Rob Bell has permeated the news as of late. In christian circles it is quite hard right now to be completely unaware of Bell and his new book, "Love Wins." It's sparked a lot of uproar, and for good reasons. Now I don't intend to jump on the Bell Bashing Bandwagon here, but I do believe that the teaching in his book cannot just be pushed aside under the guise of "oh, well that's just his view." This is so much more then that. I am in the middle of reading his book right now. I've just finished the chapter on heaven and am just starting the chapter on Hell. As I continue to read I will probably continue to post more posts. Not in direct response to counter his teaching per say, but simply because my mind is now working over time, and I feel there is a lot that I want to cover and to talk about. If you want to read an excellent review on Bell's book I recommend this review http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/ . It is definitely against Bell's teaching but not mean spirited, or spiteful. He also pulls quotes directly out of the text so the reviewer has actually read the book.
At the beginning of the book Bell poses a question. A question that so many before have asked; a question both Christian and non-Christian have asked about the God of the Bible. How can a God, who claims to be all loving, nay, the epitome of love, the end all be all of love, the King of love, send so many people to Hell for simply not believing in His son? It's a hard question. Not to answer, but a hard question to deal with. How can He do that? He claims to love everyone, yet will send someone to Hell for simply not believing in Jesus. Even if the person is a good person, even if it's Ghandi. If he didn't believe in Jesus, he's in Hell, forever.
How does one wrestle with that? How does one accept and come to turns with that. More importantly, how can God do that? I think to answer this we must first take a look at God, who He is, and how He relates to us.
Who is God? That is a loaded question. Who is He? From what we know from scripture, He is holy, pefect, unchanging, righteous. He is the creator of everything known and unknown. He is the Master of the Universe. Like He-Man, only better. Our God is big! Like really, really big. And really, really good. He is all these things. But what I really want to focus on is his holiness.
To be holy. What does that mean? What makes something holy? What is holy? If you take a look in the dictionary the modern English word holy shares some of the same origins as the word whole. They even sound the same. If you take a look at the New Oxford American Dictionary's definition of whole you will find these among the definitions: "In an unbroken, undamaged state, in one piece," and, "a thing that is complete in itself."
God is whole. He is unbroken, and he is complete in himself. He is perfect. There is no better. He has no faults, no sin, no inconstancies, no quirks, and no weaknesses. He can't be bested, he can't be tricked, and he can't be beaten. So what does this mean for us? How do we relate to such a God? What happens when we are in this perfect presence?
We have that answer in Isiah 6:1-8.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ``Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.'' At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
``Woe to me!'' I cried. ``I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.''
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ``See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.''
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ``Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'' And I said, ``Here am I. Send me!''
We see here that Isaiah was in the very presence of God. He was right there. And around him were these creatures shouting "holy! Holy! Holy!" They also covered their faces and feet while in God's presence. And Isaiah's first reaction, first thoughts, first actions aren't "Hey neat, God! Sup, G?" Isaiah is faced with how perfect God is, and how completely imperfect, broken, and unworthy he is to be in the presence of such a holy God.
Lets put this in a way that we can kind of relate to. Imagine you're a decent painter. The work you do is ok. You're at least happy with it. One day you paint the greatest painting of your life. You are extremely proud of your work. It's fantastic. You pat yourself on the back and go to the art museum to hang it up with the rest of the world's greatest artwork.
You get to the museum, and go to hang it right next to one of the greatest works by Rembrandt. But before you hang it up, you begin to compare the two. You look at your painting, and you look at Rembrandt's. And when you put the two up side by side, your artwork doesn't even compare. Rembrandt is far superior to yours. As a matter of fact, his painting, next to yours, actually exposes every single imperfection of your painting. No longer are you proud. You're actually ashamed. When placed in the presence of Rembrandt's perfect painting, it exposed how imperfect your painting really is. If you want to have a perfect painting like Rembrandt's, you gotta practice and get better. You will have to be like Rembrandt.
Isaiah realized this in the presense of God. How completely unworthy, and imperfect he was standing right next to the perfect God. He even exclaimed "Woe is me! I am ruined!" In order to be in the presence of God, he had to be like God. He was no where near that, just like the rest of us.
How does this effect our relationship with God? How does this effect his relationship with us? Notice God does not immediately speak to Isaiah. Rather first one of the seraphs touch his lips with a hot coal and says "your sin is atoned for." Then, He speaks.
God cannot stand to be in the presence of sin. And I am sure Rembrandt wouldn't be to happy with one of his paintings hanging right next to one of my extremely inferior doodles. We see this in Genesis when he kicks Adam and Eve out of the garden. But He does desire to be present with us. He does desire for us to be back in his presence. So He had to find a way for our sin to be atoned for. He had to, cause we didn't, and still don't, have the capacity to atone for our own sins. And I think most of us know the rest of the story, and how that went, and how God did it. But the question I have asked it still there. How does all of this effect our relationship with God? What does this all have to do with heaven and hell?
