallengers, and lash out. Rather, let's confront such challenges with confidence, integrity, and love, and seek to answer any and all questions that come our way with the confidence that God will guide us to absolute truth. Let us ourselves believe that if we seek, we will find.

Peter Dudek is a writer/blogger at

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