Love Wins Analysis: Chapter 4: Does God Get What God Wants? (Part II)
[This is part VII of a multi-part series on Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. Note: Chapter 4 has been broken up into four parts. Chapter 4, part I can be found here.]
Bell continues to expound on the concept that “In the Bible, God is not helpless . . . powerless . . . and [not impotent].” Then he goes through a series of his Socratic questions about God’s attributes and why people were created. And he frames the discussion in a way where it’s either God gets what God wants by all people being saved or God doesn’t get what God wants because some do not.
“God in the end doesn’t get what God wants, it’s declared, because some will turn, repent, and believe, and others won’t. . . . Although we’re only scratching the surface of this perspective—the one that says we get this life and only this life to believe in Jesus—it is safe to say that this perspective is widely held and passionately defended by many in our world today.”
There’s your orthodox Christian view of hell.
“Others hold this perspective (that there is this lifetime and only this lifetime in which we all choose one of two possible futures), but they suggest a possibility involving the image of God in each of us.”
I have no idea what perspective this is. A Christian mystic perhaps?
“. . . And then there are others who can live with two destinations, two realities after death, but insist that there must be some kind of ‘second change’ for those who don’t believe in Jesus in this lifetime. . . . At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God.”
Bell never comes right out and says it but the reader gets the sense that this is the view Bell aligns with. And this view sounds a bit like purgatory in the sense that there’s judgment for wrongs committed in this lifetime but that eventually God will soften a person’s heart and allow him or her to turn to God’s presence. It’s a nice view but one that I don’t see supported by the Bible despite Bell’s support of Jesus saying in Matthew 19 that “there will be a ‘renewal of all things’ and Paul in Colossians 1 says that through Christ “God was pleased to . . . reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (The context of Colossians seems to actually make Bell’s argument weaker because Paul mentions a few verses later “if indeed you continue in the faith” giving me the impression that one needs to believe in Paul’s teachings.)
To add further support to his argument, Bell drops heavyweight names like church fathers Clement of Alexandria and Origen from the third century and Gregory of Nyssa and Eusebius in the fourth century. Clement of Alexandria appears to have been a gnostic Christian (a Christian form widely rejected by mainstream and orthodox Christianity), Origen was Clement’s student, and Eusebius seems to have been a student of Origen (although Eusebius seems to be considered well-respected church father). Bell pushes the idea that “the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God” was a common belief in early church history. (Hence, how Bell gets away with saying at the beginning of the book that he’s not saying anything new.)
Although Bell tries to shift the wording slightly to attribute it to these early church fathers, the reader can tell that Bell’s leanings are in this category:
“Central to their trust that all would be reconciled was the belief that untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory. Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t. Reconciliation brings God glory; endless anguish doesn’t. Renewal and return cause God’s greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn’t.”
I am really, really resisting the urge to fire Socrates-like hypothetical questions after that quote because it haughtily assumes that Bell knows the mind of God and what brings Him glory in the end. Do I want suffering, torment, anguish, and punishment to be what brings God glory? No. And does it? From my perspective, I don’t think so either. But I can’t determine anything from God’s perspective. Since I am not God, I cannot definitely determine or define what brings Him glory.