Love Wins, But Always?
In Rob Bell’s best seller, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and The Fate of Every Person Who Every Lives, the writer raises questions which have rocked the Christian world and have been discussed on the internet, TV shows, religious columns, and many Christian Bible studies. No matter what one believes, as a Christian about either Heaven or Hell and the afterlife, this book brings those questions to the forefront and are back of almost every Christian belief. This is only one of the very provocative questions he has dared to ask: “Will only Christians be saved?” This was prompted by a scrawled not underneath Gandhi’s picture in an art show of prominent peacemakers: “He’s in Hell.”
Seriously, what is the common Christian belief? How can we be sure? What must one do, be, or perform to qualify for entrance to the Pearly Gates? Is it dependent on one’s parents? The country of your birth? Making the right choices during your life? How much control do we really have over our parents, our birthplace, or our early environment that plays such a pivotal role in our attitude?
If one dies very suddenly is there any hope if he may not have been baptized into the Christian faith? Is that what Christians believe? Or, is it based on one’s personal relationship with Christ? Even though there is never such a phrase in the entire Bible?
The age-old questions “What must I do to be saved?” Is answered by sheer luck of being born in the right place, at the right time, to the right parents, and to good environment. If that is true, then my eternal future is in the hands of others.
Or, is it solely on my belief in Jesus’ blood that has saved me? How is this to be applied?
What conditions are necessary for me to be assured?
Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible is there promised a future eternal life; they did not talk of a future life somewhere else because they anticipated a coming day when the world would be restored, renewed, and redeemed and there would be peace on earth.
Jesus was the first to speak of Heaven as eternal life when asked of the young ruler who was most anxious to be assured. In Jesus’ reply he said that one day when God’s will would be done on earth as is now done in heaven, that earth and heaven will be one.
Surely, this question is one of the most important of all questions Christianity has been asked. If Christians cannot be certain of what the future holds, why be a Christian?
Since first they were introduced into the Christian lexicon, heaven and hell have been central to their mission. Are they literal places? Was the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus merely a metaphor for telling men that we must show mercy to others?
Is the Devil the one in charge of Hell and God is in charge of Heaven? When did the concept of Heaven as the home of the saved originate? Or that Hell was reserved for the most devious of humans? How much of the concept of Hell and Heaven were influenced by both ancient and more recent writers? Both John Milton and Dante described these two abodes of humans: Milton described Paradise in his epic poem Paradise Lost and Dante wrote the Divine Comedy portraying Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. This poem had an enormous influence on Christian thinking and was incorporated into Christian theology.
One of the most famous Bible verses in found in John 3:16: “For God so loved this world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not , perish but have everlasting life.” What is often forgotten and seldom read are the two verses following: “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.”
This is the overriding theme in Bell’s book: according to the book of Timothy, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2). And in Hebrews, the writer says: “God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear“ (chap. 6).
What did the writer of the letter to the Philippians mean when he wrote “Every knee should bow…and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord”? and Peter says that Jesus will “restore everything” (Acts 3), and Paul writes in Colossians 1 that through Christ “God was pleased to….reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
On to Revelation: in the last chapters, the gates of that city in that new world will “never shut.” Gates are for keeping people in and keeping people out. If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go. When, in that book, God is saying that He will make all things new, does that mean everything, including people?
What did Jesus mean when he said “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen” (John 10).
In the parables of the prodigal son and the worker who only worked one hour compared to those who had worked all day, it demonstrates that in Jesus’ kingdom, people will get what they don’t deserve.
Bell asks deeply unsettling questions for those who have been so secure in their beliefs of who will make up heaven’s inhabitants: Does this sound familiar? “Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with his child would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter.”
If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities. And yet millions of Christians have been taught this very belief and converted millions based on this fear. Has there been a bit of schadenfreud in Adventism that goes like this:
“Those people out there may be going to parties and appearing to have fun while the rest of us do ‘God’s work,’ but someday we’ll go to heaven, where we won’t have to do anything, and they’ll go to hell, where they’ll get theirs” This is the same sentiment expressed by the elder brother when he was so angry because his father welcomed the prodigal son with open arms.
If God’s love is so small, so parsimonious that only those who have joined with the “elect” will be invited to heaven, that god has become much too small to redeem the world; to build mansions to be inhabited; to extend his welcoming arms to his children.
That can only mean that for those who believe this,:their God is far too small, and deserves no worship and adoration. Like the Wizard of Oz, that god is a very small image of our own making.