Is God’s Grace Unlimited? : A Response to the book “Love Wins”

I can imagine why so many people criticized Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”.  I just finished reading it. The book seems simple and honest. It does not represent the popular Christian view about salvation.  Bell’s way of thinking and writing is based on asking many questions, and they are good questions.  We like to assume that we have all the answers.  We prefer to think that we stand firm in our Christians beliefs. But this is not the case.  I rather admit that I am at least heading towards the Truth. As a Reflective Christian, I have learned to welcome questions which I believe helps me to know God more.  Not allowing myself to grow and learn more would be spiritual suicide.

The first chapter has many questions which, of course, none of us can accurately answer. It resembles the numerous questions that the Christian faith raises.   We tend to crave for specific and clear answers, we want to know the whole truth, but I have accepted the fact that, as long as we are inside our limited brains, we would not handle the Truth.  Bell points out the fact that many Christians believe that God selects who gets saved or not, and that people have different views of Jesus (like the number of denominations I presume).  It reminded me of the question I have had about what would happen to people who live their lives serving the poor, like Jesus commanded, but never accepted Jesus as their personal Savior, either because they did not choose to or were never told about Jesus. Bell also seems troubled that the sinner’s prayer or  saying the “right things” can guarantee people to go “over there” (heaven).  Which implies, of course, that the suffering in the world would not matter as long as we do and say the right things to have a ticket to go to heaven. I read in the Bible that Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but did not command us to say the “sinners prayer”.

In the second chapter, Bell stresses on the story of the young rich man’s question “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  which he says means not to go to heaven, but how to live heaven on earth. He believes that heaven will be lived on earth, as he quoted so many scriptures that supported this claim.   When earth and heaven will be one; life in the age to come. Jesus did include in the Lord’s Prayer “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”.  I also believe that heaven can start to be experienced on earth, by practicing justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, etc.  But I also believe that Heaven is fully found “over there”, which it was not clear to me if Bell believes this or not.

I have heard about Gehenna, the city dump,  being the “hell” that Jesus referred to.  But Hades is then mentioned by Jesus when He spoke to Peter about building the church, but Bell does not explain if this is an actual hell or the city dump. Bell does imply that hell is experienced on earth (the same way heaven can be experienced on earth).  Just because hell is mentioned a few times in the Bible does not necessarily mean that it does not exist after life.  I am not ready to dismiss the possibility of a physical hell, or simply a state of being separate from God because of selfish actions on earth.  But is this separation eternal?

Is God’s grace unlimited? If so, I ask myself, why do some people miss going to heaven, and end up in eternal damnation instead? I was taught that the reason was that people choose to live without God (or not accepting Jesus regardless of condition of their hearts) and that we all have free will, which God respects out of love.  But Bible says that God wants everyone to be saved which brings up Bell’s question “Does God get what God wants?” Bell concludes that God gives us what we want, either heaven or hell.  But the author does not answer if eventually everyone will be saved, and I can respect that.  My question is: Is God big enough to show grace beyond what we can understand? Is He grateful only when we ask for his grace? The idea that God’s grace is greater than what we can imagine conforms with the concept of an everlasting, all knowing, all powerful God.

The idea of things in the world dying so that life can begin makes a lot of sense. We have to die to our old, selfish way of living in order to experience the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus talked about dying to live and he showed it in the cross and resurrection. Having Jesus manifested in different areas of life also removes the limitation of the Gospel and creates a more inclusive concept of God’s love.  But I can understand many Christians resisting the idea that Jesus can be found in other faiths simply because they believe people have to explicitly accept Jesus as Savior.  Like John says, Jesus always existed and through Him all things were made.  So Jesus did not start a new religion, He is much greater than that.  As Bell puts it, our “nearness” to Jesus (believing we have Jesus figured out in our own religious boxes) can actually separate us from getting closer to Jesus.

Bell uses the parable of the prodigal son as a way to illustrate the magnitude of God’s grace, which is not fair.  Are we going to believe what our experiences in life teach us about us, or are we going to listen to the unpopular way that God sees us, regardless of how little we deserve His love?  I am careful to not believe God’s grace is beyond any judgment simply because it is convenient.  But I have been questioning what exactly is the “good news” that Jesus came to teach.  And I felt it wasn’t simply to love our neighbors as ourselves.  I understand more that the good news is that, first of all, the story I have been telling myself about me is different from the story God says about me.   I am able to love my neighbor because God loved me first, unconditionally.  The question is: am I going to trust God’s story of love for me?

