We begin our first look at Love Wins vs Erasing Hell by looking at the concept behind both.
Rob Bell begins the same way he begins his video, he starts with the story of an art show at his church. One of the pieces had a quote from Gandhi. Someone had put a piece of paper in it that said “Reality Check. Gandhi is in Hell.”
Francis Chan starts us off sharing one of his saddest days. The day his grandma passed away. According to what the Bible says, he knew that his grandma was off to never ending suffering.
It is here that I think we need to take a step back. The reason we are discussing the fate of Gandhi and Grandma. They passed away.
The topic of death is a serious topic. It’s not one of great comfort. The very word causes an instant reaction. Now add a person you know in front of it.
Best Friend died.
Those sentences have an impact on you in a different way.
Now think of these sentences. You might read these in the news.
That might have caused a different reaction to you. Both are similar in that there is an emotion to it. The significant difference depended on the situation. Now why is that different?
Could it be how the person lived their life? Does that not impact you and the people around you? Of course it does! And that’s where we remove the simplicity of the whole issue.
There are many groups that focus and support those that are in grief. Studies have shown there are phases and steps of grief. For example, the Kubler-Ross model says there are 5 stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There is no set timeline on when this is complete. There may be some that know this from personal experience.
Chan consistently points out in the book to let God be God.
Here’s an interesting story. Jesus (who Chan would agree is God) had a friend named Lazarus die. If we go with the formula of knowing Jesus gets you into heaven, Lazarus is there.
Jesus could have said “no big deal. He’s in Heaven. I’ll see him in heaven” and continue on with His ministry. But He didn’t. He went back to a place where people were throwing rocks at Him to be with His friends.
He goes back and His friends are weeping and grieving. And then there is this simple verse.
Chan argues that God can do whatever He wants, which we will dig into another blog, but here Jesus wept. Then the Scriptures say raised Him from the dead.
What does this story tell me? As much as we would like to speculate and/or simplify the whole idea of the afterlife by a sinner’s prayer, the way we leave Earth is significant. It tells me that God is interested in what happens on Earth. It also tells me that God looks far beyond a technicality and/or fire insurance. And He takes grief seriously.
I think Bell attempts to bring that point out. He does this by starting with an acknowledgement of questions about the idea of the sinner’s prayer. He builds it by asking about the sinner’s prayer. Then he goes on to ask about the fate of the fifteen year old atheist, or a new baby. Then brings it to the way we live life here having an impact. (Pg 4-6)
Chan, for his part recognizes the seriousness of the discussion. He admits early that he was “scared to death” about writing a book about hell. He actually goes as far as encouraging people to “weep, pray and fast” over this topic. “Because we can’t be wrong.” So to give him credit, he is taking his position seriously.
Overall, I think Christianity has not been great with dealing specifically with grief and loss. Bell and Chan for that matter seemed married and focused more on the doctrine of a Heaven and a Hell, more than the personal impact of the actual loss of a close one. Chan in his seriousness focused on souls not people.
I think the idea of an eternal place or afterlife is a natural comfort for people. It’s a place of hope to see people we have lost again. Or for those who are in pain and had a season or lifetime of sickness, they get to go to a place where the pain goes away. For those who have lost people to unspeakable evils, the idea of the evildoers getting what they rightly deserve. There’s that saying “there’s a special place in hell for those people”. I think the emotions of the issue outweigh the issue of exact doctrine. Particularly when we are speculating about what we think exactly happens.
Bell and Chan take us in the next chapters into their concepts of Heaven and who is in. That’s where we will go next.