Let's talk about love today. Rob Bell, former pastor of the mega-church Mars Hill, wrote a book that has caused a firestorm in the Christian community. The title of that book is "Love Wins" and basically what Bell declares is that in the end, love wins, and everyone gets to go to heaven. Nice thought, but is it true?
Let me state right off the bat that according to the Bible, love does win. The Bible says, "Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13:8). However, contrary to what Bell desperately wants to believe, that does not mean that eventually everyone ends up in heaven.
The same Bible that tells us "God is Love," (1 John 5:16) also tells us that He is just. Exodus 34: 6-7 says, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." (NIV).
Hebrews 9:27 reminds us, "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment." (NKJV). Furthermore, Hebrews 6:2 speaks of this judgment being an eternal judgment, that is, a judgment whose outcome never ends.
Now, if Rob Bell is right, everyone gets to go to heaven -- no matter how they lived or what they did. Before you rejoice at that thought, this means Adolph Hitler, the murderer of some 15 million people; Joseph Stalin, who murdered some 30 to 60 million Russians; Chairman Mao Tse Tung, who murdered 30 million Chinese; Saddam Hussein's sons, who brutally tortured and murdered thousands of innocent people; Nero; the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center, all of these are enjoying the benefits of heaven today, if God is only love.
Now perhaps you see the problem with this sentimental humanistic view that refuses to face reality and throws open the doors of heaven to all.
Think of it this way. If heaven's doors are open to all, love does not win, it loses. If you live all your life insisting on having things your own way, insisting in fact that God stop trying to interfere in your life, but in the end God forces you to have a relationship with Him, how could that be considered love?
Love is something freely given and freely received. If one stronger than I am forces me into a relationship I do not wish to have, there is no way under heaven that such a relationship could be seen as love.
C.S. Lewis is right when he writes, in "The Problem of Pain," "I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside. I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man 'wishes' to be happy; but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self enslaved.
"In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: 'What are you asking God to do?' To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does."
In light of Calvary, no one who refuses to accept God's gift of love found in his Son can condemn God for casting him into hell. God has provided a way of escape, patiently waiting for sinners to repent. He will not lower His standards or alter His requirements. He has ordained that faith in His Son is the only way of salvation.
God has made a way out of judgment for anyone who will believe in Jesus and accept the gift of love he offers. Refuse that, and God still loves you enough to give you what you insist on, that is freedom from His restrictions (as you see them), even though in the end that love results in your eternal (not temporary) separation from Him.
Truth be told, if you are so opposed to God that you don't want to be in a relationship with Him, even heaven would be a hell to you.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org