Rob Bell, mortified at the death of his 14-year old brother, could not come to grips with the idea that after 14 years of life, his brother – who was unsaved – would spend an eternity in hell. Struggling to make sense of it, Bell developed a line of theological reasoning that allowed him to consider Hell as a temporary resting place. Since God gets what he wants, and he wants all people to come to him (2 Peter 3:9), then death cannot be the ultimate end. In the end, Bell postulates, “Love Wins,” which is the title of his book. In the end, we all get to Heaven.
While we feel Rob Bell’s loss, he was not the first to stray into heresy in this manner. Another man from history, Joseph Smith, entered the same pathway that Bell entered, and for the same reason. Joseph’s older brother Alvin passed away. Unable to resolve the notion that his brother was forever lost in Hell, Joseph frantically searched for an answer, visiting the various churches in his town, looking for one that would provide him a second chance. Not finding one, Joseph formed his own version of religion, one that included baptism for the dead, and once again, unlimited second changes. Going far further than Bell, Joseph’s stumbling along the path of unresolved grief led him to establish a new religion, one that would include second chances.
The impacts of unresolved grief, especially if they bring with them unresolved theological questions can be quite dangerous to one’s faith. It is very painful to deal with the loss of a loved one that is known to be unsaved. My own father, tortured by guilt and shame stemming from bad choices made after returning from Vietnam, ended his life without knowing Christ as his savior. The personal crisis caused by the impact of final judgement seeming to contrast with a culturally-influenced understanding of a loving God can quickly challenge even the most learned believers. While by all accounts Joseph Smith was no scholar on any level, Rob Bell, a Fuller Seminary graduate and experienced pastor, fled from the truth.
The question is not a hard one to answer. But dealing with the finality of it is. Martin Luther is quite emphatic, and very clear: “If God were to save anyone without faith, he would be acting contrary to his own words and would give himself the lie; yes, he would deny himself. And that is impossible for, as St. Paul declares, God cannot deny himself [II Tim. 2:13].” He goes on to say that there is no path for salvation without having faith in one’s life, and that salvation apart from faith is not possible. Regardless of the consternation that sort of finality brings with it, the truth remains.
thirty-one when I got the word that my dad ended his life. In the twenty-one years since, I have often wondered if I did enough, if there was one thing more I should have done, if there was one more argument that I should have fought through, if there was anything that could change the final resting place that my dad earned.
Paul asked how people can hear except believers tell them, and that places the importance of the Great Commission clearly in our field of view. Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on 1 Peter 3:9 (the spirits in prison passage), wrote “Finally, Jesus Christ is the only Savior, and the lost world needs to hear His Gospel.”
It is up to us to go and spread the Gospel. Unfortunately, we focus “to all the world”, and miss “to our own family.”
Your Brother from another mother,