Once again, an illustration. Let's take a look at my relationship with my parents. When I was born, my parents swooned over me. For a short while, I'm sure, they didn't think that I could possibly do a bad thing, let alone a sinful thing. I mean, just look at how cute I was. How could this little cutie be a sinner?
Sure, I probably kept them up all night a few times, crying like the dickens. But I was a baby. I didn't know any better, and I was just hungry, lonely, and quite possibly poopy. During that first part of life, my parents thought the world of me, and didn't want me out of their sight, presence, or even their arms.
Then I turned two.
In just a couple of short years, I went from cutesy little baby Alex, to learning how to say no, throwing temper tantrums, getting extremely angry when I didn't get my way, and to defying the will of my parents. At two years old I thought I knew so much more, and knew better than them. I was now the face of evil to them at times, maliciously holding their sanity in the palms of my hands.
Alright, that is a gross exaggeration, but to some extent, very true. When I became a toddler my relationship with my parents drastically changed. There were times, when because of my actions, and attempted defying of my parents will, I would be disciplined. For me it was either a spanking, being put into a chair in the other room away from them, or both. It depended on the severity of my insurrection, but majority of the time, I was sent to the chair.
I still remember the chair. I can even remember the specific chair I would be sent to. When I would do something bad, or continue to do something my parents would tell me not to do, my dad would take me into the other room, away from him and my mother and tell me to sit there and think about what I did wrong. I never did think, I just cried. At that age, I didn't get what that meant. But the fact remains that, at that moment, my actions, my behavior, was not acceptable to my parents. So much so, that they didn't want me in their presence.
But they always came back. They never left me in the chair. My father would come back and ask me, "What do you have to say?" And I would say, "I'm sorry." Then I would be back in their loving embrace and all would be right with the world.
This is God's relationship with us. There was time when his holiness could dwell perfectly with our perfection. But we fell. We became imperfect. And God had to separate us from himself. He had to put us in the chair. But the good news is that he came back to get us. But that still doesn't resolve this question about Hell. How can he send the ones he loves there? How can a loving God do that?
Let's go back to the illustration about me and my parents. I'm an adult now, and my relationship with the has fundamentally changed, like it should. But, they are still my parents. Now let's say I, like when I was a child, have a disagreement with my father and do something against his will, something he doesn't like, and doesn't fundamentally agree with. Unlike two-year-old Alex, twenty four-year-old Alex cannot simply be put in a chair and told to think about what I've done. This time the argument ends with my father not wanting to be in the same presence as me and with me storming out the door, and not coming back.
In this scenario, I have willingly left my father's presence, just as much as he has departed from me. Let's say my father cools down, and is now ready to forgive me, and have me back. But I don't come back. I have left my father. If he dies and I hadn't have gone back to him to receive his forgiveness and enter back into his good grace, I will never be able to receive it. It's done. It's over. Likewise if I die before him and never had returned to his house, there will be no forgiveness. I will, in death, be forever separated from his presence. It's game over.
But if I return to the house. If I accept his forgiveness. Our relationship is rekindled. He will be willing to be in the same room as me. We are reconciled, and back on even terms.
Now, it's obvious that I am alluding that my father in this story is God. And I know fully well that God cannot die. He's God. But I believe the point is clear. If you do not turn to Jesus now, in this life, there is no turning to him in Hell. Imagine if the prodigal son never returned to the father, but rather he did starve to death in that pig pen. His father would not have seen him and run out to him in the middle of the field. He would not have put a nice cloak on him, or a ring on his finger. The fattened calf would have happily, and obliviously, lived to see another day, and there would not have been any party. The father would be forever estranged from his son.
This life is it, when it comes to salvation. When it comes to being able to enter into the presence of God some day. After death, there is, sadly, no hope. And to answer the question, "what kind of God would do this?" My answer is a holy God. A just God. A God who gave himself up for us so that we don't have to go to Hell. A God who has given us 2nd 3rd 4th 100th 1000th 1 millionth chances to come to know Him.
Hell is eternal. 2 Thessalonians says "He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might."
Is that an easy pill to swallow? No! It is not. That is all the more reason we need to be fervently; with out delay; and with out ceasing telling all that we know, love, and care about, about the good news of Jesus Christ. We are also to tell those we don't care about, those we may think are wicked, evil, and just down right mean, about Jesus. We are to tell everyone! Leave no one out. The stakes are high! Once this life is done, there are no more second chances.