“Then all H—ck broke loose!”

“Then all H—ck broke loose!”

Posted on 17. Mar, 2011 by Tim Stoner in Articles, Christian Life, Christianity, Culture, Essays, Love Wins

“And then, all He—ck broke loose!” This was Chad Myers’ self-censored description of the tsunami that hit northern Japan on Friday morning, March 11. The video footage was awful. The geologist had it exactly right. There is no more suitable word to describe the stark terror of this terrible event than Hell. No other word in the English language better connects the reality of intense suffering with the despair of experiencing a monstrous and cataclysmic catastrophe. And this made me think of Love Wins, Rob Bell’s book about Hell which has just hit the local bookshelves.

Though I am still reading it, what seems clear is that Bell’s marketing teaser is pretty accurate. In his video-pod he boils down the essence of the traditional Gospel to the assertion that God is going to send you to Hell unless you believe in Jesus. The questions he asks is, “How could that God ever be good? And how could that ever be good news?” In his book he repeats these questions and several dozen more.

In Love Wins Bell is launching a serious critique against the orthodox belief in the reality of conscious, eternal torment for those who reject Christ. I will read it through to the end before engaging his ideas in detail, but in his preface he spells it out:

“A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear” (Preface, vi).

Now, the really bad news hidden beneath Bell’s sympathetic and generous dismissal of the church’s historic teaching about an eternal Hell is that it drives evil and suffering, whether great and small, completely outside the providence of God. A good God who is too good to condemn to Hell is incapable of having anything to do with the major traumas of my life, except to (after the fact) put a kindly but impotent hand on my shoulder and sympathize with my pain. This good-natured, frustrated bystander to suffering can offer us no real hope or comfort at all.

The conclusion is obvious: God has nothing to do with the present calamity in Japan or Haiti’s devastation not so long ago, or any of the tragedies of life. Humans are stripped of hope that even in the bottomless depths of our sorrow God is purposefully, mysteriously at work in a multitude of ways and at a myriad of levels, disciplining, warning, protecting, training, refining, punishing, drawing, strengthening—and yes, loving. Stripping from God permission to “create darkness and light” leaves a major aspect of human reality devoid of His direct, gracious, and infinitely wise control.

What seems utterly inconceivable to the culture-current mind and contemporary teachers such as Bell is that God could be at both times good and severe; that He could be gracious and infinitely powerful; that He could forgive and yet also have the temerity to judge; that He could be both Father and King. These are all mutually exclusive categories for the post-modern student and (we now can say with conviction), to leading spiritual teachers as well. Love and omnipotence are radically contradictory to those who equate authority with oppression. Hence, Bell’s anxious flight from all concepts of eternal punishment and infinite judgment at the hands of a Holy and Loving God.

One thing we have learned from post-moderns is that objectivity is a myth. We are bent and biased by a multitude of factors toward or against just about everything that matters. And one of the problems with this subtle enculturation is that we walk around oblivious to how the tint of our glasses governs how we see the world. This is why C.S. Lewis observed that “Every age has its outlook. . . . We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

The reason why it is unwise to only read books written by living people, or the recently deceased, is that we can all be unwitting participants of the same cultural blindness. Reading only cutting-edge authors can thus be an exercise in reinforcing paradigms that are not only wrong but dangerous—the blind leading the blind, so to speak. “We may be sure,” Lewis goes on, “that the characteristic blindness of the 20th century. . .lies where we have never suspected it. . . .”

Following Lewis’s sage advice I began reading a book that collected some amazingly old sermons. They were preached around 389AD by John Chrysostom, one of the Early Church’s best-known and most compelling preachers. He was in his time as popular as Rob Bell is in ours. As it happens, the last sermon of his I read was preached after a terrible earthquake hit the city of Antioch where his congregation was located.

Three days of wrenching anxiety and sadness have past and this Church Father begins by asking two penetrating questions. They are posed by a teacher who is broken by the devastation his city has undergone but is looking at it through eyes that are submissive to the revelation of God in both testaments. What he asks cuts to the heart of the assumptions which drive Rob Bell’s rejection of orthodoxy.

These are his two questions:

“Have you seen God’s power?”

“Have you seen God’s love for mankind?”

In two short sentences St. Chrys lays out a full-orbed, unapologetic, biblical cosmology. He asks his flock whether they caught sight of the greatness of God’s sovereign power and His limitless love in the midst of the cataclysm they just experienced. For this eminent teacher, these are not antithetical concepts. “His power, because he shook the world,” he continues, “His love, because he made the tottering world firm again; or rather, you saw both His power and His love in both. For the earthquake showed His power, and its cessation showed His love, because He shook the earth and made the world fast again, because He set it upright when it was rocking and about to fall.”

