I am not sure I'm going to bother with Rob Bell's latest book Love Wins - or with John MacArthur's extended critique or with most of the others on the blogosphere. However, the issue of hell and a loving God does deserve some consideration.
Love. There can be no question that God loves his creation including the most intranssient rebel and the most awful sinner. His love is extravagant, incomprehensible, and irrational. Thank God for that, for I count myself as much outside reasonable love as any man. Only radical love, a love that would place his own Son on the cross for me provides any hope.
I would not wish to put any limitations on God's love, for if we could say, "God loves you, but. . .." I would be hopelessly lost.
My theology, my understanding of Scripture, and my heart tells me that God's love is so fundamental to him that everything that God does is bathed in his love.
Hell. I hate it. I shiver at the thought that I or anyone could spend eternity separated from God and all that is good in hell. Hell is incomprehensible. When I hear preachers or teachers making casual reference to hell or reducing its eternal awfulness, I seriously wonder if they are even close to understanding.
But as much as I hate it and as much as I do not understand how hell can be even imagined in view of God's immense love (that seems to be Bell's conviction) I can not do away with it. It would require a denial of Jesus to deny hell; it was so often his warning to those who would refuse him. It would be a denial of the immeasurable sacrifice of God's Son if hell were even slightly less than eternal damnation.
I write that with tears, for I know, as you do, many who by any interpretation of the Word of God have chosen that unbelievably awful destiny over life. Dear God, have mercy.
How can I bring those two truths together, God's love and hell? I will be truthful. I can not. No systematic theology I've ever read does it satisfactorily. Any such treatment must dilute either God's love or the awful reality of hell. I can only accept the truth of both. I will stand on both. I will proclaim both. And I will let the wisdom of God solve the conundrum.
(That is the trouble with systematic theology; it makes compromises. I prefer Biblical theology; if the Bible says it, I believe it.)
But even as I write these words I am seriously and deeply moved by the inconceivable danger they face who do not know of God's love. "How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?"