Last week (or was it two weeks ago?) I wrote about ambiguity and poetry. I’ve been thinking about it again with all of the flap over Rob Bell’s latest book. A few points before I get to my own. The book hasn’t even been released yet, so nobody has read the whole thing, making the backlash premature. As people, we like to lash out about/against something without knowing the whole story. I don’t know anything specific about the book, and my comments will be on the video found in the link above. I’m not a huge fan of Rob Bell, as I find the theology in some of his videos a little questionable, and his books simply don’t hold my attention. However, he says something in the promo video (again, linked above) that has me thinking (a loose paraphrase):
God promises to send us to hell, and Jesus came to save us from God. If God was really a loving God, why would he have to save us from himself, and how could he choose to send anyone to hell to burn for eternity?
I disagree with the way Bell says a couple of these things, and I’m not sure if it’s an issue of semantics or deeper theological issues. In Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve a choice and a verdict–eat from any tree except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If you eat from the tree, you will die. Some people don’t like or accept a God who would make such an ultimatum, but it’s a fact of life that we have to make decisions every moment of the day and each decision has a consequence. Death means separation from God, which leads to suffering and torment, thus hell. So is it God choosing to send people to hell or is God allowing people to make their own choices, and thus deal with the appropriate consequences. (I know, the argument is much more complicated, right and wrong must be explored, morality must be evaluated, etc. I’m just trying to lay a little groundwork.)
I have personally gone round and round about the character of God, love, and hell. I often ask the question of whether or not a loving God would send somebody to hell, but I’m learning that maybe that’s a backwards way of looking it. As Timothy Keller discusses in his book Reason for God, is God “sending” somebody who is completely set on rejecting God to hell, or is that person just continuing on the path of the self?
Either way, God’s Biblical character seems to embody ambiguity. God gets angry in the Old Testament and wipes out everybody but Noah. He gets disgusted and destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses seems to change God’s mind when God is ready to wipe out the Israelites. God establishes the old testament law and then honors people like David and Solomon–two guys that lived very “worldly” at various points in their lives. There are stories in the Bible of wrath and love. How do those coexist?
I know many people who don’t care for such “contradictions”, and conclude that a contradictory God cannot/should not exist or does not deserve praise. Why is it that we (humans? Americans?) refuse to believe in something (or attack outright) we don’t fully understand? Are we so focused on science that equal opposites just cancel each other out, resulting in nothing? Can ambiguity in poetry be a microcosm for an ambiguous God? Is it the ambiguity of God or the hypocrisy of “the religious” that drives people away?