This wise pastor is teaching all of us that in all catastrophes we are to see two things; not love only, or power only. If we deny either, we slide into error and deception and, if we are teachers, we will take many down with us. “The earthquake has gone by,” observes this ancient and godly Bible teacher, “but let the fear remain; that tossing has run its course, do not let discretion depart with it. . . . Consider, if God had chosen to demolish everything, what we would have suffered. I say this, so that the fear of these events may remain sharp in you and may keep your resolution firm. He shook us, but he did not destroy us. If He had wished to destroy us, He would not have shaken us.” (On Wealth and Poverty, St. John Chrysostom, trans. Catharine Roth, St. Vladimir’s Press, 1981). 

These assurances which may appear glib and insensitive force us to ask: where is this supposed divine love in the face of horror, devastation and the scattered multitudes of dead bodies? And this is where we come face to face with the inescapable scandal of holy love. This is what is ruled out automatically by Bell’s sentimentalized assumptions about the love of God. This popular love is sympathetic, it is not distilled, pure and unrelentingly holy.

For Bell, God’s love is circumscribed by the frailty of our own human feelings. Bell repeats the same dreadful mistake made by so many teachers scandalized by God’s self-disclosure through the ages. Rather than humbly submit, he deconstructs what is unappealing and crafts a more tolerable God in man’s image.

This is the choice St. Chrys refuses because he knows what all the great teachers of the church have known all the way back to Moses: God defines God, not man. Everything He has written about Himself in Holy Scriptures, from beginning to end, is essential for all of life and for becoming the kind of people that truly honors Him—the kind of people to whom He says: “Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Mt. 25:34).

St. Chrys, writing with the gravitas of a wisdom and a courage not of this world, faces the scandal straight on: “But since He did not wish to destroy us,” he states, “the earthquake came in advance like a herald, forewarning everyone of the anger of God, in order that we might be improved by fear and escape the actual retributions.”

Is it even possible for us in this day and in this age to be able to hear what this Father is saying, along with the mighty host who preceded and followed him? Cataclysms are mercy. Catastrophes are warnings. Or so they declare. These events are massive red flags waving high in the sky crying out at those living their own personal, private lives: “Take heed, it is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment!” (Heb. 9:27 KJV)

But where there is no danger of an infinitely painful, eternal and irrevocable separation from God, then tragedies are simply random, meaningless, and ultimately hopeless events full of sound and fury but signifying nothing. But if they are reminders that God is not willing that any should perish but all should come to repentance, then they are severe mercies. This is why Bell’s dismissal is so dangerous—it muffles the piercing sound of the claxon as it shrieks out insistent warnings of the oncoming tsunami.

But, he asks a fair question: How can the threat of Hell be good news for anyone? The answer is given again by St. Chrys whose intellect and emotions were fully submitted to the Word of God: “When and why is the threatened Day of Judgment so full of agony and anguish?” he asks. “In it a stream of fire is rolling before God’s face and the books of our deeds are opened in front of Him. The Day itself is depicted as burning like an oven with angels flying about.” Then, anticipating Bell, he inquires: “How can God then be good and merciful and full of loving kindness to man?” His answer? “Even in this is He merciful and does He show the greatness of His compassion, for He holds these terrors out before us that being compelled by them, we might be awakened to the desire of the kingdom.” St. Chrysostom, Homilies on II Timothy, Homily III (my updating).

The threat of Hell, like the pain of dreadful catastrophes are reminders that there is so much more at stake than getting through life being kind to others and the environment. Like angry sirens, they startle us with these very unpleasant wails that hurt our ears and interrupt our sleep. They blare: “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens–so that only what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, let us worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:26-29).

If nothing else, Bell’s book has performed a crucial service. It forces upon us a choice: take another sleeping pill or be awakened from sweet slumber before all Hell really breaks loose.

I, for one, at least am grateful for that.

 

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25 Responses to ““Then all H—ck broke loose!””

  1. David Reyes

    17. Mar, 2011

    Love this post Tim. I’m having a conversation with a friend who’s an atheist and another who’s questioning his Christianity and I was wondering if you’d mind if I reposted this on facebook to spur our conversation. I’m working at the Glen Eyrie bookstore in Colorado Springs right now and recently recommended and sold two of your books. I love your contribution to the many dialogues of life. Thanks for fearlessly putting it out there!

