Soon after my last entry on Rob Bell I finished his book Love Wins. It is a wonderful read/listen (his express train reading brings the book in at 3'39"!). What an amazing gift of communication he has. His writing is dynamic and gripping, and never fails to engage the mind and emotions. I would have easily listened to this in one sitting if I had the opportunity.
There are so many reviews of this on the web, both positive and negative, and it has been a real eye-opener to see the controversy and furore this has caused, particularly in the American church. Some have even criticised Bell for daring to ask the questions and 'plant doubts' in people's minds. One YouTube reviewer says "When we question God we actually get into a lot of trouble". One of the reasons I love the Psalms is that honest questions are not shrinked from! If we criticise people for even asking questions I dread to think where we will end up!
One train of thought that began as I listened to Bell, was the nature of belief and how we express what we believe. How can we tell what we actually believe? When Bell talks about hell I have to ask myself what I really believe about it. Do I believe that Gandhi will end up there because he wasn't a Christian? What about my friends and family who aren't Christians. Do I believe that they will burn for eternity in a lake of fire? If I do believe that, then why am I not haranguing them day and night to persuade them to accept Christ? The fact that I am not must say something of what I really believe?
Is my belief defined by what I say? If I say "I believe in Jesus" and adhere to this or that creed of beliefs, is that belief? Will that save me? Jesus didn't seem to put those conditions on people he ministered to. He was a lot more free and generous with his forgiveness. The woman who washed his feet with her tears went away forgiven, not because she was 'in' with the right group, indeed she was very much 'out', but because she saw her own need and recognised Jesus had something to give her; she was forgiven! The paralysed man who was let through the roof didn't even ask for forgiveness but Jesus gave it anyway, as well as healing him. How much theology did the thief on the cross have? Probably not much, but he saw his own need and the one who could meet it.
God is running to forgive us and all He is looking for is faith in our hearts, faith that He is the One who loves us and the One who can forgive us. I don't think I am a Universalist, but maybe the struggle to believe in a doctrine where God forgives all in the end, is really a struggle to believe that He is falling over himself to forgive us in the first place.