A dear, dear friend recently posted about a controversial book she had read, “Love Wins” by Rob Bell. Her praise for the book made me sad. Let me state for the record: I have not read the book, nor do I intend to do so. I have read enough reviews from theologians that I trust, to stay away when they tell me it’s poison. I don’t feel the need to prove to myself that the skull and cross bones on the bottle is true, by drinking it.
The question the book tries to answer is: how can a loving God sentence billions of souls to eternal suffering in hell. Not an easy question to answer and certainly one worthy of debate. The problem is when you try to emphasize the love of God you can under-emphasize the holiness and justice of God. And if you throw out the idea of hell because it doesn’t seem to square with your idea of a loving God, or fairness, then you have to throw out a lot of what Jesus said as well. You throw out the “whole counsel” of the Word of God to make it fit your own ideas. “When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world,” says R. Albert Mohler Jr., “then you don’t need the church, and you don’t need Christ, and you don’t need the cross. This is the tragedy of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism, and it’s Rob Bell’s tragedy in this book too.” Which is pretty much what went thru my head when I saw my friends post. Without hell, there is no need for Jesus to die because there’s nothing to rescue us from.
Christ’s death on the cross was necessary to purchase the redemption of every person that ever lived. But if every person now goes to heaven, no matter what they believed, or how they lived their life, then you run into the problem of how to explain many of the things that Jesus himself said. Like 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14) If everyone gets in, why would he say this? Or how about 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23) That would seem to plainly say that not everyone gets in. 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:5-6) Seems pretty plain to me. The parable of the 10 virgins, separating the sheep from the goats, 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46) You can’t get much plainer than that. I could give many more examples, but I’m not trying to write a book, just correct an error that could cost many people an eternity of suffering.
Again, if everyone gets in, why do we need to send missionaries all over the world and into harm’s way to tell others of Jesus? Why bother to follow Him ourselves if the unrepentant murderer in jail, the muslim across the sea, the buddhist, the philanderer all get in too? If all roads lead to heaven then let’s eat, drink and be merry. Anything goes, right? But doesn’t the Bible say 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:15-18) emphasis mine.
The question for me is not, “is there a hell?” but what is it’s nature. Is it a place of eternal suffering and torment, or is it merely annihilation? I can not bear to think about my unsaved loved ones suffering for eternity while I enjoy perfection in paradise. All the more reason to continue my efforts to bring them into the narrow gate. For it would seem that Jesus answered that question as well in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus:
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Pretty harsh it would seem, but those are Jesus words. I don’t have to like them. I don’t even have to understand them. But for me, if Jesus said it, I have to believe it, case closed. God does not lie. Even if this was an allegorical tale it would seem that some go to heaven and some do not, and that those who do not are not just obliterated. God is love, but He is also holy and righteous and just, and He will not be mocked. So if hell is a reality, and a gruesome one at that, what should our response be? Just this: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)