  2. Krista

    17. Mar, 2011

    Thank you for writing this, for reminding us that God is powerful and good and not bound by the boxes that we try to put him in. There is so much said about natural disasters and God - some offensive, some repulsive. But this perspective, that it is God’s power and God’s mercy, working together to accomplish God’s purposes, is a wonderful reminder. In an age when God is being daily made into man’s image, thank you for the reminder that we are His, He is God. Our job is not to justify Him or excuse him or sanitize Him, but to submit to Him.

  3. Tim Stoner

    18. Mar, 2011

    Congratulations on your position. I envy your view out the back and side windows, or front door–I can’t recall which. What a luscious location! May you sell many, many more books ; ) And of course, you have blanket permission to repost anything I post anywhere at any time, without paying me one tiny, red cent in royalties. Is that amazing or what?

  4. David Beelen

    18. Mar, 2011

    Tim,
    Great post.
    It reminded me of what Jesus said about the Tower of Siloam in Luke 13…..here is what he says:
    “…those 18 who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others lving in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
    It strikes me that Jesus does not challenge their assumption that this is God’s judgement.
    Neither does he challenge their assumption that the tower fell on them because they were guilty.
    Neither does he challenge their assumption that this was of God’s hand behind the scenes.
    What he does challenge is their assumption that those who did not die (the questioners) were less guilty than the unfortunate ones who got hit by falling stones.
    And he tells them the message behind the falling stones:
    Repent!
    So…..is it an act of mercy. God is giving them warning that unless they turn from their ways, they will perish.
    So, if Jesus were commenting on the hell that is breaking loose now in Japan, would he not say the same thing to us? And wouldn’t he be roundly criticized for being insensitive?
    And wouldn’t they all be wrong?
    As I watch the news and see the scenes of destruction and pain….I, for one, need to hear Luke 13 a whole lot more than the weak theology that I hear my own heart spouting….about how God “allowed” this ….sort of weakly giving in to events that are “sort of” in his control.
    Actually, God is quite sensitive. Giving me fair warning of the wrath to come. Loving us by letting us know the extent of evil and that we have time to repent.
    I am warned.
    God help us.
    He did!

  5. Tim Stoner

    18. Mar, 2011

    Absolutely. Hell is a God’s wake up call. Ironically, so is Bell’s book. It is forcing us to face up to what we have declared we believe (timidly, with shame and embarrassment for years). Love Wins is calling us out. It’s calling those wanting to be nice, cool and (at the same time) biblical to stand up and declare your colors like a man–and take the sword in the neck (metaphorically–or not), if need be.

  6. Luke

    18. Mar, 2011

    Hey Tim,

    Once again, I applaud you for being up-front and unapologetic about the cold, hard truth of things. That’s why I loved The God Who Smokes, and that’s why I continue to follow your posts. I completely agree with you that we seem to be living in a culture that embraces God the Lover, but not God the Father.

    One thing I think that conversations like this will end up veering towards is the inevitable question of Why? I think the reason some people may steer clear of associating God with tragedies like this is that the next logical step after accepting that God’s power may, in fact, be the source of this devastating event is to examine the Why? behind it all. And while some people may come up with satisfactory answers, that has usually proved to be a fruitless endeavor in my own life.

    You have a tough road ahead of you tackling this subject, but I think you can do it. Keep doing what you’re doing Tim!

    Dios te bendiga!

    Luke

  7. Phil S.

    18. Mar, 2011

    Tim - very insightful as usual, thanks. Looking forward to your follow up articles on this theme!

  8. Kyle Douglass

    18. Mar, 2011

    Tim, well done. I always appreciate your sense of historical context and it’s a reminder (which Rob mentions also in his piece on Good Morning America’s website) that we are just another link in the long chain of sinners and saints who have for ages been wrestling with God over these big questions. Is there an older one than “Can a good God allow suffering?” (isn’t Job the oldest book in the Bible?).

    I respect Rob. I spent time at Mars when I was in G.R. and I learned a lot from him. My main take away was the repetitive teaching that Christianity is not about tickets to heaven, but about God’s transformative work in our lives now, that He’s Lord now, not just someday but here, in this moment. This was a powerful motivation in my effort to get involved with Orphan Justice Mission (as we discussed at that first meeting in the M-6 Panera) and still informs my Christian worldview. I’ve also known he’s been theologically controversial in the past, and I have given him grace, knowing that all of us, like it or not, get something wrong, possibly even our strongest convictions. Yet what I witnessed during my time at Mars was a sincere love of Christ, an appreciation for the scriptures and call for faith-based action (and some of the best worship I’ve ever been a part of).

