Love Wins by Rob Bell: My Thoughts on Chapter 3, “Hell” (49% of the Kindle version completed)
Note: the numbering system is from the Kindle version of the book. If you don’t have a Kindle for PC version, the numbers are probably useless to you. The chapters are clearly marked and as best as possible, I try to answer his arguments in the order they are presented.
According to Matthew 25:41, Hell is a place prepared for the Devil and his angels. The reason is that they rebelled against God. In v. 41, we are told that the “cursed” will be separated from God by being cast into everlasting fire.
The greater context of this verse begins in v. 31. It is not a parable Jesus told (story using earthly objects to explain spiritual truth). Instead, it is truth about His coming. When He comes, with His holy angels, we call this the Second Coming of Christ, He will sit on His throne and judge the nations. From other passages we learn that, before the return of Jesus, the Church will be taken away by Him in the clouds (1 Thess. 4:13-18) since God is about to judge the Earth’s inhabitants who reject Him and the Church isn’t a party to that rejection (1 Thess. 5). They aren’t appointed to God’s wrath but to salvation through Jesus.
After the Church is safely removed from this Earth, God’s judgments will come upon the Earth and upon a world leader that they welcome in Jesus’ stead called the Anti-Christ in Scripture. During this time, witnesses will go out from the 12 tribes of Israel and many people will be converted, however, that many will be a minority as the vast majority will shake their fists at God and refuse to repent despite the judgments. At the end of the Tribulation, Jesus will return to rescue His people Israel from certain destruction at the hands of this world leader who is bent on their annihilation. Israel will see Him who was pierced and mourn for Him as for an only Son. They will recognize that God has again sent His Son to save and this time they will believe; the whole nation of Israel! God the Son will vanquish the armies of the Anti-Christ and set up His throne over the world in Jerusalem. One of the judgments that will commence is the one Jesus taught here in Mt. 25:31-46. It is the judgment of the nations. They will be judged based on how they treated God’s people Israel during the Tribulation period. If they gave food and drink to Jews who were hungry and thirsty, if they gave them refuge from the Anti-Christ, if they gave them clothing, nursed them back to health, or visited them in prison, they showed their faith to be real, those people are “sheep” entitled to enter the Kingdom of God, the millennial kingdom, and thus eternal life to follow. However, if they showed their lack of faith by refusing persecuted Jews food, drink, shelter, clothing, care when they were sick and visits while in prison, then they would face the consequences of their rebellion against God and not be allowed into the Kingdom. Their lot was to be cast into everlasting fire (Mt. 25:41) which consisted of everlasting punishment (v. 46).
Notice then, Jesus was teaching of a literal hell. It was a place where the rebel angels and that chief rebel Satan were consigned. Hell was and is a place of everlasting fire and everlasting punishment. Those who follow Satan in his rebellion against God, whether angels or men, would follow Satan in his punishment.
Strong’s Concordance views the word translated “everlasting” in v. 41 to mean “eternal.” In later prose and poetry, the word conveyed the meaning “lifelong” or “enduring.” The Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon states that it pertains to an “Unlimited duration of time – eternal.” The same word is used in both John 3:15 and 16. To redefine it here is to redefine it there . So, as the believer in Jesus would receive eternal life in heaven, the unbeliever would receive eternal punishment in hell (see Mt. 25:46).
Bell goes on a tortured argument about the word Gehenna. Passages using the Greek word “gehenna” for hell are cited by Bell in this way, “The actual word 'hell' is used roughly twelve times in the New Testament, almost exclusively by Jesus himself. The Greek word that gets translated as 'hell' in English is the word 'Gehenna.' Ge means 'valley,' and henna means 'Hinnom.' Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom, was an actual valley on the south and west side of the city of Jerusalem. Gehenna, in Jesus’ day, was the city dump. People tossed garbage and waste into this valley. There was a fire there, burning constantly to consume the trash. Wild animals fought over scraps of food along the edges of the heap. When they fought, their teeth would make a gnashing sound.” Bell in one of his many silly moments in the book concludes, “So the next time someone asks you if you believe in an actual hell, you can always say, 'Yes, I do believe that my garbage goes somewhere . . . (Location 864, 880).'”
