Rob Bell said in his video promoting his new, very controversial book Love Wins, “What we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.”
So to sum it up, our view of hell shapes how we view God. But I think that’s doing it the wrong way. Our view of God should shape how we view hell.
One of the most popular views of hell is a fiery pit where Satan reigns and billions of people spend eternity for sins, big or small. Thus, God gets viewed as an unfair judge, and quite a bit less powerful, if Satan gets to reign in hell (which is false. For a concise layout of hell, read Mark Driscoll’s post here). God isn’t so loving, but judging. So of course, if Bell starts his theology with hell, he’s going to come to the conclusions that he has come to regarding God and who he is, and what his love is like. Hell becomes a place for people who don’t necessarily deserve it under the “traditional” view, and in denying that one begins to adopt a view that people are inherently good and can come to heaven many ways. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
But what if we start with God? I believe God is loving, caring, gracious, merciful, and jealous for my affection. I believe God is fed up with us not paying attention to him, yet is still pouring out grace and mercy. Thus I believe hell is a place for people who are constantly rejecting him, and they are getting what they truly desire–separation from God. Hell is not where God started when creating us, but what resulted from our separation from him. We ALL deserve hell, whether we think we are “good” or not, yet God has been gracious enough to let us escape it if we desire him.
Bell is completely on the mark when he says, “Millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the Gospel of Jesus is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. And so what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that?” Once again, we are beginning our theology with hell. And that’s what gets taught in the church! I wonder how many “Christians” became so after hearing a fire and brimstone message? Only becoming a Christian to escape hell? What does that do to their view of God, if they are so afraid of him? How can they ever learn to love a God who just sends people to hell all the time?
What happens when our theology begins with God–where it should begin, as theology literally involves God to begin with? How much more loving does he look? You see, the point of Christianity isn’t to escape hell. The point of Christianity is a restored relationship with our creator. Hell is the result of us denying that relationship. Christ didn’t come to save us from hell or from a wrathful God, but to restore our relationship with Yahweh.
Bell makes some compelling statements, statements that many people make and resort to after hearing the fiery messages of God’s wrath. And don’t get me wrong, we should fear hell. It’s not something anyone should desire. Yet the thing we should desire most is to be right with God–God. So. Loved. You. That. He. Sent. His. Son. To. Die. For. YOU. You, who are undeserving of such a thing. You, who daily deny him. You, who if you believe that God really does love you, and desire to have a relationship with your creator, can live for eternity with him. An eternity that starts right now. And guess what happens? Love wins.