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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Guest Post: Heaven, Hell and Rob Bell

Have a post you think would be good on Modern Mormon Men? Both modern mormon men and modern mormon women can submit guest posts via email. In addition to your post, please include a post title and a paragraph of introduction (on yourself) to run above the post.

Matt Lipps was just thinking to himself that he needs a pen name. Fortunately, though, he has at least two years to think of one. He likes missionary work and at the time of writing this is exactly 19 days away from reporting to the MTC to prepare for service in Santa Maria, Brazil (MMM note: he's now a few weeks into the MTC). He goes to BYU and loves it to death. His greatest ambitions are to improve his piano chops, run a triathlon and get barreled while surfing. You can read Matt's first guest post here.

One of the mormon faith’s most distinctive characteristics is the idea of the divided heaven. In mormon doctrine, Heaven contains three separate kingdoms: the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, and the telestial kingdom. After we die, we are judged of God - or, rather, we judge ourselves against God - and are placed into the realm we most deserve; the obedient followers of Christ who followed in His footsteps and accepted the necessary ordinances inherit the celestial glory, those who lived righteously but didn’t accept the gospel or otherwise abandoned their covenants receive terrestrial glory, and the unrighteous enter into telestial glory. Within the LDS church, Heaven is quite a pleasant thing – all are given completely fair judgment and placed where they would be happiest, forcing none to be where they would not want to be.

And then there’s Hell.

Mormon theology unarguably declares the reality of hell, or “outer darkness” as we affectionately call it. But yet it is still a very sticky, amorphous sort of location, one that few understand and even fewer occupy. According to my doctrinal giant of a seminary teacher, Hell is simply the place where God is not, and likewise, damnation a cessation of eternal progress; the fire and brimstone is only a metaphor to describe the emotional anguish of separation from God. Whatever it may be and whatever we like to call it, though, we all sustain that Hell is there and it is not even close to pleasant. No matter what AC/DC tells you.

But this is where we part ways with some of the christian world. On April 25th of this year, Time Magazine published an article titled Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn’t Exist? in which journalists explain and evaluate the radical teachings of Michigan pastor Rob Bell. In Bell’s recent book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell suggests that Hell might not exist, or at least not the “eternal torment” that most pair with Hell. As evidence, Bell correlates Hell to other ambiguities in the bible, as well as postulating that Christ’s atonement, given the biblical evidence, may be sufficient to cover all sin and redeem all mankind. With his book, Bell has placed himself at the forefront of a christian upheaval, leaving pissed Evangelists to rage against his extreme ideas.

But as mormons, we have an edge on the rest of the christian population. A cursory review of the Times article will reveal that Bell is both terribly right and terrible wrong within a mormon’s perspective. As Bell says, God’s love is not conducive to eternal suffering; for every man that died without knowledge of Christ, there have been a hundred who have died with unresolved sins. Eternal suffering is a punishment reserved only for those who have fully known the living God for who He is and still spat upon Him, not simply for those who don’t know, realize, or accept him. In our specific paradigm, we do our time, get what we reserve, and then reap what benefit we can from our actions. Justice and mercy are both satisfied, and because of Christ’s atonement, everyone leaves with more than they deserve. Easy-peasy.

But where Bell errs is in his suggestion that Hell might not exist. No, no, no. Let me approach this axiomatically, with a lot of philosophical help from 2 Nephi 9.

God is loving, correct?

Correct, as manifested by his every creation and his plan for all of this, including the sacrifice of his Son.

So, if we support, as Bell does, the idea of a loving God, we must acknowledge that love has its opposite, yes? If not, love has no contrast or reference point, and does not exist at all.

Correct again.

So then what is love?

As Einstein supposedly said, the opposite of love is the absence of love.

So then, given the above conclusions, can we safely say that all things must have a reference point in order to exist?


And again, if we have heaven, as the Bible (and Book of Mormon) makes abundantly clear, must it have an opposite? Hell?

Yeah, sure.

So if love’s opposite is the lack of love, what is Hell?

The lack of Heaven, you’d think.

And what defines Heaven?

God’s presence, of course.

Aha! So, can we safely say that Hell is the absence of God? A place reserved for those who feel unworthy to enter his presence?

Indeed we can!

So, in conclusion, even logic dictates the existence of a Hell, biblical ambiguity be damned. In my opinion, Bell is trying to force a secular idea into the unlikely paradigm of christianity, and is overlooking a few stop-ups. I’m reminded of the Book of Mormon character Nehor (not to suggest Rob Bell is an antichrist, I’m sure he’s quite pleasant).

Alma 1:4 “And [Nehor] also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.”

What say ye, mormons? What of this Hell, and what of suffering?

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