Love Wins Experience: Hell

In Love Wins Experience by Antwuan Malone

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“Turn or Burn.” –Love Wins, Rob Bell, p.63

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General Thoughts:

Chapter 3 of Rob Bell’s Love Wins was pretty frustrating. I wanted something positive to latch onto, but all I found was twisted interpretations of scripture and some considerable prooftexting. I posted a week or two ago about The Truth, and how, despite what we feel or what we want, The Truth is. The world’s hunger for positivity (and by positive, I mean self-serving, consumeristic “have-it-my-way”, “positivity) makes twisted biblical truths and meanings easy to accept, even if done with no ill intention. And that’s unfortunate.

I’ve read comments and heard from people that “God’s Love” as spoke about in this chapter (and this book) inspired them. That’s good. But we have to remember God is Love plus some.

There is more to Him than Love.

Maybe we have a silly interpretation of what Love is, and so are confused how the God of the scriptures could encompass it. If that’s so, we could never understand what “God is Love,” means. Maybe that is the source of the problem. Perhaps it is better to let God show us love, instead of us imposing our near-sighted definition of the idea on him. But that’s a topic for another day. Who knows, if this book keeps heading in the direction I think, we’ll probably end up talking about it soon anyway. So let’s deal with this chapter.

First (and I hate that I am in constant disagreement with Bell in every chapter. I’m honestly not trying to pick a fight), this explanation of Gehanna (the original word used for Hell in the red letter portions of the Gospels). Bell projects that Jesus is referring to Hell as a “trash dump” which physically resided in the Valley of Hinnom. He explains that Jesus used this term because the people were familiar with it, and he implies that perhaps Jesus did not mean an Hell as we think of the word, as an eternal place of torment, rather he meant it quite literally… as a trash dump. He says in the book,  “So the next time someone asks you if you believe in an actual hell, you can always say, ‘Yes, I do believe that my garbage goes somewhere…”

Hell is the local dumpster? Not quite.

Clearly, in the places where Jesus makes reference to “Gehenna” He is speaking to a supernatural result. You could read for the yourself in Matthew 5, and Matthew 10 (the very verses that Bell references) to see that. Especially in Luke 12 (which he also references) where Jesus says, “Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell…”

Let’s take a second.  Who is “the one” in this passage. God or Satan? And if God, why is Jesus telling us to “be afraid of Him,” loving as He is? And further, what local trash dump has the potential to destroy your soul?

Honestly, I’m not even sure how explaining what Gehanna was to the local color of Jesus’ day serves any point Rob wishes to make. Are we to conclude that Jesus was threatening that God would “throw them away” in a fiery trash dump. Okay. That’s still not heaven. Love still “loses,” no?

Hell on Earth?

Second is this business of Hell on Earth. We all know that the world is broken, that it is a fragmented, misshapen shadow of its once brilliantly harmonic and beautiful origins as found in Genesis. But we are not at liberty to call this brokenness Hell. God has not allowed us to do that. The social colloquialism of “hell” being a “terrible situation” cannot be translated into theology. Whatever we find unpleasant, however severe, is not Hell. Hell has been given a specific location with specific designations. Sure the heart-wrenching examples he gave of evil on display on our Earth affirm that Earth is plagued by the horrible virus of sin, that evil manifestations are all around us. But that is not Hell. Bell says in his book, “Do I believe in a literal hell? Of course. Those aren’t metaphorical missing arms and legs.” This after describing the cruel de-limbing practices of some cultures. The implication, that some “hell” is on earth.

I could be wrong, but the fundamental difference between Earth and Hell is hope. Hell is not a place of sin, it is a place of separation from God — a second death (Revelation 21:8, 20:14). A hopeless place. Heaven is not primarily a place of sinlessness, but a place of connection with God (though he cannot abide sin). Bell looks at the sin in the world and calls it hell. But there is still hope here. the “limbless” needn’t fear “he who destroys the body” as it says in Luke 12. Matthew 5 says it’s better to lose a part of the body than all of it be thrown in Hell. Because in the end, the body doesn’t carry the same level of importance as the soul. Our time on Earth is a battle for the soul. Paul said “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6:12) Hell has no hope. As long as we’re walking Earth, hope remains. So this is not Hell.

