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“Will all people be saved, or will God not get what he wants?” –Love Wins, Rob Bell, p.98
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I have to say… I love the title of this chapter. So far, I appreciate way Bell challenges my biblical worldview with the questions he raises. The title question here, Does God Get What God Wants? is fantastic in that regard. I love it.
While carefully thinking through my answer, I found the asking of this question incredibly inconvenient for Bell and those like him. Inconvenient because the question presents a no-win scenario for a quasi-universalist like Rob.
It essentially breaks down this way. If God get what He wants, then everything that’s ever happened is what God wanted. If God is exerting his will unilaterally, then the strong case could be made that God is not loving at all, especially given the amount of pain and cruelty in the world. If God gets what He wants, then that means He wanted sin, death, and Hell… because that’s what we have. Clearly, this doesn’t fit the mold of a quasi-universalist, love-is-his-sole-essence, kind of God.
One the other hand, if God does not get what He wants, then there’s room for the traditional theology of God wanting all to be saved, but not getting His wish. Such traditional theology makes room for both a loving God and a strong possibility for Hell’s existence as we understand it, based on the precedent set by the sin we see everyday on Earth. Sin God doesn’t want.
Make sense? (head spinning). In either case, the universalist must forsake his idea of “a loving God = everyone goes to Heaven” because any answer to the question nullifies one of both sides of the equation. At least that’s the way I see it.
So with that as the filter, I dove into the chapter both fascinated with the topical question, and fully expecting a “fire escape” argument or an ambiguous claim. Unfortunately, I was right.
Will God Fail?
Rob Bell frames an argument in this chapter that tries to force us to decide whether we believe God is all powerful (and can do anything, including save everybody) or not. But the salvation of all of us, Heaven and Hell, is not a matter of God’s abilities and competence. If a single soul ends up in Hell, it does not mean God has failed. In fact, the Bible seems insistent that any battle taking place was already won on the cross. “It is finished!” Jesus said. The battle for sin has already been won. Romans 5 says:
For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! (Romans 5:15-17)
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)
Rob Bell seems to understand well the requisite of choice for love. And love is central to our purpose. Adam and his sin, (the trespass of one man) removed our choice. Hell was the only place we could justifiably go.That’s what needed to change. Had the sole option of Hell as our postmortem destination remained, God would have failed. But the good news is that it has not remained. The option of redemption is the good news! The chance and choice to love God, through the sacrifice of Christ, is what God set out to provide… and through the cross, Christ succeeded! We now have a choice. Without the cross, it was Hell. No questions asked.
Is Rob Confused?
I found the last few pages excellently written and the points he made great! So great, in fact, I wonder why he still believes what he believes after he’s said them. Basically, God loves us enough to give us what we ask for. That’s Rob’s point by the end of the chapter. Of course, the original question that was framed, “Does God get what God wants?” was not answered… directly anyway. To ask, “do we get what we want” is a far more dangerous question, and that is where Rob Bell redirects us. Further, to say yes to that question disregards the motives of love and of the choice we make to be with God in heaven. If love is the cause of the cross, the great act of God’s courtship to humanity, then He seeks love in return. Thus, a selfless surrendering is the posture that should motivate our wanting to be with God, not the escape of whatever torment Hell turns out to be. This is the reason I think the battle for the soul is on Earth. It’s neutral ground. Further, this is the reason faith is necessary to receive God’s grace. Because if, once I am in Hell, I want to be in Heaven simply to escape torment, then my decision becomes survivalist and selfish, not surrendering and selfless. The latter are the true seeds of the kind of love God seeks from us.
That said, I guess Bell’s answer to the whether God gets what He wants is… No. Interesting considering he asks it in the first place.
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Quick Thoughts on my favorite quotes:
Is God our friend, our provider, our protector, our father—or is God the kind of judge who may in the end declare that we deserve to spend forever separated from our Father? Is God like the characters in a story Jesus would tell, old ladies who keep searching for the lost coin until they find it, shepherds who don’t rest until that one sheep is back in the fold, fathers who rush out to greet and embrace their returning son, or, in the end, will God give up? (Love Wins, p.101)
Here again we have works based language — “or is God the kind of judge who may in the end declare we deserve.” This is the trip up. Jesus hid the wrath of God behind the love of God. Jesus hid the judgment of God behind God’s Grace. On the cross, Jesus paid for the sins of the world. For all of us. Romans 5 says “while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” The gospels say, “behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” We are all saved from judgment. Which is why the procession to Hell is such a heartbreaking affair. Heaven is a relational, spiritual destination. Not a reward. We all deserve Hell. As for the sheep and coin, these illustrations are great for showing the extent to which God courts us. But the key is in the returning of the son. The prodigal Son is the only one who could choose to come back. The “hell” of the sty he lived in (Luke 15) could only be avoided by “coming to himself” before he perished there with the pigs.
Could God say to someone truly humbled, broken, and desperate for reconciliation, “Sorry, too late”? Many have refused to accept the scenario in which somebody is pounding on the door, apologizing, repenting, and asking God to be let in, only to hear God say through the keyhole: “Door’s locked. Sorry. If you had been here earlier, I could have done something. But now, it’s too late.”. (Love Wins, p. 101)
In short, yes. But I don’t think an era in Hell will produce the type of brokenness and humility needed for Love. It’s not that it’s too late by some sort of rule , it’s that the opportunity for selfless heart change is most probable while here on Earth. Anyone would want to escape Hell if it is the way the Bible describes. But Heaven is not simply Hell’s alternative. Heaven, again, is a relational, spiritual destination, where we will worship God in full “spirit and truth.” It is not a place for the selfish, survivalist mentality. Motive matters.
God announces “I am making everything new.” At the end, something new. The last word, it turns out, isn’t a last word but a first word. Or more precisely, another first word in an endless succession of first words. That’s what God’s love does: it speaks new words into the world and into us. Potentials, possibilities, and the promise that God has an imagination and is not afraid to use it. Hard and fast, definitive declarations then, about how God will or will not organize the new world must leave plenty of room for all kinds of those possibilities. This doesn’t diminish God’s justice or take less seriously the very real consequences of sin and rebellion, it simply acknowledges with humility the limits of our powers of speculation. (Love Wins, p. 115)
One of the places where Rob Bell runs on about something without making a point. Please help me know why what he says here adds to the content of this chapter.
Do you think God gets what He wants? If not, does that make Him less capable or powerful? Tell me your thoughts!
Another Great Source – The Ramblings video/talk on Chapter 4
A light talk I gave over some concepts in Chapter 4 (below is part 3 of 5)
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