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?