Jezebel utterly refused to recognize the drought as a judgment from Jehovah. Unyielding in her determination to defy the God of heaven, she, with nearly the whole of Israel, united in denouncing Elijah as the cause of all their misery. Had he not borne testimony against their forms of worship? If only he could be put out of the way, she argued, the anger of their gods would be appeased, and their troubles would end… {PK 126.1}

Failing in her efforts against Elijah, Jezebel determined to avenge herself by slaying all the prophets of Jehovah in Israel. Not one should be left alive. The infuriated woman carried out her purpose in the massacre of many of God’s servants. Not all, however, perished. Obadiah, the governor of Ahab’s house, yet faithful to God, “took an hundred prophets,” and at the risk of his own life, “hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.” 1 Kings 18:4. [BEGIN P.127] {PK 126.3}

These words about Jezebel bring to mind the recent release of Rob Bell’s Book, Love Wins, which has created quite a stir in the Christian community over the issues of “heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.”  Some say the book is great.  Others say its “heresy.”  Personally, I think Rob is seeking to stimulate dialogue…  that He desires folk to take a closer look at the issues.  And, ultimately his book is really a wrestling with the implications of our beliefs about heaven and hell in relationship to the character of God.

I’d love to have a personal conversation with Rob to get a better picture of where he stands on these things.  However, I’m pretty confident that he wouldn’t give me a definitive answer, because from interviews and articles, it appears that he is more comfortable with ambiguity than answers.

Anyway, in one of the most controversial sections of Love Wins, Bell questions whether universalism is an answer.  Yet, I’m not convinced that he is a universalist after a revisit to chapter four: “Does God get what God wants?”, in which he ends the chapter with these words:

But there’s a better question, one we can answer, one that takes all of this speculation about the future, which no one has been to and then returned with hard, empirical evidence, and brings it back to one absolute we can depend on in the midst of all of this, which turns out to be another question.

It’s not “Does God get what God wants?” but “Do we get what we want?” And the answer to that is a resounding, affirming, sure, and positive yes. Yes, we get what we want, God is that loving.

If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option. If we insist on using our God-given power and strength to make the world in our own image, God allows us that freedom; we have the kind of license to that. If we want nothing to do with light, hope, love, grace, and peace, God respects that desire on our part, and we are given a life free from any of those realities. The more we want nothing to do with all God is, the more distance and space are created. If we want nothing to do with love, we are given a reality free from love.

If, however, we crave light, we’re drawn to the truth, we’re desperate for grace, we’ve come to the end of our plots and schemes and we want someone else’s path,

God give us what we want.

If we have this sense that we’ve wandered far from home, and we want to return, God is there, standing in the driveway, arms open, ready to invite us in.

If we thirst for shalom, and we long for the peace that transcends all understanding, God doesn’t just give, they’re poured out on us, lavished, heaped, until we’re overwhelmed. It’s like a feast where the food and wine do not run out.

These desires can start with the planting of an infinitesimally small seed deep in our heart, or a yearning for life to be better, or a gnawing sense that we’re missing out, or an awareness that beyond the routine and grind of life there’s something more, or the quiet hunch that this isn’t all there is. It often has its birth in the most unexpected ways, arising out of our need for something we know we do not have, for someone we know we are not.

And to that, that impulse, craving, yearning, longing, desire–

God says yes. Yes, there is water for that thirst, food for that hunger, light for that darkness, relief for that burden.

If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours. That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide.

God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins.

The only way Bell could be a universalist after reading the end of the chapter is if he believes that if wicked were given enough time, they would choose life.  And I suppose, that if this were possible, if the wicked would choose life in an afterlife, than I think a loving God would grant them life.

However, coming back to Jezebel, I think she is one person among many, who demonstrate that the wicked don’t choose life…  Over and over again they choose death… first the death and doom of others… and then their own death.  I believe the reason God destroys the wicked in the end is because, given eternity, they would choose death again and again.  So God gives them what they want.

And, in this point I believe Bell is absolutely right on… “God gives us what we want.”  Which is why I believe that as ministers of the gospel it is imperative that we cooperate with God’s Spirit in calling people to places of decision:

This was the ministry of Moses: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life…  For the LORD is your life” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20 NIV)

It was the ministry of Joshua: “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” (Joshua 24:15 NKJV)

It was Elijah’s ministry as well: ““How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.”” (1 Kings 18:21 NKJV)

Jesus himself, came to call people to decision: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15 NKJV)

And the apostle Paul made it clear that now is the time to decide: “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:1–2 NKJV)

The problem with a position that says, “If given long enough, folk will choose eternal life,” is… what if the time to choose is limited?  What if folk who continually choose evil in this life eventually reach a point where that is all they would choose?  What point would there be in letting people choose evil throughout eternity?  In quarantining them somewhere to inflict pain upon themselves?   Could it possibly be more loving and just to destroy those who would destroy each other, than to somehow miraculously sustain them so they could be the creators of their own eternal hell… or worse yet… to suggest that God would be the guarantor of eternal torment?

In Love Wins, Rob Bell certainly sees the insanity of eternal torment:

Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is, the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony.

