What do you think about Rob Bell?
How you answer that question would tell me a lot about where you stand on the progressive-liberal-conservative-fundamentalist spectrum.
Bell’s recent book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, has really ruffled some feathers. His detractors have taken to calling him a universalist. Bell himself denies being a universalist. His views on heaven and hell seem too nuanced to fit neatly into existing pigeonholes.
Bell asks some intriguing questions. Does God get what he wants? Is Ghandi in hell, really? What is God like?
In Love Wins, Bell examines concepts of heaven, hell, forgiveness, grace, love and trust in that gentle, nudging manner which encourages the reader to examine their own concepts with fresh eyes. I found Love Wins to be an engaging read, mainly because I grew up with a punitive Biblical literalism which placed God in the mode of a galactic cop waiting to catch me slip up by slipping on a banana peel and dying having just committed some random unrepented sin. As Bell observes in the promo video for Love Wins, that is an angry, frightening God which Jesus saves us from, not for. So Bell is asking the same rhetorical questions which I am genuinely puzzling through finding answers that I find intellectually satisfying.
I think what people are finding so difficult to accept in what Bell is teaching is this: we want someone (God) to be the universal judge which vindicates good and punishes evil. If there is no cosmic justice (punishment) for evil, and everyone gets the same golden ticket alike, that offends our sense of what is right and just. We can’t accept that the evildoers we see around us making others’ lives miserable get off scot-free. Because of the enormity of Hilter’s actions, he must endure punishment equal to his crimes — otherwise, there is no justice.
Ultimately, that attitude lacks love. Bell’s book is an attempt to get people to think differently about love, and to help the reader identify attitudes and prejudices in our hearts that lack love.
The command to love is a difficult one. Some people aren’t very lovable. Some actions are difficult to forgive.
“We do ourselves a great harm when we confuse the very essence of God, which is love, with the very real consequences of rejecting and resisting that love, which creates what we call hell.”
Love Wins, pg. 177
Bell isn’t a universalist. As human beings possessing free will, we can choose. And Bell is hoping you’ll choose love.