Q & R: Hell and the cross

After the jump …

Here’s the Q:

I’ve read 3 of your books now and am waiting for the latest one to arrive in the mail. When I started reading your books, I looked you up on Internet and also contacted you because at the time I was just having my name removed from the books of the church I attended. Your books have been very helpful. I refused to read the comments of your critics until I had read your books and given you a chance to speak for yourself. I did, however, eventually read their comments just to give the other side to state their points. My thoughts, when I was done, was “Are we reading the same books?” I couldn’t see where they got their ideas, about you and your writing, from your books. There is only one comment that I can see really upsetting some people, but I can understand your point, although since I don’t have the same belief about hell as you do, I’m not bothered by the conclusion you came to. I don’t remember the exact words, so hopefully I will say this well enough for you to know what I’m referring to. You said something about the cross being false advertising because of the concept of hell, or something like that. Would you allow me the freedom to share my thoughts? You can take them or leave them. I’m not trying to push them, I just wanted to share my idea in this area.
I don’t believe in a literal place called hell. I don’t believe people burn forever. If I did believe that, I would probably question the cross and forgiveness too. I do believe in a hell fire that will cleanse the earth, but it won’t last forever, and only those who have refused to believe in Christ and accept His gift of salvation will be the ones who will end up burning in the fire during the cleansing. John 3:16 tells us that all who believe in Christ will be saved. Revelation tells us there is a time when God basically says, “Enough!” and those who have refused to accept Jesus by that time will have no more chances. However, God doesn’t want any of His children to be lost so I believe everyone will be given many chances to accept Jesus. Even the thief on the cross was forgiven and that was right before he died.
I think this makes the cross very relevant and the main theme of the Bible. Not the only theme or story. There are many things in the Bible that are very important, but I believe the main theme starts with the fall of Adam and Eve, continues with God’s constant attempt to bring us back to Him, and Christ death paying the costs of all our sins, which when we believe in Christ and the salvation of His death, brings us back to a right standing with God again. The theme ends with God eventually bringing us all together to live with Him in person, where we can actually see Him, once again. He is a forgiving God. Only those who just don’t anything to do with Him will be lost. Which makes sense. If they don’t want anything to do with Him how content are they going to be living in Heaven with Him and worshipping Him? It’s not that God isn’t forgiving them. It’s that they don’t want Him.
Does this make sense? Again, I’m not trying to push this or convince you. I’m just tossing out to you an idea just as your books are constantly tossing ideas to me which, while I may not agree with everyone of them, they give me something to think about and show me a different view on a subject. I look forward to reading your next book!

R: Thanks for your note, and especially for the spirit that it’s written in. I like what you say in the last paragraph … we can help one another think by tossing out ideas to one another: we don’t need to draw battle lines at every turn and see one another as enemies if we disagree. God is so wonderful and so beyond our ability to capture in our sentences, words, and thoughts, so we’re always reaching higher, always trying to expand our vision to see more of God’s wonder, glory, and grace. If you do get a chance to read my new book, you’ll see that I take a somewhat different approach, but we end up at a similar place – trusting in God’s great mercy to bring the best possible ending to the story of creation. (And that ending, I think, will actually be a new beginning!)
Some of my critics call me a “revisionist,” as if that’s a bad thing. I wonder – isn’t this the point of learning – to get an ever-expanding vision of God’s glory and truth? To say, “Yes, my old vision was good, and my current vision may be better, but I hope to get an even deeper vision of God’s love tomorrow, and the day after that?” It brings Paul’s beautiful words in Ephesians 3 to mind:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom God’s whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of God’s glorious riches God may strengthen you with power through God’s Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saits, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

When I read your email, it felt to me like you’re deep in the process of trying to grasp the amazing dimensions of God’s love, and that’s what I’m seeking to do as well. We’re not finished yet, and we still have a lot to learn. Since all of our “grasps” are partial and subject to continuing adjustment and expansion, we benefit greatly from sharing our insights with one another. Thanks for doing that with me.
PS. I’m not sure where the “false advertising” quote you’re referring to is from. I have a feeling it’s from an interview, not one of my books. But I think whatever I was getting at in that quote is fleshed out more fully in my new book, in Chapter 10-13, especially pages 123-126. Thanks again for writing!