    That being said, this one has me worried. I think it’s extremely difficult to argue that Hell is not Hell (even if you rely on the faulty assumption that God some how changed between the Old and New Testaments). God is not clear on everything, much to the surprise of my more fundamental friends. I have always appreciated Rob’s emphasis on the discussion, or the “white space” surrounding the black characters on the pages of scripture, as he calls it. This is not saying there isn’t truth or that somethings can’t be known for sure, but the very fact that God has decided to entrust his record to stories, poetry and letters says that he’s okay with us having questions, with having to dig and debate and wrestle to find truth. Hell is certainly one of those topics in which we are given only small snippets of and we ought to be careful not to claim we know all there is to know about it. What the scriptures do make clear, however, outside of hyperbole or metaphor, is that it exists, it will suck and is for those who have rejected Jesus Christ. Hard, yes, but that’s the Bible, so I appreciate your point that God defines God, not man, and He has decided to show us all of his qualities, Love and all the other traits that help us understand what holy love is. I will read Rob’s book and hold onto my hope that he’s not going where everyone says he’s going. I remain indebted to much of his teaching, but if he has become a universalist, well, that’s lame and shows a blatant disregard for core teachings of scripture.

    Just a few left over thoughts:

    I think your position that Rob can’t conceive of a God who causes, engages in, is present during suffering is faulty. I have not read his book Drops Like Stars, but I think that’s the whole idea, that God actually uses suffering in our lives to create beauty. Mars Hill has also used Lent in a very orthodox sense as a time of reflection on human suffering and the Passion narrative.

    Also, for those railing Rob and triumphantly, boldly, cockily celebrating the existence of Hell out of a sense of pious scriptural orthodoxy, I would say be careful (not talking about you here :) ). One of my greatest frustrations with Rob’s opposition is their arrogance. For example, I once heard John MacAurther on the radio essentially insulting Rob, not just his theology or his teachings, but him personally. And the now famous tweet from John Piper “Farewell, Rob Bell.” Rob’s teaching may be dangerous, but the posture and behavior of some of our best evangelical theologians fits easily into the definition of hypocrite. The write well about the Spirit of Christ in our lives, but don’t present it well in public. The one thing the universalists may have going for them is that they have a more complete understanding of the terribleness of Hell, and more love for those who would be/are doomed to such a fate than those of us who so boldly talk of the judgment of God because we believe we are protected from it. They simply can’t hold the tension between love and holiness and so remove it rather than allowing God to remain above a perceived paradox. Evangelicals may have it right by acknowledging God’s judgement, but I would love to see those who fight so vehemently for Hell’s existence work just as hard keeping people out of it. And that takes way more than just clean cut doctrine.

  9. Roger Zylstra

    18. Mar, 2011

    Hi Tim,Thanks for your comments on the book “Love Wins”
    We just bought Rob Bell’s book and are halfway through
    Reading it; enough to let you know we concur with you.
    We look forward to reading your new book.
    Hopefully it will will published soon. God bless. Roger.

  10. Nate

    18. Mar, 2011

    Thank you so much Tim for keeping a Biblical perspective and allowing God’s Word to shape your view of Him. I also have respect for the fact that you are willing to take a stand against the views that Rob Bell is espousing. I can tell you have compassion on Bell and wish for him to come to a true view of our God. You are my favorite author and I can’t wait for your next book to come out. As a college student, I don’t buy many books besides textbooks but anything you put out will be gold so I will gladly drop my money on that. Thanks again for keeping a Biblical view of Christ.

  11. Drew Knowles

    18. Mar, 2011

    Without Hell, we need no Savior. Without the Savior, there is no gospel. Without the gospel, Christians have no reason to live. Therefore, without Hell, Christians have no reason to live.

    Ultimately, may your writings reveal anew the heights of God’s holiness, the depths of our sin, and the infinite magnificence of their reconciliation.

  12. Esther

    18. Mar, 2011

    Tim,

    I am with you on this one. As we ponder the “whys” of this natural disaster, we have to understand that we serve a Sovereign God who is in control and whose justice and mercy is interwined and looks nothing like what we may define it. Our God is loving and merciful, in control and always involved. He hasn’t taken a step back and taken a passive roll in life. We must then know that the shaking is for a purpose and it is for His Glory and that His true character be revealed….. it is a lot to ponder. What a severe mercy it is…… God will sacrifice some souls so that many more will be saved. Seems unfair, but those are His rules…. I hate the humanistic approach that says that we all deserve to be saved.

