Thursday, March 5, 2009

heaven (and hell) is a place on earth?

In the book of Psalms, it's written: "The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all" To the Jewish mind, heaven is not a fixed, unchanging geographical location somewhere other than this world. Heaven is the realm where things are as God intended them to be. The place where things are under the rule and reign of God. And that place can be anywhere, anytime, with anybody.

Now if there's 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 accodring to God's will. Where people aren't treated as fully human.

It's called hell.

Rob Bell, sex god, p. 21


If there is any doubt that Bell is saying that Heaven and Hell are things or condition here on Earth, in this present world, read a page further.

When Jesus talks about heaven and hell, they are first and foremost present realitites that have serioius implications for the future. Either can be invited to earth, right now, through our actions.

It's possible for heaven to invade earth.

And it's possible for hell to invade earth.

p. 22


I don't know if some other part of the book deals with his thoughts on after-death matters, but at least from that little bit, Bell is pretty much saying heaven and hell are here, that we humans make our own heaven and hell here on earth.

It would be interesting to know where he gets this stuff. For example, one can look at Jesus' story of the rich man in Hell to see that he didn't wind up there until after he died. One could as well look at Jesus' words to the criminal at the crucifixion, telling him he would be with Him in Paradise, to know that if one is promising Paradise to a man soon to die, then that Paradise has nothing to do with this present world.

2 comments:

Tim Bertolet said...

I'd love to know where Bell gets this notion of "to the Jewish mindset, heaven is not fixed, unchanging geographical location somewhere other than this world."

Is he even aware of Second Temple Judaism sources? They had whole concepts in various circles of (a) ascents into heaven; (b) levels of heaven; (c) a 'location' for the divine throne. Simply consulting something like IVP's 4 volumes series of NT Dictionaries should put some of this to rest. Second Temple Judaism portrays heaven as having physical aspects as people are given tours.

What about the Book of Hebrews? What about the whole notion of Jesus' bodily ascent into heaven?

I believe that the whole hope of eschatology is about heaven coming to earth (cf. Rev. 21-22), the cosmic temple fills all creation (a la Greg Beale's massive work). But this really isn't what Bell is getting at. Granted we are exiles whose citizenship is in heaven, so we should manifest the ethic of heaven here (Like Jonathan Edwards' "Heaven is a World of Love")-- but the redefinition and dismissal of heaven is inexcusable.

I agree, it'd be interesting to know where Bell gets this stuff. I know Bell is writing at a popular level, but he could at least document where these ideas are coming from. It sounds so scholarly to throw out "the Jewish worldview"... it sounds reasoned and historical. It can be captivating... but Bell really uses a non-argument and doesn't seem to know the sources (if he does, he dismisses them b/c the issues are way more complex then Bell accounts for even at a popular level).

Granted later Christian thought was influenced by other forces... but extra biblical lit. shows Second Temple Jews did believe heaven was a place and they also believe in a hell/Gehenna that was the place of the dead.

Sadly, I know people swallow Bell hook-line-and-sinker. His way of thinking about heaven and hell is far too popular in 'Christian' circles.

jazzact13 said...

It would be good if one could pin Bell in one place, present the evidence against what he says, and make him give what evidence he has for what he's saying.

I'll need to check it again, but I don't think the he gives any footnotes (or at least, not informative ones) for his claim about "the Jewish mindset". That is odd, as he is rather footnotes-happy.