Saturday, June 4, 2011
Chapter One, Part One (What About the Flat Tire?)
There was so much to talk about, I split up my ch. 1 blog into two parts, and this is only the first of those. I organized it by question category, because basically, this chapter is all about asking important questions, so below are RB's originals plus the additional questions they caused me to raise.
I. Love & Justice
Here are the first two questions we come across in chapter one, simplified as much as I could:
(1) Will most of the people God created go to hell forever? How does that mesh with the picture of a loving God?
(2) Is it truly just (and moreover, is it merciful?) for someone to suffer forever (an infinite amount of time) for a finite number of sins?
Rob Bell doesn't claim to know the answers to these questions, but he stresses the importance of asking them. How we respond to these questions shapes what our faith looks like, the kind of relationship we believe we can/should have with God, and how we treat and view others. Here's an example of a question that should follow after reading all the questions raised in Ch. 1: "What should evangelism look like in light of what I believe about heaven, hell, and salvation?" Here's another: "If I believe I'm 'getting in to heaven' and 'Bob' isn't, why do I believe that, what am I basing it off of, and how should I view/treat Bob in light of that? What is my responsibility to Bob? And if I don't believe that Bob is necessarily 'not getting in', how should that affect how I "evangelize" or "witness" to Bob? What are my responsibilities to Bob then?
So, about those questions RB asks in Ch. 1, here's a taste of them:
"Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number 'make it to a better place' and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?"
On a similar note, a page or so later Bell writes: "Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life? What kind of faith is that? Or, more important: What kind of God is that?"
So here are the questions I'm left with: (A) Is the God I believe in, the God my Bible tells me is love, mercy, justice and grace, really okay with being separated from the vast majority of his creation, the beings he so desperately longs to be with, according to what the Bible tells us, forever and ever? And not just be separated from them, but know that they are suffering forever and ever? And not just know that they are suffering, but know that he decreed that to be their punishment? I believe wholeheartedly that God loves us enough to allow us to choose whether or not we want to have anything to do with him, and that as painful as it is to Him, when we reject him, he lets us do so. But what if someone rejects him now, and changes their mind later? And by later I mean, post-mortem later. Is God going to say "nope, sorry, as much as I want to be with you, you made your choice, and you can't unmake it?"
(B) The question of God's justice: does it seem just that an "average" non-believer would suffer not ten years, not ten million years, but forever upon forever in hell for whatever he did wrong, or rather, for the right choice(s) he didn't make, during his seventy-odd years on Earth? Or let's take an extreme example: maybe we do think Hitler should get ten million years of hell for what he did. Maybe that would be justice, seeing as how far more than ten million lives were grievously affected and/or snuffed out because of him. But his grievances, his sins are still finite in number. Can we really say that after ten million years or so of torment even Hitler wouldn't have atoned for his sins? Or even if he hadn't, say that at that point, Hitler is actually repentant. Would a loving God continue to inflict punishment on a single soul for millions upon billions upon trillions of years everlastingly, for the sins committed in a single lifetime?
II. Why Run the Risk?
In Love Wins, Bell references a story of a Christian teenager whose high school friend passed away. At the funeral, she was approached by another Christian who asked her about the dead guy's beliefs, and upon finding out that he had been an atheist while alive, said, "So there's no hope then." Bell then questions if "no hope" is the Christian message, the word Jesus came to offer to the world. He asks "Is this the sacred calling of Christians - to announce that there's no hope?"
He then writes, "This belief raises a number of issues, one of them being the risk each new life faces. If every new baby being born could grow up to not believe the right things and go to hell forever, then prematurely terminating a child's life anytime from conception to twelve years of age (the age he cites as most commonly believed by Christians to be the age of responsibility)* would actually be the loving thing to do, guaranteeing that the child ends up in heaven, and not hell, forever. Why run the risk?"
*Italicized words are my added thoughts