    I hope you do write that book and many more. I enjoyed The God who Smokes and need to read again.

  13. Brie stoner

    19. Mar, 2011

    I’m glad we have the space to disagree in this Great Orthodoxy we are all a part of. And am glad that love always overcomes our judgements of each other. Grace and peace,
    Your niece.

  14. Tim Stoner

    19. Mar, 2011

    Luke, whenever I read the words: “cold, hard truth” I get nervous. It brings to mind “cruel, harsh and mean-spirited.” I think this is what they evoke in most of us today. This is just one more evidence of our subtle enculteration. We have been slowly conditioned to automatically equate certainty and clarity with legalistic fundamentalism. “This (position, idea, action) is dangerous, or wrong, and this . . . is right and good!” is interpreted as dehumanizing, demeaning and destructive. It’s in the air we breathe and the beer, or wine, or milk we drink–it’s almost impossible to avoid. So when I feel the power of the spirit of the age taking hold of me I must remind myself that it was Jesus not Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, or Mel Gibson, for that matter, who said “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” and swords are cold, hard and sharp, and they can cut pretty deep. And while swords can actually kill, they can also cut off limbs that are black with gangrene and save your life. In the movie 127 Hours, we see the superiority of a cold, sharp instrument over blunt-nosed pliars. (Frankly, I can’t remember what Aron used, I had my eyes closed throughout the operation). Interesting though that sword is one of the favorite biblical metaphors for the Word of God.

  15. Tim Stoner

    19. Mar, 2011

    Brie: Good to hear from you my talented, and soon to be world-famous, niece. Sadly, my experience tells me that love does not always overcome our judgments despite our best intentions. But, it is my heartfelt prayer that in this, as in any other controversy, that it most certainly will.

    In all such disagreements my goal is to take to heart the gracious words John Wesley wrote to his theological “enemies”: “Nay, perhaps, if you are angry, so shall I be too; and then there will be small hopes of finding the truth. . . For God’s sake, if it be possible to avoid it, let us not provoke one another to wrath. Let us not kindle, in each other this fire of hell; much less blow it up into a flame. If we could discern truth by that dreadful light, would it not be loss, rather than gain? For, how far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love! We may die without the knowledge of many truths, and yet be carried into Abraham’s bosom. But if we die without love, what will knowledge avail? Just as much as it avails the devil and his angels!” May it be so and may it ever be so

  16. alton

    19. Mar, 2011

    Wow! Tim I now know why it is that I enjoy talking with you about theology, especially theology that has 2000 year span, and which many great minds have wrestled with for countless hours. If there was ever a time for those who called themselves Christians to stand up, that time is now. I am startled at how many well meaning believers are shying away from “contending for the faith that the Lord has entrusted to us, his people” Jude 1:3. I think they do this because ther are teachers who are very gifted oratorically and masters at using words, and have great stage presence. My bible tells me if “we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that person be under God’s curse!” Gal 1:8

    Good word Tim! This is how one contends for the faith for which our precious Lord so graciously gave to us out of the good pleasure of his will…

    your servant,

    Alton

  17. David Reyes

    19. Mar, 2011

    Thanks Tim! Loved your most recent post as well. I’ve read a lot of responses but I really appreciate how you approach these topics, not as if you’ve been personally attacked, but with a clear headed and insightful delving into the ideas being presented. Thanks for not being religious, for upholding the spirit of truth and love and for being eager to hold a high view of God when it’s not the popular thing to do. Love and miss you and your family!

  18. Dean Summers

    21. Mar, 2011

    Tim:

    Thanks for taking on this topic. On the one hand, Rob Bell is right when he says, “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better.” And he is on target when he rejects that characterization as an adequate summary of the Christian message. On the other hand, his corrective does not seem to me to carry the full “weight of glory.” You used the word “gravitas.” I sometimes speak of Christianity Lite, a bloodless religion, one that is anemic, because it does not take seriously the reality of violence in the world and in our individual souls. Meanwhile, these days, we are mainly hearing about Hell from the snake oil salesmen, and their railing only serves to scare little kids and to make the scoffers scoff all the more. We need a way of talking about Hell that does it the other way around. It was a delight to read your book, The God Who Smokes. You invite dialog and out-of-the-box thinking. At times, I found myself quarreling with your assumptions and conclusions. At other times, I found myself agreeing with you completely. The best times were when you sparked new insights and new depths of feeling. I’m looking forward to your next book with eager anticipation.

