Rob Bell on Heaven and Hell

I’m reading Sex God, by Rob Bell. You can buy it here. The book is short and very well-written. Anyone not moved by this book probably needs a few hits off of a defibrillator.

I’m not exactly planning to review Rob’s book, but there may be an idea or two that spur me on to a blog topic. The topic du jour is heaven, earth, and hell. Rob has a few interesting things to say about these even though Sex God is not a book about heaven and hell.

First, Rob is taking something as foundational for his theology that I wish more Christians would as well: that heaven will be on earth. In case you have no idea what I am talking about, I am addressing the popular misconception that we are all going to die and go to a far away heaven forever. It is not true. Heaven will only be our home in the in-between time — in between our death and the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. At that time, we will live on the New Earth (I’m omitting variations between pre-millennial and a-millennial views).

There are many implications to a heaven-on-earth view. In the first place, it is a rejection of latent Platonism that creeps into much Christian faith. Plato taught that our bodies are prisons for the soul; souls yearn to be free of material and be free in the realm of spirit. The afterlife is bodiless, immaterial, and not subject to the pains and difficulties of physicality.

Further, the heaven-is-coming-to-earth view of the Bible affirms our bodies, our sexuality, our material selves. Heaven will be full of rocks, trees, rivers, mountains, and hills. There will be grass and sky and cloud. Heaven will be the beauty of earth as it was intended to be without pain, frustration, or death. The beauty we all find in a grassy hill and a blue sky is a picture of the unadulterated joy of heaven on earth.

Rob Bell speaks of this view of heaven-on-earth impacting our view of the here and now. Things we do on this earth matter in the New Earth. I love his examples. One is of a couple he knows who adopt unwanted and disabled children:

When Lil got to the point in her story, she reached down and patted her daughter and said, “This is Crystal. She’s twenty-seven years old but will be about six months old developmentally for the rest of her life. She can’t talk or walk or move or feed herself or do anything on her own. She will be like this, totally dependent on us, until the day she dies. And I love her so much. My family and I, we can’t imagine life without her. She makes everything so much better.”

What is Lil doing?

She’s bringing heaven to earth.

I also like Rob Bell’s vision of hell. I have always been a fan of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, and I think I see similarity in Rob’s conception of hell:

Now if there is a realm where things are as God wants them to be, then there must be a realm where things are not as God wants them to be. Where things aren’t according to God’s will. Where people aren’t treated as fully human.

It’s called hell.

Think about the expression “for the hell of it.” When someone says “for the hell of it,” what they mean is that whatever is being discussed was done or said for no apparent reason. It was, in essence, pointless. Random. And God is for purpose and beauty and meaning.

When we say something was “a living hell,” we mean that it was void of any love or peace or beauty or meaning. It was absent of the will and desire of God.

So heaven is coming to earth and hell is the place where the will and desire of God are absent. Not a bad summary at all.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Life to Come, Messianic Jewish, Rob Bell, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Rob Bell on Heaven and Hell

  1. peter says:

    derek

    great pt about heaven-on-earth. i really never knew differently until i studied at a place called l’abri. one of the workers commented that the Bible doesnt really speak of an ethereal heaven, rather one on earth. so i looked and sure enough. i dont know how so many christians have such a misconception of God’s plan for our lives. i guess platonism is certainly part of it.

    i guess i am not sure how your first few thoughts tie in though. are you saying things are “amillenial”? i am not trying to get into an argument about eschatology, i am geniunely interested because i have heard for most of my life something and only recent questioned the meaning of the “millenium”.

    peter

  2. Peter:

    I am a thorough-going pre-millennialist. I simply wanted to make the point that the heaven-on-earth thing is true regardless of which position a person takes. Amill and premill both conceive of heaven coming to earth. Platonic views of the afterlife are not a part of any legitimate Jewish or Christian theology.

    Derek

  3. Thanks for your post here, Derek. I am a pastor who is preaching on Luke 20:27-38 this Sunday. I’ve been finding myself in a quandary because almost EVERY pastor/commentator/theologian I read seems to interpret this passage in the light of heaven being an ethereal place where we mystically worship God. While certainly heaven will be different then sinful earth, and while we will worship God, my belief is that we will do so in tremendous community, with relationships. I believe that God’s creation is not destroyed never to be brought back, but is re-created. A “new heavens and a new earth.” I wrote about this on my blog just now (http://musingss.blogspot.com). Do you have anything else you would say about this passage? Sounds like you’re one of the few guys out there that is tracking with me. I may have to check out Rob Bell’s book now.

    Thanks!
    –Rebecca

  4. Rebecca:

    What a pleasure to meet you. I might recommend two books for your further study.

    Randy Alcorn has made a similar point to what you are discussing in his book, Heaven.

    Then there is my book, due out in March by Messianic Jewish Resources (www.messianicjewish.net) which is called The World to Come. I will privately email you an excerpt.

    I will check out your blog and I’m glad to have met a new friend.

    Derek

  5. Awesome…I will look forward to reading an excerpt from your book. I’ll enjoy reading your blog some more too…thanks for the insight!

  6. extremejourneyman says:

    I have read all Rob Bell’s books besides Love Wins, which I’m reading through now. I have a question which you sound like you may be able to provide some insight on. If heaven will be on earth in the age to come how will everybody that ever lived fit on earth. That sounds like it would be over crowded. Sorry if this question sounds stupid. I seriously don’t understand and want to. Thank You for your post and for your time. Thanks.

  7. extremejourneyman:

    When, as the rabbis say, one grape is kept in the corner of the house and from it they draw 80 flagons of wine, and when the plowman overtakes the reapers (Amos 9), and when every man sits under his vine and fig tree, the earth will accommodate far more people than it does now.

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