It’s up there. It’s where angels are. The streets are paved with gold. There are mansions. It is a place of pure white. Here, there is no suffering, no pain.
All of our tears will be washed away.
This idea is a beautiful image. Stories of Heaven are told to children at funerals to help understand death, or when they lose a pet. When we lose someone that is suffering for a long time, we use the phrase “they are in a better place”. Why? Not because people think that this place we live in is awful or unlivable, but because we know about this place called Heaven and what it is. We know even in our best imagination, we can’t even describe this place. If we read and believe the book of Revelation, we see a big feast, and a wedding. We see dancing. We see joy.
This leads me to my first push back on some of the critics of Rob Bell.
When I have talked to people about Love Wins, one of the responses are things like this:
“Does Rob Bell say there is no hell?” or
“Is this the book about hell?”
The blogosphere got into an uproar on his view on hell. One side was concerned, one side defending.
As we were so vigorously defending, arguing, and questioning Bell’s view on Hell, we happened to miss an important fact. It is also one Chan missed as well.
The largest chapter in Love Wins is the chapter on Heaven. On the actual question and the idea of whatever you think about his view specifically on Hell, it is a small portion of the book.
I need this paragraph to sit and resonate for you. I also need to ask this question: How much is the idea of Heaven thought of and talked about nowadays?
Of all the discussion on defending what some have called “the doctrine of hell”, we missed Heaven.
Apparently so did Chan. He responds to everything Rob Bell says in Love Wins except this chapter. And to be fair, he probably had some good things to respond to.
Bell starts us with an actual picture. It’s a Cross going from one end to a beautiful city. There are people walking across to go to the city. Now the Cross is a bridge and it is the only way we can get into this city. If you do not use this Cross, you will fall into this pit with no hope of getting out.
He then takes into some quite funny issues about the traditional idea of Heaven. Things like wondering if there’s swimming in Heaven? Can you play sports in Heaven? And if you can’t, then how can this be Heaven?
Chan on the other hand, approaches this like an elephant in the room. He starts by asking the question, directly from page 21:
“Does everyone go to heaven?”
From here he asks another “Do you want to believe in a God who shows His power by punishing non-Christians and who magnifies His mercy by blessing Christians forever?”
This is an interesting question Chan asks. Bell answers this by perhaps examining some ideas beyond our otherworldly view of what it is actually like and bringing it to a point of what it is suppose to be.
He starts with The Rich Young Ruler. He asks a question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The story in the Bible refers to Matthew 19: 16- 23 from Love Wins pages 26 -29.
Bell goes on to tell the story. Jesus breaks down the commandments. If you want to enter life, then obey my commandments.
Rich Young Ruler: “Which ones?”
Bell brings up a good point. There are 613 commandments in the first 5 books of the Bible. But Jesus says “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother, and love your neighbour as yourself.”
“All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”
Jesus: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven”.
Bell then asks if Jesus missed an evangelistic opportunity. How on earth does this become a conversation about wealth and treasures and not salvation? Bell has a point. There are many times Jesus could have used some good old church evangelistic training.
However, there are many ways to look at this story. One way is to continue to read the story and follow the disciple’s questions after, which is interesting, because they actually gave up everything to follow Jesus. Which Jesus answers “I am the renewal of all things”.
Bell however introduces the concepts of eras, periods of time, and Aion. Aion is a Greek word that has multiple meanings, but in summary it’s a combination of the current world and a world to come.
Now early in Chan’s book, we are introduced to Bell’s Love Wins as a response, specifically to the idea of Universalism, which we will discuss later. Chan doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing the ages until much later, but we will see there is a great difference in interpretation throughout the book.
For the amount of time Bell spent on Heaven, I think Chan missed a mark in not responding to Bell’s, or even stating his own view on Heaven. Chan is famous for such books like Crazy Love and Forgotten God. Books that help paint a picture of God and Heaven. Although I liked the ideas of Bell’s Heaven on Earth, and he painted a beautiful picture of it, talking about how eternal life begins now, our choices and what we do now. And painting an actual picture of Heaven is too simple to paint something so beautiful. I think Bell was understated on the actual place called Heaven. Here is an example from page 58-59.
To summarize, sometimes when Jesus used the word “heaven”, he was simply referring to God, using the name of God.
Second, sometimes when Jesus spoke of Heaven, he was referring to the future coming together of Heaven and Earth in what life calls the age to come.
And third, (and this is where things get really, really interesting) when Jesus talked about Heaven, he was talking about our present eternal, intense, real experiences of joy, peace, and love in this life, this side of the age to come. Heaven for Jesus wasn’t “someday”. It was a present reality.
While I am in complete agreement with Bell that eternal life starts now, I was struck with a thought. I did a quick word count on the words Eternal, Hell and Heaven. The word Eternal occurs in the KJV Bible 47 times. Hell 54 times. The word Heaven: 583 times. We can debate for years how the language actually looks on all of it, but here is my question:
How much do we know or think about the actual place Heaven?
Because Jesus did talk about it. It wasn’t just a replacement for God. He did take it seriously.
For all of the studies we have done to ensure that there is place of eternal punishment and suffering, and the discussion of who is “in” and who is “out”, we have reduced this thought of the place called Heaven into an exclusive country club that those with special privileges and the right amount of award points can get in. All the while, missing the beautiful verses and word pictures in the Bible about this place called Heaven. And the intent God has for ALL OF US to be there.
The experience of Heaven is here to taste, sense, touch, and smell. How brilliant for Bell on helping us to at least start thinking of painting that picture.
How sad is it that Chan doesn’t pick up the paint brush.