Let me start off by saying that I have never really studied much about what the Bible reveals about hell. I know enough to know there are at least a couple of different views held by those who have a high view of scripture. Those would be the traditional view (eternal torment in fire) and Annihilation view (hell is where the wicked are totally destroyed into a non-existent death). For a quick presentation of this later view see this brief piece by Edward Fudge who has written an entire book on this view. I also know enough to have some serious questions about the traditional view and see the plausibility of the Annihilation view but, I really haven’t made my mind up on either view. There may be other views and/or nuances but I’m not the one to ask about them.
But I don’t understand Bell’s view of hell. Bell believes hell is simply our rejection of God and the life God creates/redeems us for in exchange for a broken and corrupt life of evil. Now since both Bell and I believe in the doctrine of free-will, we both are being cast into hell some strong deterministic Christians already but that’s another issue.
As a preacher/pastor, besides seeing great feats of God’s joy and victory, we also see the dark side of a fallen world. This includes situations like a young man talking about being sexually abused as a child, a mother being haunted by growing up in a home where the father commits suicide, a person who just lives a selfishly perverse and ugly life… After Bell describes a few similar scenarios he writes, “I’ve seen what happens when people abandon all that is good and right and humane” (p. 71).
This is how Bell arrives at the basic of his view on hell which boils down to the choices we make. So Bell writes:
…it is absolutely vital that we acknowledge that love, grace, and humility can be rejected. From the most subtle rolling of the eyes to the most violent degradation of another human, we are terrifyingly free to do as we please. God gives us what we want, and it that’s hell, we can have it (p. 72, italics mine).
I can appreciate what Bell is saying. After all, when you’ve watched someone choose a life on the streets and addiction to crack-cocaine, you can see how they are choosing a “living hell” for themselves. But is that all that hell is?
Bell will spend time discussing the various biblical passages relevant to the subject of hell, providing some decent and not-so-decent understandings of how he reads the passage. This provides explanation for why Bell comes to view “hell” as the choices we make for ourselves. This is also why Bell does not want to give up the word “hell” from the Christian vernacular because it serves as a “…loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us” (p. 93).
It is not that I disagree with this assertion but I am not sure that that is all the hell is. Unless I missed it, one passage that Bell seems to overlook is Revelation 20.11-15. From what I’ve read in the book thus far, Bell wants to uphold the vision of Revelation 21 as a real picture of the future. Very good, so do I. However, it seems very inconsistent to accept that vision as a picture of a real concrete future but deny the vision right before it as a picture of a real concrete future (by the way, in case you’re wondering, there is room for both the traditional and annihilationist view in Rev 20.11-15).
So help me out. Am I misreading Bell or not?
That being said, I still liked this chapter. I do believe God grants us free-will choice. Without choice, we cannot truly love, repent, obey, forgive, etc… In the previous chapter, I thought Bell did a remarkable job of painting a picture of what it’s like for God to bring heaven from the future into present history as we participate in the kingdom of heaven way of living. If that gives us some glimpses of what the new heaven and new earth (cf. Rev 21) will be like then perhaps we are seeing glimpses of what hell will be like when we choose the ways of evil over the way of God. I’m just not convinced by Bell that this is all that hell is. How about you?
- Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Opening Thoughts
- Rob Bell “Love Wins”: The Flat Tire
- Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Here is the New There