Monday, 13 June 2011

Chapter 4: Does God Get What God Wants?

In this chapter Rob looks at the big question of whether God gets what God wants. God wants everyone to find salvation, wholeness, restoration, eternal life; does God get what he wants? He points out the claims of many church websites that ‘unsaved’ won’t be with God, that they will be punished somewhere and that the punishment will be forever. He also points out that on the same website they declare that God is mighty, powerful, loving and unchanging. And thus again the question; does God get what God wants? Bell then points out the many scriptures that talk about everything belonging to God, every knee bowing to God’s Lordship, the renewal of all things and, the Lord’s arm not being too short to save etc.

Rob touches (briefly) on three answers...
1.       That God doesn’t always get what God wants because of humankind’s freedom of choice. Some will say no to God’s saving love and will be lost forever. We have this lifetime only in which to embrace God’s grace.

2.       That God doesn’t always get what God wants. That humanity’s freedom and ability to make decisions that cultivate and nurture the reality of the divine image we are created in, or to stifle and damage it, are such that in time those that say no to God will eventually lose their humanity. That will move into a new state of ‘formerly human’ or ‘post human.’

3.       That God will get what he wants and that in the end everyone will be ‘saved’ as it may be possible for people to turn to or say yes to God after death. And that this may not be only a one off offer immediately after death but an ongoing offer, as long as it takes to say yes to God in other words. The heart of this perspective being that, given enough time, everyone would turn to God and find joy and peace in his presence.
Rob then suggest that many have held to this third sort of position over the years. He also suggests that it would at least be fitting and proper for a Christian to hope for answer three. He asks hopefully if it is possible that God could banish those who have rejected God from the New Creation while at the same time keeping the door open to them, that should they turn and embrace God they might be reconciled to God?
In regards to all these questions Rob offers the following statement...
Those are questions, or more accurately, those are
tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need
to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so
we simply respect the, creating space for the freedom
that love requires.
Rob concludes by reversing the question of whether God gets what God wants to; do we get what we want? He concludes that yes we do. If we want life, and peace, and justice and all that is good we chose Jesus and find eternal live. If that is not what we want then we reject Jesus and find hell.
We can have what we want,
because love wins.
So, where to start?
In reality this chapter of Love Wins should really be about 500 pages long. There are so many issues at play which each have ongoing and massive discussions attached to them. Instead the chapter is 25 pages and the whole of Love Wins 198 pages. And this is really the major difficulty with a book like Love Wins. It touches on so many issues and subjects that are worthy of discussion but also worthy of being discussed in full.
For example the idea of people losing their ‘image of God’ status to the point of becoming non-human is likely bizarre and foreign to some. Where did Rob Bell get that? In reality it has been suggested by some of the most reputable bible scholars in the world, as well as rejected by some of the most reputable. In others words, there is something to the idea and yet it is complex and full of mystery. But not totally off the wall. It’s and idea worth exploring and engaging in beyond the engagement offered in Love Wins.
I liked Bell’s encouragement that there are tensions in regards to how far God’s love can reach, how far his grace can extend etc that we should feel free to leave intact.
I liked Bell’s over all encouragement to lean into God as more overflowing with love and grace and mercy than we sometimes make God out to have.
On the other hand...
I don’t think as many people have held to position three as what Bell makes out, a kind of eventual salvation of all.   
Rob appeals to some of the church fathers in support of what I would describe as a hopeful universalism but to steal from Witherington... he is citing theological speculation of this or that church father,  not the settled convictions of the church as revealed in their creeds, councils,  confessions.  There is a difference. Which I don't think invalidates everything Bell writes by any stretch of the imagination. The discussion just has to be entered more fully.

So basically overall I think this chapter doesn’t do justice to the issues at stake, which is probably true of Love Wins as well.

Some I know have read it and just accept everything written, because it’s Rob Bell, as fact. This isn't wise. It’s not as simple as that, mainly because Love Wins deals with some big issues, that simply – aren’t simple.
Others I know have read Love Wins and written it all off as heresy, because well, Rob Bell wrote it. That’s a wrong and unwise response as well.
I think a better response would be to recognise that indeed Rob Bell wrote it and therefore it is likely worth engaging with, discussing, researching and exploring.
So in the end chapter 4, like the rest of Love Wins raises some good questions and discussion points, but doesn’t discuss them as well as what they need to be discussed.

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