I consider myself to be an avid people watcher. I am a symbolic fly on the wall and have been quite good at it. Sometimes in parties, I’ll tend to sit back and observe all of the connections being made. It really is a neat way to observe and notice things that are going on; the energy of the room. Who is interested in whom? Who’s not? Who’s talking about what?
I also tend to somehow find myself in a middle of the table when it’s a group of people eating at the restaurant. I listen to both conversations. I’ll turn my head left and listen, and turn my head right and listen.
In all of the people watching I have done, all the parties I have been at, can I be honest? I have never taken the time to think about if people are going to Heaven or Hell. I haven’t done this before I read these books, and I won’t after.
I know some might think that I’m a horrible Christian for it. It is quite different from what Francis Chan did when he was in Starbucks while writing this book. Here’s an excerpt from page 72.
“The place buzzes with life. Meanwhile, I sit here reading passage after passage after passage, which all says that some of these people are going to hell. It sickens me to say that, and I can’t explain how conflicted I feel right now. There are at least a dozen people within ten feet of me right here, right now, that may end up in the agony that I’m studying. What do I do? Do I keep writing? Keep studying? Should I bag this whole book thing and start building relationships with them? How can I believe these passages and sit here silently?”
I remember my decision to Christianity. I was invited to go to a play at the church across the street from my house. I’ve been to church before, but I knew the rules. So I dressed up. My suit was right out of Don Johnson from Miami Vice.
I head to the play. The title of the play is “Heaven’s Gate, Hell’s Flames”. The premise is that it’s different people in different scenarios and they all die. They head to a Judgement Day. If there name is in the book of life, then they would go to Heaven. If not, Satan would come (with a microphone) and take them to hell. It was a terrible play.
But at the end of the play, a guy comes out. He uses the same microphone and asks this question. What would happen if you went across the street and got hit by a car? Well that did it! I had to insure my walk across the street. I went up and accepted Jesus. I don’t know if this is important, but the guy who played Satan was the person that prayed for me.
Now some of you might see this and say “See, this is an effective way to share the gospel.” You were saved! Well while I was there, there was a very beautiful and peaceful feeling that I never felt before that point, and there were some questions in the back of my mind. Questions like “Am I now a Jehovah’s Witness? Does that mean I have to go downtown and hand out those magazines?” I didn’t want to do that. They didn’t seem fun or have much life to them.
The truth is the reason I accepted Jesus was to make sure I don’t get hit by a car and go to hell.
Now during that process, I have made some significant personal and spiritual choices which I feel is the right decision. The reason for me personally has a lot more to do with living than dying. This is where we will go next:
After both books unpack the concepts of the afterlife and God, they deal with what to do with the information given. As a matter of fact, the last half of Love Wins has everything to do with the very topic of living and where life comes from. Here is a quote from Page 126 in the chapter Dying to Live.
“Paul takes something we experience in relationships and says essentially, “That’s what happens on the cross.” God has made peace with all things”
So when Jesus died on the cross was it the end of the sacrificial system or was it the reconciling of all things?”
Bell goes on to very effectively challenge and question if we really believe that when Jesus rose it was done. Rather than to simplify it into one particular word or metaphor, to describe this, Bell expands the beauty of Jesus being the point
Chan for his part shows some sensitivity to his readers. He realizes this is a deep and tough issue that can be overwhelming. However, he does not let up in the intent of sobering you up to the concept. In his chapter, What Does this have to do with Me? he starts off by explaining that he stopped writing and allowing the passages of hell speak to him. Page 117,
“I didn’t think about writing; I didn’t try to figure out all the nitty-gritty details of the text. I just let the New Testament speak in all power and simplicity, and here are the shocking things that God hit me with.”
Chan goes on to point to a verse found in Matthew 7:22 and 23 which says this:
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
Reading this is strong language and if you do what Chan recommends, it is sobering. And to be frank in terms of dealing with the tough passages on hell, I felt Chan was better than Bell in addressing them. Bell went to a more political route and I think it is a fair criticism that he avoided really dealing with them.
However, the direction they go in with the rest of the book is interesting. Particularly reading them side by side. Chan and Bell agree that Jesus is the point and the actions on the Cross was enough. Chan even agrees with Bell about the issues of racism and dealing with the poor as being extremely important.
Where Chan and Bell separate is why. Chan points to everything coming down to a final judgement as to what your reward in heaven will be. His final chapters have a strong theme of assuring your place by knowing Jesus. And been if you know Jesus, you need to make sure you know Jesus. Example page 148 from the chapter Don’t Be Overwhelmed.
…” However in light of our discussion, it is fitting that I beg you to be absolutely sure that you are not headed there. (hell). This is for everyone. Pastors, leaders, seekers, skeptics- no one knows what you are thinking right now. Let down your guard, and take time to deal honestly with the issue.
Do you know Him? Are you secure in Him? Are you in love with Him?”
Now just picture Bell responding to this comment with this comment from page 173
“Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and dies later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in a conscious torment in hell.”
Chan would say “Sorry but yes”.
Bell would go on in page 174.
“If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good.”
“Loving one moment, vicious the next. Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye”
Perhaps you should do what Chan did and stop reading and let that resonate with you. Especially if you agree with what Chan says.
For me, and this is where I will enter the conversation, I know that God is better than that. Can He do what He wants? That’s a bigger answer then simply Yes He can.
From my personal experience, He chooses to be good. He is good. He is gracious. He is merciful. And it has taken a long time for that to simply be more than words and sink in.
As much as people have argued and questioned if Bell is a universalist or if he believes in a Hell, and as much as there is some fair things to push back from, there is an important thing he said that was missed.
“What you believe about Heaven and Hell will say a lot about the kind of God you like.”
Let me say this: If you are one who wishes to share the gospel by delivering tracts that ask where people are going when they die, you are missing the ENTIRE POINT of the gospel.
The word Gospel means “Good News”. Have you received good news? Have you got a promotion? Asked someone on a date and they said yes? Asked someone to marry you and they said yes? Have won a championship? How does that make you feel? GOOD!!
Think about that.
Both Chan and Bell would agree with me. The Good News is relevant NOW. The Good News can start NOW. It impacts us NOW.
It’s not insurance that we won’t be hit by a car.