    Dean

  19. Jonathan

    21. Mar, 2011

    Once again you have managed to help me think through an issue by shining more light on it, not clouding it with a heavy handed partisan approach.
    I so appreciate your ability to do that!

    And I really enjoyed reading the words of an early church father. It is good to be reminded that we stand downstream of an amazing heritage of courageous and loving teachers of The Word.

    Thank you Tim.

  20. Becky N.

    22. Mar, 2011

    If ever there was a generation of believers and non-believers alike who need to hear this, it’s now! It is sad and frighening to know that so many churches are succumbing to Rob Bell’s type of theology. They are leading their members astray and making them ineffective witnesses of the Gospel.

    Personally (humanly) and honestly, I would love to believe in the idea that all “good” people will go to heaven, I can’t stand thinking of some of those I care about who don’t know Jesus going to hell. That’s where I need reminders like this to keep me grounded.

    This generation needs a REMINDER like your books - that God’s justice is PERFECT justice we can put all of our hope, faith and trust in now and for the future.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “rather than humbly submit…,” Mr. Bell has crafted God into somone more acceptable to Mr. Bell. Humility and submission - isn’t that what it’s all about and isn’t it the toughest thing to be and do.

    Keep writing dear brother-in-law and I’ll keep reading.

    P.S. Just in response to the Japanese situation, I was so overwhelmed with sorrow and fear as I watched the arial view of the tsunami rolling in and destroying everything in its path. Is this the beginning of the end? What will it be like? I heard a Christian radio program that said, ” For the first time the Japanese people have lost faith in their materialistic lifestyle and their technology and don’t know where to turn for answers to this disaster.” They’re hoping for more opportunities to reach the people with the truth of Jesus Christ!

  21. Tim Stoner

    23. Mar, 2011

    Becky, Hell really is a terrible truth to have to believe. It’s important to admit its awful, scandalous nature. Many if not most of us who believe in a literal Hell seem to have this emotional disconnect, as if Hell is something we are glad about instead of grounds for heartbreaking sorrow. Not only that, I am personally convicted that it fails to produce a greater urgency in me. I am praying that my own heart will be changed as a result of having to seriously face what the Bible teaches and the Church as a whole has held for 2000 years to be true. I am so glad to hear of the Spirit’s work among the Japanese who survived. I am reminded of the words of Jesus: “this is the year of the Lord’s favor.” May millions be turned from darkness to light; from death to life.

  22. Dave

    25. Mar, 2011

    Thanks…much.

  23. Spencer

    27. Mar, 2011

    Hello Tim!

    I get the feeling that I should start up email conversations with you, since they avoid transporting a complex theological discussion to a message board and they avoid embroiling others in the back-and-forth between us. Most of all, though, I get the sense that you and I would likely disagree on much but would sharpen each other while sharing amazing stories about the Jesus we both know and love. I may do this in the future; heads-up. :)

    Having not read Bell’s book, I will not speak to his theology of evil and suffering. I just want to throw my two cents in the ring that support for general providence (i.e., the view that God has chosen not to meticulously control and ordain all events that occur) does not entail wholesale removal of evil/suffering from the Divine Activity. One can believe that all evil/suffering NEED NOT come directly from God without also believing that no evil/suffering EVER comes directly from God. If Bell chooses to do this, that is his affair. I for one do not agree with the move and could find several prominent theologians who would take issue as well.

    I for one can find comfort in God’s will and activity in my life without needing to believe in a meticulously delineated and specifically orchestrated plan behind the tragedy. Caricatures of God sympathetically patting us on the back aside, there is much to be said for the intimate nature of the deity we see in Jn 11:35 who is grievously affected by our sufferings and weeps with us in our trials. I also find that even without a belief in meticulous special providence I am able to rest in a God who is infinitely capable of bringing good out of evil. Perhaps the price that I pay is to give up the security of belief in a minutely ordered foreordained plan; concurrently, the price the other side pays is doubt regarding the nature of the plan and the planner in the midst of such woe. I don’t know that one is the sole Christian view, and one could certainly marshall both verses and orthodox heavy-hitters in favor of either.

  24. dave N

    05. Apr, 2011

    Thanks Tim, for your thoughtful insights. I have been able to use some of your thoughts in many of the conversations this issue has generated.

  25. Tim Stoner

    07. Apr, 2011

    Glad to have been of help.

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