Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bell and Hell

There are fears that Rob Bell's new book will endorse the heresy of universalism. One of the fears is the number of cute plays on words we will get in the blog post titles! But seriously, if this is true, it is sad but not that unexpected. I am just catching up with Brian McLaren making some of his suspected liberalism more explicit. Not a surprise but sad. I know my siblings and parents, many of whom are protestant pastors, have read both these guys. I worry they and many others might be led astray. But the doctrine of hell is difficult. Protestants, especially those who love to challenge even protestant tradition, will have a tendency to reject difficult truths.

Hell is the most difficult of truths. It is a doctrine that needs to offend us. It offends God and so if we are godly it will offend us as well. Man is simply not meant to be in eternal separation from God. He cannot find the deep joy that he craves apart from God. He cannot be truly loved. He cannot know peace. He cannot control the desires of his flesh. Yet he will be rational enough to realize the hopelessness of his situation. It is a terrible situation because we were made for heaven. So it gives us every reason to want to go to heaven.

But as offensive as hell is the doctrine of universalism is more offensive. Why? Because it makes God into a rapist. It says that God will force intimacy with Himself on even the most god-hating of persons. That those who have not shown any desire to be near God and have avoided situations where His presence is most clearly felt will be compelled to be closer to Him than we can imagine and to remain there forever. This would include thought control at an incredibly low level. Remember in heaven nobody is even allowed to sin at a thought level so God would have to completely remove pretty much all the thought patterns of his earthly life. All of his god hating thoughts would be replaced with god-loving thoughts. Not even the smallest allowance could be made to preserve his human dignity or retain his identity. It would all have to go despite the fact that he had never show even the least desire to be holy. Holiness would be forced upon him.

Given these two offensive choices, God chooses hell. God continues to love those in hell.There are often references made to God eternally torturing those in hell. He doesn't do that. He lets people suffer the natural consequences of their choice. So they do suffer but God does not initiate the suffering. God does do that in purgatory. He is purifying those in purgatory which does involve great suffering directly initiated by God. That could accurately be described as torture but it is for a purpose and it is finite. Those that reject purgatory are forced to apply biblical descriptions like those found in Lk 16:19-31 to hell and arrive at a God who tortures eternally and without purpose. This is the source of many anti-Christian rants.

Actually many might find hell to be like their image of heaven is. For example, Muslims talk about heaven involving endless sex with many beautiful women. I have no trouble believing that would happen in hell. They would still desire a one flesh union and a total gift of self. That would not happen. So they would be trapped in relationships where men and women use and abuse each other. They would know they were made for something better and have no hope of getting there. That is the agony of hell. But it is what many have chosen and their choice will be honored.


  1. I've followed a bit of this on the surface and just kind of shrug--so it's now a hip thing within Protestantism to believe in universalism because the currently-popular emergent Protestant leaders are into it (and perhaps think they are being bold and "prophetic" to say so).

    It's the kind of topic that sells books and spices up the Bible study a bit.

  2. This error is so serious it is hard to shrug. Can they still be called Christian in any meaningful sense? Salvation is pretty important. If your religion is no longer about salvation then what is it about?

  3. It seems less serious to me, though the consequences of it potentially are not ("hey, no need to evangelize!"). I can see why you think it is very serious, and I don't disagree with your arguments, but it seems like there are worse errors that are much more detrimental. I'll have to think about it more.