Rob Bell has me thinking lately. His book Love Wins has stirred a heated debate these past few weeks over the subtleties of eternal damnation. I admit I haven't read it. I've done what most others have done.....read a few excerpts, seen a few interviews and discussed it for hours with other Christians. So this is NOT a book review. These are my views on the topic of heaven and hell, which have been brought to the surface and refined by the recent discussion.
Two questions about hell keep coming up. The first is, "is hell real?" The second is, "if it is real, who's going?" We all have to wrestle with these questions. As far as I can tell, the answer to the first question is...no, hell is not real. It exists, but it's not real. What I mean to say is that hell is not natural. Hell is the eternal manifestation of falsehood. In this way, it's the opposite of real. God is real. In fact, he is reality itself. Heaven is to be in the perpetual presence of God. To be anywhere else is to exist in non-reality. Comparing heaven and hell is like comparing a carrot with a french fry. The carrot is real. It's intended. It's natural. It's here on purpose. The french fry, when held in the shadow of the carrot, can't be said to be real. It's fake. It's fabricated. It's here, but it's presence is not a result of divine volition. (An exception shall be made for Wendy's fries. Those things are dang good.)
Now, on to some scripture. In Matthew 25, through the lens of a parable, we get a look at the judgement seat. Here, the Son of Man is separating the people as a Shepard would separate sheep from goats. The long and short of it is, the ones cast into hell are the ones who refused to lay down their lives for others. Interesting side note...the basis for judgement in this parable is behavior, not belief. heaven and hell have more to do with ethics than theology. More on that later. My main point here is that in this parable, hell is described as having been made "for the devil and his angels." Hell came about as a fabricated consequence for those who rejected divine reality. Unnatural actions breed unnatural consequences. Also, it was made for spiritual rebels, not people. people experiencing hell are experiencing something that was not intended for them. Actually, I think a pretty good definition of hell is to receive what you were not intended to receive. So hell is not real. the very essence of it is fakeness.
Heaven was made for us. Hell was made for the devil. If that's true, then why doesn't everyone go to heaven? Do people go to hell because going to heaven is so hard? No. People go to hell because going to heaven is so easy. Heaven is automatic. It's natural. It's already built into the plan. That's what throws us. We don't trust anything we can't make. Some of us would rather inherit a hell made by our hands than a heaven made by the hands of another. The ultimate irony of heaven is that the only way to miss it is to try to get there on your own terms. -we'll get to the second question next time