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About Noel

I am a person who has realized that the teachings of Jesus are centralized in the genuine care and service of others. I have evolved from fundamentalism to a moderate spiritual approach. I am a reflecting person who has grown to not fear doubt but to embrace it as a means to growth and increasing closeness to God. View all posts by Noel

12 responses to “Is God’s Grace Unlimited? : A Response to the book “Love Wins”

  • groundedangel

    I also read that book. I am also a Christian who has and welcomes questions. That has caused me to grow and develop much more profoundly than keeping God in a box. I believe that God’s grace is much larger than we can imagine or pray for, but I do not have all of the answers either. 🙂

    • Noel

      Groundedangel, I am glad you understand. God is greater than our thoughts about Him. …by the way, I added your blog to my blogroll, hope you don’t mind. 🙂

  • Cindy Holman

    Great article Noel – I love it when you go deeper and dive into areas that are thought provoking and bring more questions to the surface. I too have not read Rob Bell’s book but am intensely curious. Hey – are you on facebook or twitter? I’ve tried to find you there but couldn’t. I’m Cindyluhoo on twitter and Cindy Holman on facebook – look me up.

  • livingvictoriously

    Hi Noel, I haven’t read the book, but you make it sound interesting. I don’t know if you can tell, but I was never a traditional Christian. I always had more questions than answers; my poor priest, every week I came to see him with a list of questions. Our weekly visits became very important to me in my Christian education.
    I have asked many Christian how they feel about Hitler and eternal damnation; their first answer was always that he deserves to be in Hell. I disagree. He should be in heaven free of his illnesses. You see, I believe he had to be mentally ill to do the things he did in his life. Being mentally ill, having an autistic child helps me see people’s behavior from a biological point of view. If you have a ‘balanced’ brain, you behave normally; if it is unbalanced, then you have illnesses that affect your behavior. It’s no one’s fault, it just is. Even Hitler could have been mentally unbalanced to produce such unbelievable thoughts, and he deserves to be forgiven for his actions. I hope I haven’t overstep any boundaries. Hugs. Marie.

    • Noel

      Marie, I used to be a “traditional Christian”, but not anymore. I have started to seek God more by inviting questions so that I can know HIm better. You brought a very profound issue about God’s grace. Is it greater than our own understanding of what grace is? If God is all powerful and all knowing, can he do the unthinkable (saving Hitler)? Our human standard says that murderers deserve eternal punishment, but what about God’s standards?

  • livingvictoriously

    I believe our standards are different from God’s, we are more black and white, while God can see in the gray areas the good in people.
    If there is a God, he is eternally graceful and compassionate, and guides the souls to different part of Heaven, according to their lives, where they can atone for their lives on Earth by following the examples of others in Heaven. If God exists, then there is not Hell, because He wants all his “children” to enjoy “life” in Heaven, one way or another.
    What kind of church do you go to? I have occasionally looked for one where I live, but everything seems so traditional. I used to go to a Methodist church back in TX, and they were pretty good, including bible studies for people my age.
    Strange that I have never said or written down this before.
    Thanks for your comment. Marie.

  • JudahFirst

    Maybe once we realize that we’re all Hitler, then we will understand what grace is really about. 🙂 Do I mean we all do things as evil as Hitler did? Of course not. Do we all have the potential? Yup. Is the condition of our hearts exactly the same as Hitlers? Well, didn’t Jesus say that evil comes from within and every sin of the heart is the same as an outward one? You know, if you lust after a woman, you’ve committed adultery; if you hate a person, it’s the same as having murdered them. God looks at the heart.

    I may not agree that Hitler did what he did from insanity … unless sin is a form of insanity, which well may be! But he certainly wasn’t any more evil than I am on a heart level. Why should I assume that God’s grace is enough for me, but not a person like Hitler? To do so seems prideful to me and pride really is the root of all sin, so…

    Anyway, my response when I read “Love Wins” was that someone was finally saying what my husband and I had come to see 6 years before. Now I hurt for Rob because I know all about being shunned and called a heretic. It’s amazing how mean-spirited Christians can be once they find out you don’t believe exactly what they do. That must crush the heart of Jesus. My greatest hurdle now is learning to love Evangelicals! lol

    Noel, your next read should be “Jesus Wants to Save Christians” (Rob Bell) and then “Stricken by God?” by several authors. I also recommend “What the Bible Really Says About Hell.” But I can’t remember the author’s name at the moment.

    Grace and Peace.

    • Noel

      JudahFirst, thanks for your comments. You seem to be a person who understands my journey. I appreciate your earnest and sincere responses. I shall look up for the books you recommended. Take care and God bless.

  • mymoss

    My question is if God’s grace (and love) is unlimited, how do we grow in his grace and knowledge?

  • John Trappenberg

    When God forgave the killers of his Son Jesus. It showed that ALL is forgiven of everyone.. The killers did not ask for it, or repent. The Grace of God comes from God’s side alone. When I saw this, I was saved.

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