Burn in the Trash Dump: Love Wins Ch. 3
When I was six years old, I prayed what evangelicals call “The Prayer” because I was scared of hell. Burning flames for eternity did not sound good to me. In chapter 3, Rob Bell challenges our assumptions about hell and what the biblical writers actually say in context about hell. Here is a look at how he organizes the chapter and lays out his view on what the Bible says.
The Hebrew Scriptures and Hell
- The Hebrew word Sheol is used to talk about a “mysterious, murky place people go when they die” (Psalm 18)
- “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.”
- Bell makes the point that the Jews were more concerned with how to live ethically in this life than on what was going to happen next
Jesus’ Teachings on Gehenna
- Bell claims that when Jesus talks about hell he is referring to the Valley of Hinnom or what is also called Gehenna. Gehenna was the city dump next to Jerusalem that was continuously on fire so that the trash would burn. According to Scot McKnight and others this is a “street myth” and not based in fact. Check out more on this here.
- Jesus also talked about Hades which was the Greek understanding of Sheol
- Bell talks about the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 18 where the rich man is in agony and wants Lazarus to bring him water. He explains that this story to the first listeners wasn’t necessarily about hell as we think about it but a theme of overthrowing the old system where the rich man would be revered and the beggar Lazarus was looked down on. Ignoring the beggar meant that the rich man would have to live with the consequences of essentially rejecting God.
- “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 hell.”
- There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.”
Jesus’ Teachings on Judgment
- There is an aspect of Jesus’ teachings on judgment that related to the destruction of Jerusalem not to the future judgment at the end of this age. We need to be careful not to mix these up.
- We also need to look at Jesus’ audience when he is talking about judgment. Bell makes the point that most of the time he is talking to highly religious people when he is talking about judgment.
- “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.”
My Thoughts in Brief
- I love Rob’s focus on the context and audience of Jesus’s statements on hell and judgment. These are simple Bible study principles but too many people pick out verses from the Bible to develop their own theology. It is so interesting that Jesus’ statements on judgment are to religious people. This is in opposition to some Christians who talk about hell to those who aren’t Christians in an attempt to “scare the hell out of them.” Is a conversion out of fear really a true conversion at all?
- It is important to remember that with Rob Bell’s writing style one cannot just pick out one sentence and say that one sentence sums up Rob’s beliefs on a matter. I had to catch myself doing that with this chapter. People must read the book to form an educated opinion. If you haven’t read the book yourself, then quit blogging about it!
- Through three chapters I haven’t seen anything yet that screams of “universalism” or “heresy.” The book is full of great questions and answers that do point to inconsistencies in some forms of recent evangelical thought. So far his words are a breath of fresh air to me and resonate with my spiritual journey. It also lines up with what I believe the Bible says.