Hell is a tool?

The last thing, I’m going to point out is this idea that Hell is a “tool” for God to ultimately bring people to the realization that they want to be with Him. This idea I totally disagree with because it completely undermines the very strong, necessary doctrine of Faith. The Bible says “for by grace are you saved, through faith… it is a gift of God”(Eph 2:8). Through faith. The idea that God will “hand us over to Satan” in the manner that Paul does, negates the notion of faith. I don’t have time here to go into the necessity the Bible seems to place on faith, but I will say it is one of three pillars in 1 Corinthians 13 — faith, hope, and love. True the greatest of these is love, but that doesn’t eliminate faith altogether. If I were to go to Hell and “learn my lesson,” what faith have I exhibited. Wouldn’t that be “grace through attrition.” Will I not have made a selfish decision of survival, instead of a decision of humility, confession and love. Would you want to marry someone because they loved you, or because they needed a green card to stay in America? Because, again, this whole thing is about love. And not just one-way love from God to us. That’s just portion of the story — the most awesome portion, but a portion nonetheless.

Rob Bell tries to soften Hell in this chapter. Tries to spread it out and make it thin. But for me, he did not do this very well. The scriptures remain clear in that Hell is the place my soul doesn’t want to be, a place designated for whomever chooses to go there.

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Quick Thoughts on my favorite quotes:

That’s how it is — because that’s what God is like, correct? God is loving and kind and full of grace and mercy — unless there isn’t confession and repentance and salvation in this lifetime, at which point God punishes forever. That’s the Christian story, right? (Love Wins, p.64)

Well. yeah. But the problem I have with this is the use of “God punishes.” The doctrine of Christ on the cross is that ALL sins were forgiven. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus was that death. For everybody. So Hell is no longer a place of judgment. Hell is not the punishment of God. It is not the “new flood” from Noah’s day, or the rain of fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. Hell is an option. A place we can choose to go to. Because beneath all of this is the idea that we are created to give to and receive love from God. But love requires a choice. Hell is one of the options. We have this lifetime to make that choice.

You might not agree with that. And that’s fine. But if you are Bible person, and if you believe God “is the same” and “changes not” then you will have to see that the same God of love that destroyed the Earth with flood, rained fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, extended the life of Hezekiah because of his promise to “worship” him, and killed his own son to satisfy the need for death in sin… this same God will give you Hell, if you so choose it.

 

In one of the stories about Moses, God is identified as the God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Those three — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob —  were dead by the time this story about Moses takes place. Where exactly Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were at that time isn’t mentioned, but Moses is told that God is still their God.  (Love Wins, p.65)

This is not at all what Exodus 3 is saying. While it may be true that the eternal God ‘is’ (currently) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I think the point was to identify himself as the God of the Israelites (not any of the Gods of the Egyptians.) Context violation here Mr. Bell.

 

In their previous life, the rich man saw himself as better than Lazarus, and now, in hell, the rich man still sees himself above Lazarus. It’s no wonder Abraham says there’s a chasm that can’t be crossed. The chasm is the rich man’s heart! It hasn’t changed, even in death, and torment and agony. He’s still clinging to the old hierarchy. He still thinks he’s better. (Love Wins, p. 75)

Okay. So this is the Rob interpretation of the parable Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. While I agree that one of the lessons here in this parable is that social status and material wealth doesn’t count for much when it comes to the afterlife, I don’t believe Jesus meant to confuse the boundaries of heaven and hell. Let’s just be real. The rich man wanted water because there was none where he was. The scripture is clear that he is tormented. If water had been next to him, I’m sure he would have drunk it. It is a stretch to pull out of this scripture what Bell is trying to pull out — that the rich man simply wanted to be “served.” This is prooftexting at its finest.  Sorry, not buying it.

Audio Review of Chapters 1-3: 

Did reading this chapter change your view of Hell? How so?  Do you think I’m too hard on him, that I am not being open-minded? How so? Tell me your thoughts!

 

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.