If you don’t die to self, then Heaven will be Hell

I’ve just finished reading Rob Bell’s book Love Wins – and will be reviewing it for Third Way magazine (ie, buy that too, it’s not this post, I promise). It’s a really great book; I highly recommend it. It’s very very readable – which, for some, may be read as a euphemism for ‘dumbed down’ (it has no footnotes or external references, which is annoying, and the micro-paragraphing make it read like a talk or conversation) – but don’t be fooled. This is deceptively rich in content.

I was intrigued by one of the acknowledgements, where Rob thanks two people for ‘insisting that now is the time.’ It made me wonder: now is the time for what? I’m tempted, in the context of the book, to hope that now is the time for the millions of everyday Christians, who simply can’t stomach a supposedly loving God tormenting people for eternity, to rise up and be given voice. A voice beyond the rhetoric and shock-religious-jock-radio and over-earnest crap that comes from pulpits.

Because, in it’s conversational style, this isn’t aimed at the professional religious. It’s aimed at everyday people. Resourcing them to think for themselves and act on their guts about what the Spirit of God says internally and communally, rather than from the pulpit or lavishly funded TV station.

In this way, and I don’t mean this sycophantically, I think Rob is writing in the way of Jesus. His ‘right time’ did not mean he met no resistance. Quite the opposite. But he didn’t come to argue academically with Pharisees, he came for the common people. And they – as John’s baptism work began to hint – were hungry for his message. It was the right time, but it got him strung up.

So, after all the fuss and accusation, what’s he actually saying about heaven and hell? Interestingly, he locates them in the same place. Using the story of the prodigal son, he notes that the older brother was invited to and pretty much at the party. But his resentment made him seethe with anger at the festivities. He couldn’t enjoy the taste of heaven, because he’d grown up with a twisted view of duty, of work, of his family and friends. He didn’t know how to love, because he hadn’t put his selfish self to death.

To paraphrase and precis his whole argument:

If you don’t die to self, then heaven will be hell.

Or, as I’ve posted here before, in the words of the Hindu parable, you bring your own fire to hell.


4 responses to “If you don’t die to self, then Heaven will be Hell”

  1. I am reminded of an icon that an Easter Orthodox professor once showed to my Systematic Theology class on the subject of Eschatology. The icon was of Jesus at the center of the circle and there were people surrounding him to the left and to the right. For some being in Jesus’ presence was difficult and looked like suffering whereas for others being in Jesus’ presence was joyful. Seems like another way to visualize the prodigal son picture you allude to above. I wish I could find a good reproduction of the icon online but alas, I cannot.

  2. Thanks for this Kester. Not sure I agree with everything but then again I haven’t read the book so what do I know! You have prompted me to check it out.

  3. Maggi has posted the EA’s response to the book, which I find rather troubling:

    “consignment to hell cannot be repealed” etc.

    Interestingly, they’ve had their “Theological and Public Policy Advisory Commission” look into the book. Sounds rather hefty, and, I think, reinforces the point I make above: this book isn’t for theological committees. As such, it’s potentially more dangerous.

  4. Karsten R

    “Resourcing them to think for themselves and act on their guts about what the Spirit of God says internally and communally”

    Really? I remember that some months ago you argued that regarding divine revelation we’re left with nothing than our perception. How then you can speak so assuredly about what the Spirit says?