|Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived|
(John 3:13 NKJV) "No one has
ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the
Son of Man who is in heaven.
News of a Pastor Rob Bell fighting hell with love has even made it to the news in Singapore. Pastor Rob is the founder of Mars Hill, a mega church of 10,000 followers in US. His new book "Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived ", raises the age old question of how can a loving God can apparently sentence people to eternal suffering. The news of Pastor Rob's universalist views spread like wild fire with people calling him a heretic, after all, he was not from the Uniting Church or the Episcopal church but one of their own evangelical houses.
As we hear the Conservatives being perturbed by Pastor Rob, and the other Christians responding stating their standard argument that we do not know all the truth or that most Christians in the mega churches such as City Harvest are not reflective in their theology, it is important that we ourselves be reflective of what Pastor Rob actually said and why they are calling him a heretic. Progressive Christians often sweep everything under love, a generalization, which is often no better than the conservatives insistence of going by the letter of the law without understand the religious, historical, and social context.
In the book due to be released in Apr, Pastor Bell started off a large firestorm when he said
"A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear."
After the controversy erupted, Bell further clarified in a Huffingtonpost interview that
"If we have the freedom to choose these things now, that Jesus came to offer us and show us, then I assume that when you die, you can continue to choose these realities because love cannot co-opt the human heart's ability to decide," "But after you die, we are firmly in the realm of speculation." ... But then they hear that God's grace, love and patience expires at death. "Too late," they're told. "You had your chance." That schizophrenic idea of God is simply untenable"
Bell's definition of the Gospel seems to avoid mentioning Christ:-
It begins in the sure and certain truth that we are loved. That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts and has spread to every corner of the world, in spite of our sins, failures, rebellion, and hard hearts, in spite of what has been done to us or what we’ve done, God has made peace with us.
Pastor Rob's argument is based on a single argument, as his book entitles, that the Love of God surpasses everything even judgement, righteousness, holiness, morality, and that this love mandates that no harm be done under any circumstances.
In John 3:17, the well known verses declare "for God so love the world that He gave His only begotten son ....". If love triumphs over everything, in an absolute sense, then there is no need for God's grace and mercy, nor would God need to send His Son, since love covers all. The love of God is not absolute to disregard the laws of morality. If harm is done, then justice must prevail and judgement taken.
The bible never claims that God's love is absolute in any sense. In fact, God's judgement is seen throughout the bible causing destruction:-
a) The flooding of the earth to eradicate an entire humanity because they were worshipping the gods and were having sex with the demons, thus producing weird abhorent creatures. God's love, grace and mercy was intermixed with judgement by having Noah escaping the flood and giving decades of warning. God's love is shown in the warnings given but not in an absolute sense to cancel the plans.
b) The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. When the angels came to Sodom and Gamorrah, the women were more interested in having sex with the angels. Jude 1:7,8 reminds us of the strange flesh produced as a result of this unholy union.
c) In 1 Sam 15:3, God told Saul to ".... utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman ....", passages which could be ignored by some Christians but could be understood on the basis that their religious faith extended to having sex with the male priests to be one with the deities. Hence, they were literally owned by the gods and filled with them.
Even if we ignore all the above verses, we come back to the ancient sacrifices:-
a) A God of love should not require regular sacrifices of gentle lambs. Yet, these sacrificial laws were required and part of the temple worship of God as a reminder of the righteousness to be gained in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
b) Would a God of love insists on Jesus Christ dying for us, not a simple death but one filled with incredible pain and agony. It is not surprising that some are perturbed by the old hymn "There is a fountain filled with blood...", for surely our God is a God of love and not "blood thristy".
(1 Cor 1:22 NKJV) For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after
Therefore Jesus is the stumbling block to all whether conservative or liberals. The conservative pharisees were far worst of course, violent as they were by accusing Him of sinning under the law and crucifying Him. The liberals at Athens wanted to debate with Paul on the issue, did not chase him out of town like the Judaist did in other towns, but the supernatural resurrection of Christ was just too much for them. Athens never became part of any Christian revival.
Perhaps for many Christians, the righteousness of God, the Gospel of redemption is just too foolish and hence an attempt is made to make the love of God an absolute just as many conservative make the religious laws their absolute. Both, is a denial of Jesus Christ, the supremacy of His grace and mercy.
The endless arguments between liberals and conservatives raised as a result Pastor Rob Bell new book seems to sidetrack a major question central to Christianity - Why would a God of "love" still requires Jesus to go through such an extreme suffering and pain? If Jesus' death did take place as mandated by God as propiation for our sins, then a hell of extreme suffering and pain must surely be real if our arguments were to be consistent.
Yet, Pastor Rob Bell raised an issue on the wideness of God's love. There is perhaps a hell, and we know that redemption is in Christ. Could it be that we have to account for it if only we have been given a choice - for John 3:18 implies a deliberate decision to deny Jesus. Nobody can be sure for perhaps hell is not a place God sends us to, but a place we send ourselves to by default when we make a choice to separate ourselves from Jesus Christ redemptive purposes. Is there room in God's love for those not given or having the chance to decide whether to believe in Jesus like the thousands of babies aborted each year in Singapore by straight people? What is clear is that there is no certainty of heaven without the assurance of salvation in Christ.
The mega churches talked of persecution, earth quakes and famine, before the second coming of Jesus Christ. Perhaps, all of them have long passed and we are living in a period of God's grace and mercy, a period where just like in the days of Noah, there are loud sirens warning of the impending destruction, yet no one is listening and some like Pastor Rob saying that surely a God of love would not let such calamity to come. World War Two had happened, the Jews had suffered their hell on earth through the murderous camps, and now waiting to rebuilt their temple to usher in the return of the Messiah. The end seems so near.
What is left unfilled, is not another giant Tsunami or a world stock market crash, or even a third world war, but that the Gospel message be spread around the world, and conversely to the marginalized, to those ignored even in the midst of us. The good news of the Assurance of Salvation is being proclaimed and like a loud siren being sounded throughout the world. The loud siren of invitation is now reaching the byways, the highways, to those hitherto ignored by the Christian Church. It is now reaching the GLBT community with the good news that God loves them and did not reject them, and created their same sex orientation as a wonderful gift and not a curse nor an intrinsic sin to be denied. The wideness of the love of God is indeed moving throughout the world to the rainbow nation, and Pastor Rob may have promised too much but the world has indeed limited the love of God.
Come to the feast declares the Lord tonight to those who are hungry and weary, come eat and rejoice, for at My table, all is accepted whether queer or straight for my Grace is sufficent and my mercy extends to the ends of the earth. For great is the Lord and worthy to be praised giving the hope of Salvation to all those a long way off and going out of His way to bring back home those who are lost.