This was published in The Seeker.
In his new book, Love Wins, Evangelical pastor Rob Bell posits that there may be a place in heaven for “every person who ever lived,” and that there may not be a Hell at all. The response of conservative Christians has been ferocious. But upon this fact, I am banking everything.
When word of Love Wins reached the Internet, one conservative Evangelical pastor, John Piper, tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell,” unilaterally attempting to evict Bell from the evangelical community.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says Bell’s book is “theologically disastrous.
Any of us should be concerned when a matter of theological importance is played with in a subversive way.” In North Carolina, a young pastor was fired by his church for endorsing the book.
Indeed, Jon Meacham wrote in this week’s Time magazine: “From a traditionalist perspective, though, to take away hell is to leave the church without its most powerful sanction.”
Lord knows that I have heard sermon after sermon about the torment of Hell that is in store for those who do not believe. And it is true that the Qur’an speaks vividly of the torment of Hell, with numerous highly descriptive verses, for those who “reject the truth.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not want to be one of those who will be punished in the torment of Hell. And I believe and fully acknowledge the severity of God’s punishment. Yet, the Qur’an has an enduring principle: “[God] has inscribed upon Himself [the rule of] mercy.” (6:12) In another verse, God says: “O My servants who have transgressed against their souls! Do not despair from the mercy of God. For God forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (39:53).
Upon this fact, I am banking everything. There was a time in my life when I gave fiery sermons about God’s eternal torment in Hell. I will never do so again. I focus all my energies upon the Beauty, Grace, Mercy, and Love of the Lord – and not His torment and punishment. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad was reported to have said:
Indeed, God has one hundred (portions of) mercy; one portion causes compassion between creation. Ninety-nine are reserved for the Day of Judgment.
The ultimate Judge is God Himself. It is He Who will determine the fate of every creation, no matter what people who claim to “speak in His Name” may say. Just because God has prepared a horrific torment that is eternal, it does not obligate Him to apply it. It would not surprise me one bit if He saved all of humanity on Judgment Day, and I believe that we will all be enormously surprised by the Grace of the Lord our God on that Day.
We humans love to mete out God’s punishment, torment, and condemnation upon this person or that. The good news is, the supposed Source of that torment and punishment is much more merciful and beautiful than we give Him credit for. And believe you me, that will be a very, very good thing indeed.