My creative colleague Jeremy Grinnell (Asst. Prof. of Systematic Theology) has not read Rob Bell’s book (though he has agreed to review it for JETS), but he was troubled by the lopsided rhetoric in Rob’s promo video. He noted that the video will persuade many people, not because of its content but because of the power of its narrative. To prove that narrative can be equally used for the opposite view, Jeremy wrote a short piece which, though not his full position (because it’s equally extreme on the other side), illustrates the rhetorically powerful yet easily refutable logic of Rob’s piece.
As Rob might say,
Several years ago I was touring a holocaust museum, and I was deeply moved the images of suffering and inhuman brutality that I saw there. And near the end of the tour on the wall was a picture of Hitler standing in front of the Eifel Tower in Paris. I and many who were with me were struck by the idea of Hitler enjoying the beauties of Paris while at the same moment one of the greatest genocides the world has ever known was being carried out on his orders.
But apparently not everyone saw it exactly the same way
Sometime in the previous few hours, somebody had attached a hand written note to the picture, and on the note they had written, “It’s okay because God forgave Hitler too.”
God forgave Hitler?
And someone knows this for sure?
And felt the need for the rest of us to know?
Do the most evil and unrepentant people in history, remaining what they are, still make it to heaven?
And what of those who aren’t quite so evil as that—Child molesters, racists, drug lords.
And what of the rest of us who only yell at our children, cut people off on the highway, and cheat on our taxes?
And what makes our evil less and Hitler’s more?
Is it the number of people you hurt? Or how badly? Or whether anyone else knows? Or whether you meant to?
And what if you’re the one who was molested or your loved ones murdered because of their ethnicity?
And then there’s the question behind the question?
The real question… What is God like?
Because millions and millions were taught that the primary message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God is willing to forgive everybody no matter who they are or what evils they’ve committed against the rest of us.
So what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that God is willing to forgive the perpetrators of evil, regardless of whether or not their victims ever see justice. That God is willing to let slide things that we mustn’t.
But what kind of God is that?
Can a God so uninterested in justice be good?
How can that God ever be trusted?
How could that ever be…good…news?
This is why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith.
They see it as an endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies, and say, “why would I ever want to be a part of that?”
See what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.
What you discover in the bible is so surprising, and unexpected, and beautiful, that whatever we’ve been told or taught, the good news is even better than that, better than we can ever imagine.
It means pure and perfect justice, no wrong accusations, no punishments that don’t fit the crime, no hidden motives, no unaccounted pains or sorrows. But overflowing compensation for anyone who’s ever been hurt or betrayed.
The good news is that “justice wins.”