Note that Bell said that “Gehenna” for hell was used almost exclusively by Jesus. Besides parables, Jesus liked to point to things that people were familiar with and teach from them. He did this with the fig tree. He did it with weather. He did it with lots of things with which they were familiar. In my opinion, that’s what Jesus was doing with the community incinerator, the Valley of Hinnom. People knew about it; they knew its use and the characteristics of it. What our Savior did was to use this known way to dispose of garbage as a way to communicate about a place called Hell. Like with Gehenna/the Valley of Hinnom, people would be thrown into a place of fire. Like that place of garbage disposal, the fire was never quenched. As was the case there, there would be the sound of the gnashing of teeth. But unlike that place, the punishment would be eternal, just like the flame (cf Mt. 25:46).
Using Bell’s twisted logic, one could conclude that people would then be thrown into an incinerator which Bell of course doesn’t believe. Therefore, he doesn’t leave the reader with a reasonable solution to the problem of “Gehenna.” He just mocks the traditional view, which is the view of this blogger, that when Jesus used “Gehenna,” he wasn’t talking about kosher trash but about eternal judgment. Bell reviews a couple of other words that are translated hell and he discounts their meaning to be a place of eternal, conscious torment.
For a tour of Bell’s view of Hell, he takes us to Rwanda and victims whose limbs were chopped off by machetes, to a woman who has been raped, to a child whose father committed suicide, to a cocaine addict’s eyes, to a cruel and mean man for whom Bell had conducted a funeral. To Bell, Hell is a place on Earth and these are the faces. “Do I believe in a literal hell? Those aren’t metaphorical missing arms and legs,” Bell writes.
In Bell’s mind, Jesus’ teaching about Hell was a “volatile mixture of images, pictures, and metaphors that describe the very real experiences and consequences of rejecting our God-given goodness and humanity (Location 929).” Got that? Hell is what we experience on this Earth as natural consequences for rejecting the goodness that is inside of us. Has Bell read Romans 3 which clearly states there is none righteous, not even one? Or Isaiah 53:6 where all of us have gone astray, each one of us has turned to his own way and the supernatural consequences (i.e. God’s wrath) were placed upon Jesus as the LORD “laid on him the iniquity [not God-given goodness] of us all.”
Another divergent teaching of Bell’s is that God’s judgment is always corrective and therefore punishment of the guilty is only temporary. After experiencing Hell, the sinner can again and again have opportunities to repent and be restored. To back this up, he takes a very difficult reference to Sodom in Ezekiel 16 to mean that Sodom will be forgiven and restored (Sodom is used as a spiritual metaphor or nickname in Isaiah 1 and thus could’ve been so used in Ezekiel). He re-interprets the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to mean that the Rich Man still thinks that Lazarus is to serve him, even as he is in hell, and he will remain there until he gets it, that Lazarus isn’t beneath him. He takes prophecies of Israel’s future restoration and extrapolates them for all of mankind to mean that though God’s wrath is exercised, restoration is still possible. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where Bell is going with this. He is headed toward a type of universalism in which no one can resist God’s grace and mercy forever but all will be saved eventually.
Unfortunately, space and time won’t allow me to address every point of contention I have with Bell over our very different ideas about Hell as revealed by his third chapter so allow me to turn a corner here and summarize what we have found thus far. In Love Wins, we have seen Bell mock professions of faith; he impugns the character of a God who would allow billions to go to eternal, conscious torment in Hell (thereby assailing the character of the one true God); he mocks the idea of a literal Hell and instead replaces it with what is considered to be hell/s on Earth; and he mocks the idea of Heaven as a place that is “somewhere else” and then goes on to question the compassion of those who long to go there. Does this sound like Christianity to you?
Disclaimer: If, as I go through more of the book, I find my conclusions needing clarification or amending, I will do so. I will seek to be fair but I will not compromise the Word in doing so.
Again, I welcome your thoughts. Thanks for reading.