What does it take to get into heaven?
What’s hell really like?
Will God really damn millions of people to Hell because they’ve never “heard the good news?”
Rob Bell’s Love Wins is a refreshing take on the Biblical story that so many shy away from due to one all-pervasive question: if God loves us, how can He be so cruel? The book begins with an intriguing situation that prompted Bell to write the book; a quote was listed on a piece of art. This quote was from Mahatma Gandhi. Someone–presumably a Christian–wrote “Reality check: He’s in hell.”
Bell was incredulous at this thought. “Really? Gandhi’s in hell?” he asked himself, and then the question that started it all floated into his mind. Does God really choose to eternally punish people for mistakes they’ve made in a few short years on this planet? Are there only a few select people that will get to heaven?
The premise that there is only one true form of Christianity is not a new one. The business of religion banks on the fact that every believer will steadfastly agree that their version is the only one that will allow people into heaven; however, when one looks at the reality of that statement, it comes down to one terrifying conclusion.
Hundreds of millions of people were born to go to Hell, and there is very little that anyone can do about it. After all, who knows which version is the right one? It’s a loser’s lottery, and one that Bell–and many people, Christians and non–flat-out rejects.
Bell takes the message of Jesus and stands it on his head. He repeats over and over that the message that Jesus was trying to get across is not that we must do X amount of good deeds, or convert X amount of people to our brand of faith. Jesus was not trying to say that no one is good enough unless they get it exactly right the first time. Jesus was certainly not saying that God doesn’t know how to give second chances.
So what was Jesus really trying to say?
Bell proposes that hell itself is “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. We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way” (93). It’s a revolutionary thought, one that many people shy away from. Hell isn’t a place, Bell states. Hell is what we go through when we walk away from the love being offered to us.
Ultimately, Bell’s premise in Love Wins is that we must not doubt God’s ability to love and forgive. He will forgive and wait for us as long as it takes, and Bell reminds us that “there is a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody.” God isn’t in the business of punishing us all. He’s in the business of waiting for us to wake up and realize what we’re being offered.
Bell’s text is structured so fluidly through these premises that one can hardly tell that there is an almost linear narrative regarding the story that he’s telling us. He moves through the questions that so many Christians are afraid to ask (What happens when a 15-year-old atheist dies?) to examining the nature of heaven and hell, to challenging the reader about their biblical knowledge. His use of quotes from the texts of the Bible are apt and thought-provoking, to both frequent readers of the Bible and those that are less familiar with the words. In the end, Bell’s book challenges each reader to fully examine their faith and to ask themselves one simple question:
Does Jesus want us to believe that we’ve only got one chance, or can we truly believe in his message of endless love and forgiveness?