Love Wins Experience: Hell

In Love Wins Experience by Antwuan Malone12 Comments

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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.
12 comments
Kass
Kass

"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. --- I agree with you and Bell here actually. Yes, the rich man wanted water but I think the fact that he was in hell also speaks to the fact that hell is the ultimate consummation of everything is not (ie, unselfish, greedy). To make a long comment short, Bell basically ripped off the idea from CS Lewis's The Great Divorce.

bmuff
bmuff

Also I would like to point out that the Bible says "God is love". Not love + justice. Not love + torture. Just love. Any other attribute that defines God must derive from his love.

bmuff
bmuff

I do not find the idea that hell is a place of no hope in scripture. In fact, as Rob points out somewhere in the book, the gate to the new city in Revelation is open day and night, never closing. I am also confused as to why you think God using hell as a tool for salvation somehow negates faith? I think this is actually analogous to the testimonies we hear from Christians all the time, about how they realized they needed Christ because of a drug addiction, etc. In essence, those people experienced "hell on earth", and came to Jesus because of it, so it would be very strange if hell in the life to come could not produce the same result.

Ken Silva
Ken Silva

Unfortunately, Rob Bell has a false gospel in which everyone is already saved but can opt out. His practice of mysticism has been leading him toward a form of Christian Universalism for years now: http://tiny.cc/f0ur6

cushmanschronicles
cushmanschronicles

Thanks, it had been milling around in my mind for some time since Woods' drama exploded a year and a half ago. So much criticism against the guy with little reflection over what kind of role model he had actually been. Bell's Gehenna discussion seems to me to be a "correction" of the common view of what Jesus was talking about - or at least his attempt to correct. But most study Bibles include this and then explain that Jesus utilizes this reference to get to a deeper point. So Bell is "correcting" something that doesn't need correction, lol.

Troy Doucet
Troy Doucet

the real mystery of the destruction of the temple, as Jesus talks about here, can be exegetically tautological- or redundant. you obviously have an interpretive analysis talking about his death, burial and resurrection. but think of it in terms of the historicity of the temple...not just the symbolism of the metaphysical or supernatural. the temple was not only a place of worship for the Jews, but how they associated the practices therein with God! obviously, jesus had a real problem with these religious leaders and how they used the temple to 'block' people from entering into God's kingdom. in other words, the temple was a reflection of people's view of who God was. Jesus is saying here, with my death this temple (or your understanding of God being this way, or that way...or the way you've been shown and taught who God is up until now) will be destroyed. for me, this is a liberating idea.

cushmanschronicles
cushmanschronicles

Luke 12 actually says "cast into hell"; Jesus doesn't talk about being destroyed in hell. I think that's Matthew's Gospel. At any rate, I agree with you that there was something more than a mere physical place being referred to in Jesus' words. I think Jesus was, as He often does in Scripture, referencing something that His followers (and the audience of the Gospels as well) would be familiar with to describe the unfamiliar world. He does this with His parables about farming, for example. Bell I think knows that but chooses to, as you say, soften it down by emphasizing the actual, physical Gehenna. I think your separation of hell on earth and hell in the afterlife with the presence of hope is, as my Canadian professor would say, "spot on." I really wanted Bell to get into the "eternal conscious punishment" idea of hell, but he didn't. He seems to treat the afterlife hell as the same exact thing as the hell on earth. It was rather disappointing.

Troy Doucet
Troy Doucet

Thus, to Rob's defense his historical usage is correct, in that, Hinnom (Ghenna) did indeed become a 'trash dump' once all of the idols and remnant artifacts were destroyed. But the cool thing that Rob (nor Jesus for that matter) mention is that Kidron was the valley where the Israelites took the pagan idols to destroy them. Thus, Ghenna represents what hell is like, and Kidron will respresent what recommitment to the Lord entails. (PS...your comment board allows only very short responses!!) :)

Troy Doucet
Troy Doucet

good review twan. Here are my questions/comments posed. The mention of Ghenna is indeed a geographical reference to the Valley of Hinnom. If you read or research Nehemiah's rebuilding of the walls and gates in Jerusalem, one of the gates was the 'Valley Gate' which overlooked two valleys (Hinnom and Kidron). These were well known by the Israelites not only for their locations and proximity to Jerusalem, but also for their previous usages and 'metaphorical' meanings (especially for us NT believers). Hinnom Valley was used by pagans for ritualistic idol worship and human sacrifices. In fact, this is why Ghenna is also known as the lake of fire, in that, when Jews saw the great flames and humans 'burning' in them they described the scene as a 'hell' 'lake of fire' 'ghenna'.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

I hadn't heard of this mysticism thing. There may be something to that statement "everyone already saved" but it'd depend on what "saved" means.

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Well said. Indeed there was much more to that phrase than simply Jesus' body being the temple that would be restored in 3 days. We clearly see that Jesus is using something real to point towards something else. And that was the point I was trying to make.

Antwuan
Antwuan

Thanks for your thoughts here mang! No doubt the place is a physical place, but there must be some symbolism attributed to this. And that\'s where I wonder what Bell\'s point was. Was Bell saying that Jesus was just speaking literally? He wasn\'t clear. Jesus often used things familiar with the Jews (as you know), like he would \"rebuild the temple in 3 days\". We know the temple was an actual structure and place, but Jesus using it to point to a more spirtual meaning -- a meaning the local audience may not have readily understood. (indeed, most didn\'t until after He resurrected). BTW, I think the comments are short because you may be logged in with a twitter account. I\'ve have some pretty long responses. I\'ll look into it though. Thanks for commenting man and stay tuned for the audio review of chaps 1-3.