September 5, 2011 2011 Reading List Quotes Reviews Thoughts 1

A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived

While I like the book’s title, its subtitle is what actually caught my attention – along with the fact that the fundamental (and not so fundamental for that matter) “Christian” community has screamed out against it. Rob Bell lived up to the hype. His approach toward discussion of the plausibility of non-traditional biblical interpretations is worth the read. Be careful, though. If you have shallow roots, you just might be replanted in the fertile grounds of Unitarian Universalism – well not quite, but somewhere in a nearby field where the bible can still be found.

I actually loved the book. While my convictions don’t align with a great deal of what Rob presents, I actually hope he’s right. I am sure that God calls many to heaven through faith in Jesus Christ (a faith that is actually granted by God’s Spirit to begin with). I am not saddened, however, if I get to heaven and find that he had another set of plans for everyone else.

Here are a few noteworthy quotes from the book:

  • Some Jesuses should be rejected.
  • And that question raises another question. If the message of Jesus is that God is offering the free gift of eternal life through him – a gift we cannot earn by our own efforts, works, or good deeds – and all we have to do is accept and confess and believe, are those verbs? And aren’t verbs actions? Accepting, confessing, believing – those are things we do.
  • Eternal life is less about a kind of time that starts when we die, and more about a quality and vitality of life lived now in connection to God.
  • Eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death.
  • It’s as if we’re currently trying to play the piano while wearing oven mitts.
  • Some words are strong for a reason. We need those words to be that intense, loaded, complex, and offensive, because they need to reflect the realities they describe.
  • Some agony needs agonizing language. Some destruction does make you think of fire. Some betrayal actually feels like you’ve burned. Some injustices do cause things to heat up.
  • Often the people most concerned about others going to hell when they die seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now, while the people most concerned with the hells on earth right now seem the least concerned about hell after death.
  • There are individual hells, and communal, society-wide hells.
  • There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.
  • Jesus did not use hell to try and compel “heathens” and “pagans” to believe in God, so they wouldn’t burn when they die. He talked about hell to very religious people to warn them about the consequences of straying from their God-given calling and identity to show the world God’s love.
  • “Satan,” according to Paul , is actually used by God for God’s transforming purposes.
  • It’s as if Paul is saying, “We’ve tried everything to get his attention, and it isn’t working, so turn him loose to experience the full consequences of his actions.” We have a term for this process. When people pursue a destructive course of action and they can’t be convinced to change course, we say they’re “hell-bent” on it. Fixed, obsessed, unshakable in their pursuit, unwavering in their commitment to a destructive direction. The stunning twist of all of this is that when God lets the Israelites go the way they’re insisting on heading and when Paul “turns people over,” it’s all for good. The point of this turning loose, this letting go, this punishment, is to allow them to live with the full consequences of their choices, confident that the misery they find themselves in will have a way of getting their attention.
  • the word “hell” works quite well. Let’s keep it.
  • In the Bible, God is not helpless, God is not powerless, and God is not impotent.
  • The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever.
  • Untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory. Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t. Reconciliation  brings God glory; endless anguish doesn’t.
  • Which is stronger and more powerful, the hardness of the human heart or God’s unrelenting, infinite, expansive love?
  • Whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it.
  • Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.
  • Do we get what we want? The answer to that is a resounding, affirming, sure, and positive yes. Yes, we get what we want. God is that loving.
  • If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours. That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins.
  • It’s true across the environment. Death gives way to life.
  • The cross and the resurrection are personal.
  • Lose your life and find it, he says. That’s how the world works. That’s how the soul works. That’s how life works when you’re dying to live.
  • That’s what Jesus does. Death and resurrection. Old life for new life; one passes away, the other comes. Friday, then Sunday. You die, and you’re reborn. It’s like that.
  • He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him.
  • He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.
  • Hell is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story.
  • We create hell whenever we fail to trust God’s retelling of our story.
  • That is the secret deep in the hear of many people, especially Christians: they don’t love God. They can’t, because the God they’ve been presented with and taught about can’t be loved. That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.
  • Hell is refusing to trust, and refusing to trust is often rooted in a distorted view of God. Sometimes the reason people have a problem accepting “the gospel” is that they sense that the God lurking behind Jesus isn’t safe, loving, or good. It doesn’t make sense, it can’t be reconciled, and so they say no. They don’t want anything to do with Jesus, because they don’t want anything to do with that God.
  • God is love, and to refuse this love moves us away from it, in the other direction, and that will, by very definition, be an increasingly unloving hellish reality. We do ourselves great harm when we confuse the very essence of God, which is love, with the very real consequences of rejecting and resisting that love, with creates what we can call hell.
  • When the gospel is understood primarily in terms of entrance rather that joyous participation, it can actually serve to cut people off from the explosive, liberating experience of the God who is an endless giving circle of joy and creativity. Life has never been about just “getting in.” It’s about thriving in God’s good world.
  • A discussion about how to “just get into heaven” has no place in the life of a disciple of Jesus, because it’s missing the point of it all. An entrance understanding of the gospel rarely creates good art. Or innovation. Or a number of other things. It’s a cheap view of the world, because it’s a cheap view of God.
  • Deep down, they believe God has let them down. Which is often something they can’t share with those around them, because they are the leaders who are suppose to have it all together.
  • Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God.
  • His problem is his “goodness.” His rule-keeping and law-abiding confidence in his own works has actually served to distance him from his father.
  • The father’s love cannot be earned, and it cannot be taken away. It just is.
  • Forgiveness is unilateral. God isn’t waiting for us to get it together, to clean up, shape up, get up – God has already done it.
  • Whatever you’ve been told about the end – the end of your life, the end of time, the end of the world – Jesus passionately urges us to live like the end is here, now, today.