We Get What We Want

I just finished reading Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, And the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, a book that has caused quite a stir among Evangelicals, since what he writes runs so counter to the beliefs of (at least large portions of) the Evangelical community. For some, the book is nothing less than a false gospel, a heretical piece of writing that will harm the souls of those taken in by it.

I loved the book. Although the chapters on heaven and hell had many interesting points in them, I think Bell really gets to the crux of the book in Chapter 4, which is titled: Does God Get what God Wants, which is not unrelated to the theme of my post of yesterday.

He talks about all of the things we read about God in the Bible – that God is loving, is all-powerful, is full of grace and mercy. We learn about God’s plan for salvation and read that, for God, all things are possible, and that all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of God. And then he asks a very simple question: does God get what he wants? Or, as he reframes the question:

Is history tragic? Have billions of people been created only to spend eternity in conscious punishment and torment, suffering infinitely for the finite sins they committed in the few years they spent on earth? Is our future uncertain, or will God take care of us?….Is God our friend, our provider, our protector, our father – or is God the kind of judge who may in the end declare that we deserve to spend forever separated from our Father?

Bell fully admits that we are free to choose to reject God. He writes, “Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.” Ultimately, however, hell is not something God inflicts on us, but something God allows us to choose if we want.

Thus, while we may not be sure of the answer to the question “Does God get what God wants?, the answer to the question “Do we get what we want?” is a “resounding, affirming, sure, and positive yes.”

I don’t doubt that there are many who don’t like Bell’s way of looking at things. Some seem to almost revel in the idea of a God who sends people to an eternity of torturous punishment. But that’s not the God of my experience, and obviuosly not the God of Bell’s experience either.

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One thought on “We Get What We Want

  1. Before commenting, let me say that I’m Jewish and don’t believe in hell.

    That said, I find “Ultimately, however, hell is not something God inflicts on us, but something God allows us to choose if we want” to be a bit of a dodge.

    If hell is meant literally (which I know Bell does not subscribe to), then no one can want to choose it- on the one hand eternity is beyond our comprehension, so to choose hell would be like a child choosing ice cream for breakfast, and on the other hand, eternal bliss vs eternal torture is kind of a stacked deck, really no choice at all for any sane person.

    That leaves the possibility that those who “choose” hell are merely unaware of what is really at stake, misguided about what the right choices actually are, or philosophically (and heroically) opposed to a regime that sends people to eternal torture.

    And I do mean “sends”- I don’t have the metaphysical power to place myself in hell. Is G-d a divine taxi driver patrolling the River Styx, taking those who “choose” hell but without the power to redirect fares once the true nature of the choice is revealed?

    And if hell is not meant literally, but is the absence of G-d in our lives, then it’s a metaphor- an empirically unsound metaphor at that.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that if there is a heaven, then by definition there cannot be a hell. Heaven would not be blissful for anyone who deserves to be there if simultaneously others are experiencing an equal and opposite suffering elsewhere. Especially if heaven is for those who do for the least of us- the empathetic, charitable, stubbornly Christ-like among us and those who strive to live up to that impossible standard.

    I can buy the idea of heaven/non-existence as the operative dichotomy, but not heaven/hell. At least not since MLK, Gandhi and the like got to heaven and organized for the release of the damned.

    -Scott (Valerie Dunne’s son-in-law)

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