Your… arrogant pretence at being the moral guardians of the universe strikes me as being hollow, Q. I see no evidence that you’re guided by a superior moral code or any code whatsoever. You may be nearly omnipotent, and I don’t deny that your… parlour tricks are very impressive. But morality, I don’t see it. I don’t acknowledge it, Q! I would put human morality against the Q’s any day. And perhaps that’s the reason that we fascinate you so – because our puny behaviour shows you a glimmer of the one thing that evades your omnipotence: a moral center. And if so, I can think of no crueller irony than that you should destroy this young woman, whose only crime is that she’s too human.
Capt. Picard to Q in Star Trek.
The very name strikes something within us. It evokes an emotion, it causes a description. Some might describe God as,
In the Jewish tradition, they will not say G-D name as it is that powerful.
All of this makes a simple concept. God is all of these things. He is worthy of worship. He is worthy of honour and praise.
To the point that many great things in the Bible have been written about Him, including this from Psalm 103:8-11.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbour his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him
If only it was that simple.
It would appear not all of us feel this way about God. A well known quote from Richard Dawkins who wrote the God Delusion:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Some believe. Some have some questions. God’s existence, power, knowledge. Is God is a He or She? Can God make a rock so big that He cannot pick it up? If God exists then why all this evil in the world?
How can a loving God send people He “created” to Hell?
Which leads me to a theory. I don’t think that the debate between Love Wins vs Erasing Hell is not actually about Hell. It’s about the very character of God.
In order to unpack this, we need to go back to the beginning of Rob Bell’s chapter on Hell. Bell describes a talk he was doing in San Francisco. There were several protestors on the sidewalk in front of the theatre, basically warning people about listening to Bell. Bell happened to notice the back of one of the protestors’ jacket.
“Turn or Burn”
Is that the sum of it? From page 64.
“That’s how it is-because that is what God is like, correct? God is loving and kind and full of grace and mercy; unless there isn’t confession and repentance and salvation in this lifetime, at which point God punishes forever. That’s the Christian story right?
Chan would nod yes. Chan would then ask about how high your view of God is.
Although Bell and Chan have specific chapters dealing with God, they have a theme of God throughout the book. Bell attempts to portray a God who is good and kind to all of creation. Because he would argue “the good news is better than that.”
While Chan would certainly not dismiss God’s goodness, he would remind us of “who’s’ boss”. Moreover he would remind us of our humans place in the discussion. Throughout the book, Chan challenges our thoughts of God. He asks questions about what we would want or what we could believe about God. He leads us to the point that it doesn’t really matter what we believe about God, God will be what God wants to be.
For a specific example Chan starts His chapter “What if God.?” Romans 9 verse 20-23. This verse has a theme of the potter and the clay. Here is the verse from the NIV.
20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'”[a] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory
In other words God is the Potter and we are the Clay. How arrogant of us to question Gods actions. Because as Chan said in the start of the book:
“God has the right to do WHATEVER He pleases”
I need to let that sit there. Because that sentence has some serious implications. Perhaps we need to repeat this.
“God has the right to do WHATEVER He pleases.”
Early in the book, Chan argues that God has a moral will and a decreed will. Chan points us to Judges Chapters 13-16. The story is about Samson and his love for Philistine women. Specifically Judges tells the story of how he wanted to marry one. His parents were opposed to the marriage. Example Verse 3.
“Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all of our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” Samson “Get her for me; She’s the right one for me.”
The story goes on to say that they didn’t know that this marriage was from the Lord who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines. At the time they were ruling over Israel.
Samson likes the woman. The woman is impressed as he tears up a lion. They get married. Samson makes a feast and finds thirty companions. He tells them a riddle no one could answer for three days. The woman gets upset as she is feeling tricked and stumped. The story concludes that the Spirit of the Lord comes upon Samson and he destroys 30 men and heads back to his father’s house. The wife goes on to be with a friend of hers.
Chan argues that it was not God’s moral will for Samson and Philistine to get together. But He decreed it so He can fight against the Philistines.
Chan also points us to 1 Timothy 2 where Paul writes to Timothy God “wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” He points out that we have to dig out what the word Want means. Is it like me going to getting a coffee refill or if Christians aren’t sexually pure? Just because some aren’t or you didn’t get a coffee refill doesn’t mean God isn’t getting what God wants.
Chan stated in his book that Bells view of Hell comes from the Middle Ages. Perhaps one can argue that Chan’s view of God is from the 1500s.
To point to this, we need to look at a guy named John Calvin. Calvin lived from 1504-1564. He expounded on some thoughts of predestination, absolute sovereignty of God and the damnation of the soul. He basically believed that all events have been willed by God.
So in the purest of the argument you can argue that God willed 9/11, the Holocaust, starvation in Africa.
The writings still have a huge impact on today and have influenced many pastors and people. It is called Calvinism.
So in other words, everything that has happened on earth is God’s will. God is in complete control. He has allowed it to happen.
To get back to Bell: If he is in a coffee shop with Chan and for that matter, Calvin discussing this. He might ask a question like he did on page 102.
