…on prophets, poetry, and going to Hell over Hell

https://www.robbell.com/lovewins/

“God is love” – 1 John 4.16

So now the famous post-Evangelical pastor/teacher/author extraordinaire has really done himself in.  Rob Bell has unleashed an already controversial trailer for his up and coming book, “Love Wins”.  In the clip, he asks tough questions that reflect the ethos of thousands upon thousands of honest persons on this planet who are aware of the Evangelical message that unless you “believe in Jesus” you will be tortured for all eternity as the “Word of God” so clearly states, and the ethos that thousands have is this: how can you in one breath claim that God is love and in another claim that billions upon billions of people—even Christ-like dudes like Ghandi, be tortured by Him forever?

In the trailer, Bell seems to be strongly questioning the doctrine of Hell… and there are many, many upset believers on account of it.  I think there are a few things, perhaps understandably, at stake in these folk’s minds.  The one point I’ll mention is that we often surround ourselves so much by people who think like us, that we really do believe that the way we see Scripture is honestly and truly the most blatant, obvious interpretation of that scripture.  “My interpretation is the correct interpretation: it always has been, it always will be.”  Scripture is indeed extremely important, so to “threaten” that is detrimental.

But we can forget that some of our most cherished doctrines were more than likely established by some crazy thinking prophet within the last few hundred years of Christianity’s two thousand year history[1]. We can miss that what Rob Bell will be propagating will undoubtedly resonate with what many Christians have been professing all along, underneath the dominating voices[2].

Oh we could take scripture out of its context and quote things like “our God is not a God of confusion[3]” and insist that to raise questions makes a simple Bible and a simple God unclear[4].  But this typically comes from folks who have a nice world: the status quo is working in their favor.  They’re on top of the system, getting along just fine.[5] But what really makes this a hoax is that though our God is not a God of confusion, this world sure is.  If things like Holocausts, Hutu’s and Tutsi’s, Joseph Kony’s, and the $20 billion a year U.S. industry of child pornography are easy to explain in your book, you might need to question your understanding of the God-who-is-Love.  This world is full of hard questions and demands courageous prophets of God to continually reframe those honest questions as the Holy Spirit—the same One who inspired our scriptures—leads us all together through the wilderness to God’s Kingdom[6].

When someone freaks out about a preacher humbly acknowledging the honest questions concerning something as delicate and ambiguous as Hell, I see quenching.  What I mean by that comes from 1 Thessalonians where Paul simply writes, “Do not quench the Spirit”[7].  There are a lot of people who have simply made up their minds about God, fit Him in their box and arranged bible verses around it.  They then wake up every morning, violently shush the Holy Spirit and anyone else drawing them out and challenging their cherished beliefs, and go on with their lives where

everything

is already

figured

out.

You see, the Spirit is always drawing us out to a wilderness where things aren’t comfortable[8], and there is nothing more comfortable in this world than having something to believe in.  Belief gives us meaning in times of stress, its something we can hold on to because no one can ever take it from us, right?

When I was in high school, our teacher told us we have no idea exactly when Christ was born, so His birth probably wasn’t literally on December 25th.  And a girl started bawling in class.

Why?  How could she humiliate herself like that?  Someone threatened a belief, a doctrine in her mind, and there is nothing more painful in this world than losing something you believe in.  Even if it is something as stupid as the exact day Jesus was born on.  The religious folks killed Jesus because He turned all their religious ideas based on scripture upside down[9].  And the religious folks killed Paul because he turned all their religious ideas based on scripture upside down[10].  That is what happened to all the prophets who preached God’s radical grace.  And it happens still today.

Though this world is covered in injustice, in wrongs not righted, and in wicked men getting rich while innocent children go hungry, the story that Scripture paints from Genesis to Revelation is this: someday a Messiah will come and rescue us all, and He will bring His justice.  He will bring recompense for all those wrongs not righted[11].  He will bring food for all the hungry and hunger for all those with food who did not share[12].  He will bring riches for those impoverished and poverty upon those who were rich.[13] He will bring laughter to those who weeped and mourning upon those who laughed at their tears.[14]

Sometimes scripture alludes to this bringing of justice as “Heaven and Hell”.  Usually, it does not.  Now a lot proof-texting Christians can thumb through their Bible and make these imaginative and “authoritative” interpretations about how this word and that verse actually mean what the medieval Catholics[15] thought of as Hell, but truth be told, the People and Prophets of God didn’t start imagining such a horrific place until a little bit before Jesus, (and that is being extremely, extremely generous).  So all those heroes of the faith in the Old Testament?  Nope, didn’t believe in Hell.

“Hell”, in generous translations, is mentioned (usually in passing) 15 times in the bible, out of 31,102 verses.  But the justice of God coming at the last day?  It is portrayed in all kinds of creative, poetic and beautiful ways,

over,

and over,

and over,

and over,

again.  From Genesis to Revelation[16].

So what’s at stake with Hell for my faith?  Hell sure as Hell ain’t.[17] But God’s glorious, eschatological justice?  Don’t threaten that.  God’s scandalous love?  Don’t threaten that.

Crying over the exact date of Jesus’ birthday is pretty funny.  Crying because you are determined to believe that billions upon billions of people are going to Hell is not.

I imagine that that is something Rob Bell and I might agree on.

I can’t wait to hear another prophet bring us his poetry.


[1] Like the idea of scripture inerrancy which has been around about 100 years.

[2] Check out Origen, 3rd century, who like universalism.

[3] 1 Corinthians 14.33

[4] To see how the Bible encourages us to ask questions, read virtually all the OT prophets and Psalms.

[5] For instance, the white Southern church continually hushed the black church and its prophets of God for demanding its’ civil rights.

[6] John 16.13

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5.19

[8] Jeremiah 2.2

[9] John 5.39

[10] Acts 18.13

[11] Isaiah 35

[12] Luke 6.21, 25

[13] Luke 6.20, 24

[14] Luke 6.21, 25

[15] and we all know how upstanding the medieval Catholics were…

[16] Ah!  Read Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms, the Beatitudes!  Read the whole dang bible!

[17] Excuse the awesome pun.

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3 Responses to …on prophets, poetry, and going to Hell over Hell

  1. Andrew says:

    This was awesome.

  2. Carl-e-ton says:

    Well said my friend. Me likey. ;v)

    My Qs:

    Q1: Is Hell, and the associated fear therein a commodity? Fear drives commerce, Hell creates a demand. ~ blah blah blah ~ Rob Bell threatens the fear factories of this world and rightly so! I am so sick of fear-mongerng and hate-mongering.

    Q2: “Heavens or Hells?” (Too many variations in the OT/NT?) yep yep – my monies on Aristotelian Cosmologies – holler

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