If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities.

If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately.

If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good.

Loving one moment, vicious the next.

Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye…

Sometimes the reason people have a problem accepting “the gospel” is that they sense that the God lurking behind Jesus isn’t safe, loving, or good.  It doesn’t make sense, it can’t be reconciled, and so they say no.  They don’t want anything to do with Jesus, because they don’t want anything to do with that God.”

What a refreshing voice in the present evangelical stream that is both diverse and dividing.  It leads me to wonder if a time of major decision is fast approaching.  I certainly concur with our Adventist Pioneers that “the hour of His judgment has come,” and all the stir over Love Wins, affirms that heaven and hell are a very real part of this judgment hour message.  It was certainly a part of the discussion when E.G. White penned the classic apocalyptic work, Great Controversy:

How repugnant to every emotion of love and mercy, and even to our sense of justice, is the doctrine that the wicked dead are tormented with fire and brimstone in an eternally burning hell; that for the sins of a brief earthly life they are to suffer torture as long as God shall live. Yet this doctrine has been widely taught and is still embodied in many of the creeds of Christendom. Said a learned doctor of divinity: “The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. When they see others who are of the same nature and born under the same circumstances, plunged in such misery, and they so distinguished, it will make them sensible of how happy they are.” Another used these words: “While the decree of reprobation is eternally executing on the vessels of wrath, the smoke of their torment will be eternally ascending in view of the vessels of mercy, who, instead of taking the part of these miserable objects, will say, Amen, Alleluia! praise ye the Lord!” {GC 535.1}

Where, in the pages of God’s word, is such teaching to be found? Will the redeemed in heaven be lost to all emotions of pity and compassion, and even to feelings of common humanity? Are these to be exchanged for the indifference of the stoic or the cruelty of the savage? No, no; such is not the teaching of the Book of God. Those who present the views expressed in the quotations given above may be learned and even honest men, but they are deluded by the sophistry of Satan. He leads them to misconstrue strong expressions of Scripture, giving to the language the coloring of bitterness and malignity which pertains to himself, but not to our Creator. “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” Ezekiel 33:11. [BEGIN P.536] {GC 535.2}

What would be gained to God should we admit that He delights in witnessing unceasing tortures; that He is regaled with the groans and shrieks and imprecations of the suffering creatures whom He holds in the flames of hell? Can these horrid sounds be music in the ear of Infinite Love? It is urged that the infliction of endless misery upon the wicked would show God’s hatred of sin as an evil which is ruinous to the peace and order of the universe. Oh, dreadful blasphemy! As if God’s hatred of sin is the reason why it is perpetuated. For, according to the teachings of these theologians, continued torture without hope of mercy maddens its wretched victims, and as they pour out their rage in curses and blasphemy, they are forever augmenting their load of guilt. God’s glory is not enhanced by thus perpetuating continually increasing sin through ceaseless ages. {GC 536.1}

It is beyond the power of the human mind to estimate the evil which has been wrought by the heresy of eternal torment. The religion of the Bible, full of love and goodness, and abounding in compassion, is darkened by superstition and clothed with terror. When we consider in what false colors Satan has painted the character of God, can we wonder that our merciful Creator is feared, dreaded, and even hated? The appalling views of God which have spread over the world from the teachings of the pulpit have made thousands, yes, millions, of skeptics and infidels. {GC 536.2}

The theory of eternal torment is one of the false doctrines that constitute the wine of the abomination of Babylon, of which she makes all nations drink. Revelation 14:8; 17:2.

So, in the end, what are we to deduce from all the stir over Love Wins? Might I suggest that our message is more relevant than ever before… that as Adventist Christians we have been granted a sacred trust in the Three Angels Messages and we must be diligent to present them in the kind of language and illustration which will win the nations to saving grace of their Creator God.

For over 150 years we have espoused that their is a hell… but not eternal torment… that now is the time to choose because when death comes our destinies are sealed.

Yes, the implication of all this is…

“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:2–4 NKJV)

Even now our world is turning to fables… Fables of eternal torment… and fables of universalism (see Great Controversy p. 537).  Where Mr. Bell stands is yet to be seen?  But, the ultimate question is where do you and I stand, and what will be our proclamation?

The only safe place to stand is under the shadow of the cross, and within the hope of Christ’s return as revealed in His word.

And as to our proclamation?  Let us declare: “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water,” and “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12 NKJV)

Let us stand brothers and sisters upon Everlasting Gospel proclaimed in Holy Scripture, and let us proclaim that gospel as revealed in the Three Angels Messages… and from this vantage point, and this proclamation… we too may declare, LOVE WINS!

But be not deceived, those who reject LOVE… shall loose eternity:  “The wages of sin is death…” eternal death, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So, with Moses I say: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life…  For the LORD is your life” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20 NIV)

So how will Love Win your future?  In life or death?

Choose Life my Friend!  Choose Life.  The Lord is Your Life!

Note: For further reading see Heaven, Hell, and Rob Bell: Putting the Pastor in Context by Mark Galli the senior managing editor of Christianity Today.