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Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
April 19, 2011

Rob Bell, Texas wildfires, and hell

The wildfires west of Ft. Worth continued destroying churches, businesses and homes yesterday. Meanwhile, robots in the crippled Japanese nuclear reactors found radiation levels too high for humans to continue work. Every day we find more reasons for frustration with the world God made.

Yesterday we began discussing a reader’s question regarding a friend whose father died at an early age. Their pastor claimed that he “got what he deserved,” a sentiment which turned his son against God. The reader continues: “He is now 67 and has yet to forgive God for ‘taking his father when he knew he (my friend) needed him the most.’ I have such a burden for him as he is so lost, but he will not listen to me—says ‘I don’t want to hear it’—yet tells me that he ‘admires MY faith!’ He thinks because he’s not out doing bad things that he’ll still go to Heaven, but then states that ‘just in case he goes to hell, he’ll have lots of company to visit with when he goes there.’ What can I do now?”

Last night I wrote my weekly submission to the Dallas Morning News “Texas Faith” column on this very issue. The question which I and the other panelists were asked to address relates to Rob Bell’s controversial book, Love Wins. Bell states, “When we get to what happens when we die, we don’t have any video footage. So let’s at least be honest that we are speculating, because we are.”

I couldn’t disagree more. We don’t have to speculate, because Jesus spoke clearly on the subject. From my Texas Faith article for this weekend: “Hell is mentioned 23 times in the New Testament, 15 times by Jesus. He called it a place of ‘torment’ (Luke 16:23), a ‘fiery furnace’ (Matthew 13:50) and a place of ‘darkness’ (Matthew 22:13). John Calvin, Martin Luther, J. I. Packer, C. S. Lewis, and Billy Graham all interpreted Jesus’ pictures as symbolic of a literal reality. For instance, physical fire is only a threat for physical bodies, yet hell was first created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).

“But don’t miss the point—hell is terrible. Jesus used the worst pictures he could find. Hell is the absence of the presence of God (Luke 16:26). To be separated from God and from all that is good, for all eternity—that is hell as Jesus described it.

“Who goes there? God doesn’t want anyone to be in hell: he ‘wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4). But Jesus clearly taught that he is the way, truth, and life; no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). Those who refuse his offer of forgiveness for sin and eternal life, choose separation from God instead (Revelation 20:15).

“I especially appreciate the way Calvin Miller put it: ‘God, can you be merciful and send me off to hell and lock me in forever?’ ‘No, Pilgrim, I will not send you there, but if you chose to go there, I could never lock you out.’ God doesn’t choose hell for us, but Jesus taught that we can choose it for ourselves.”

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