“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 on earth?”
Some have argued that Love Wins only asked questions and gave no answers. However when an argument like the one Chan is presenting to us comes, it’s important that we pause and ask some questions. Because if we simply think that God “can do WHATEVER He pleases” without examining the very nature of God, then we are being irresponsible. Which I believe Chan was explaining here.
If you disagree that Chan was being irresponsible, you would certainly have to admit that there were some things that were a head scratcher. Example page 132-133.
“It has taken me forty three years to finally confess that I have been embarrassed by God’s actions. In my arrogance, I believed I could make Him more attractive or palatable if I covered up some of His actions.”
He goes on.
He points out that in our humanity, we cannot truly understand God’s ways. Because as Isaiah 55 says “His ways are higher than ours”.
I realize as I’m writing this, I might be coming across a little snappy towards Chan. While, I think it is true in my personal view that God is perfect and we won’t understand all of His ways, I really was not comfortable where Chan left us.
Bell paints a different picture of God. In order to help us flesh it out, let’s imagine there is response that God can do WHATEVER He pleases. Bell would argue that he actually cannot. God has given us complete free will for us to make our choices. Why?
Because God is love. And true love demands freedom. The freedom to choose. The freedom to have consequences. From page 104 of his chapter “Does God get what God wants?”
“If at any point, God overrides, co-opts or hijacks the human heart, robbing us of the freedom to choose, then God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is.
Bell will take us into some interesting places here. But he starts with “I believe the intention of God”. Incidentally, to help Chan answer the question of what the word “want” is, the word in the Greek is “thelō” which means to intend. Bell shows and paints a powerful picture from the Old Testament on how good God is. He uses 14 different verses to bring this out.
He will go even further to bring out this “want” that Chan speaks of by clarifying that God has a goal. And that is us back to Him. And that He will never stop.
Even after death.
That statement makes people feel uncomfortable with it. The idea of even having a second chance after death. The very word Death seems so final. The two points I think that are being intended is there was church history and some views of Christianity that do support this theory. One such person Bell briefly leads us to is a man named Origen, a 3rd century writer. Chan would expand more calling Origen a leader in the idea of Universalism.
Just to touch on Universalism briefly as it is a theme; Chan does very well in expanding a bit on the various ideas of Universalism. And not simplifying it to just “Universalism.” Origen was what is called a Christian Universalist which basically believes all will be reconciled to God.
But the issue is not really Universalism, but the Universe.
I’m not sure where I stand on the idea of second chances after death. However, I do see God’s relationship with the Universe important and vital. Chan and Bell have quite a contrasting view on this. If I was to diagram how exactly I saw the difference, it would be like this.
Bell: God_ Human
In other words, for Chan God was above humans, and Bell God related to humans.
Bell points out that no matter what the language is, the intent for God is to bring us back. And that He will do what He can to do it. We will choose if we want that or not, but God will not manipulate us.
Chan points out that it doesn’t matter what we think or what we want to believe, it still comes down to God making a final judgement.
I have a few problems with Chan’s points about God. I see his view of a God that is distant and objective. It feels like God is a journalist that is reporting a news story and the emotions have to be shut off, because we are here for His glory and worship. We don’t have the full capacity to understand Him, We don’t need to either. We need to worship Him.
He really dismisses questions or conversation of some of the deepest things of why people don’t believe or even those who do as to why things happen. He calls it arrogant of us and putting us on the same level as God. I would disagree. I would say that when I look at the questions asked of God in the Bible, it lead people to REALLY worship Him. When we open the floor to questions, it will lead us to worship Him.
Here’s an interesting sentence from page 135.
“The fact is, Scripture is filled with divine actions that don’t fit our human standards of logic and morality. But they don’t need to, because we are the clay and He is the potter.”
Bells view of God, in my opinion is one where God gives us free will, but is involved. While Bell doesn’t discuss “Why would God?” type’s of questions, I saw his view of freedom brings a God that was involved. Opposite to Chan’s distinct and objective God, Bell showed the involved and passionate God that has a sense of morals. One that wants us to understand Him, be involved with Him and either worship or reject Him.
An example is his explanation of Revelation. We so often talk about a new Heaven, but John saw a new earth too. Here is an example from page 113.
“First we read that there is no place in this new world for murder and destruction and deceit. There can’t be because this new world is free from these evils, which means that it is free from those who would insist on continuing to perpetuate those evils.”
Which leads me to this question:
What is your view of God?
I know many “non-religious” people who truly believe in something that is out there and there is a God of love.
I know many Christians who truly are vessels and understand to the fullest extent that God loves them and are amazed by that every day.
I know many who are not sure, have question, wonder why things happen. Some of these things have impacted people in the deepest personal way that we will never imagine. Some done in a religious setting with the name “Jesus” attached to it.
Even if you are one that doesn’t believe in God, I think you would have thought about God. His morals, His tricks, and why He does what He does. I don’t think it’s arrogant, I think it’s healthy to ask these questions.
Because your view of God affects everything else.