The title of chapter 3 is “Hell”; and as the title states, Rob Bell starts to explain his view of hell. I will probably need to go back and read this chapter again because at best it is vague. This chapter is interesting, but you don’t finish it knowing exactly whatBell believes. I think he believes hell is real, but I am not sure. At times it sounds like he sees hell as an idea, or something we create only here on earth. Again, I am not completely sure, but that is the impression I get.Bell goes into some detail trying to explain that the Hebrew and the Greek words and understanding for “eternal punishment” does not necessarily mean “forever.” Rather, “eternal” could simply refer to a period of time. Something like when I have stood in line for a long time and say, “I stood in line forever” when in reality it wasn’t but a few moments. This leads me to believe that at least part of what Bell believes is that hell (either here or there) is a place people go to learn whatever it is God wants them to learn because of their own hard-heartedness and disobedience. Once they have learned that lesson, they will repent and God will forgive. If I have read Bell correctly here, his idea sounds like a modified form of karma and transmigration (reincarnation), except instead of learning what we need to learn in several lifetimes, we learn what we need to learn in one lifetime and some unknown period of time after death. (Again, I may have misunderstood him here, but that is the problem, I am not sure what he is saying.)
One thing he does say, that I tend to agree with, is that God’s judgment, or wrath is always done for a reason, and that reason is to correct, not simply to punish.
Early in the chapter he discusses sheol, hades, and gehenna, but does so to prove that the Hebrew understanding, and what the Old Testament teaches, is that life and death are two ways of being alive.
My lack of fully grasping what he is saying could be because he is smarter than me. So, if you have read the book, please help me out.
Here are some quotes from chapter 3:
- “…the Hebrew commentary on what happens after a person dies isn’t very articulated or defined. Sheol, death, and the grave in the consciousness of the Hebrew writer are all a bit vague and ‘underworldly.’ For whatever reasons, the precise details of who goes where, when, how, with what, and for how long simply aren’t things the Hebrew writers were terribly concerned with” (p. 67).
- “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. And that’s what we find in Jesus’s teaching about hell—a volatile mixture of images, pictures, and metaphors that describe the very real experience and consequences of rejecting our God-given goodness and humanity. Something we are all free to do, anytime, anywhere, with anyone” (pp. 72-73).
- “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” (pp. 78-79). [I really like this quote.]
- “What we see in Jesus’s story about the rich man and Lazarus is an affirmation that there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next. There are individual hells, and communal, society-wide hells, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously. There is a hell now, and there is a hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously” (p. 79).
- “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” (p. 82).
- “This is not to say that hell is not a pointed, urgent warning or that it isn’t intimately connected with what we actually do believe, but simply to point out that Jesus talked about hell to the people who considered themselves ‘in,’ warning them that their hard hearts were putting their ‘in-ness’ at risk, reminding them that whatever ‘chosen-ness’ or ‘election’ meant, whatever special standing they believed they had with God was always, only, ever about their being the kind of transformed, generous, loving people through whom God could show the world that God’s love looks like in flesh and blood” (pp. 82-83).
- “To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us. We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way. And for that, the word ‘hell’ works quite well. Let’s keep it” (p. 93).