Well that’s quite the, uh, provocative question, isn’t it? I mean how many of us Christians have ever really stopped and thought about that. Yet that is the question that Rob Bell opens his book “Love Wins” with.
If you remember, that’s what this series “The Great Hell Smackdown of 2017” is all about. I’m reading that book by Rob Bell as well as “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. I’ll be posting this and some other entries about some of the things both talk about , I’ll review both books, then I’ll talk about whether any of these authors challenged my view on the subject and talk about why they see this doctrine in such a different light.
But back to Gandhi and his “eternal fate.”
Gandhi was a lot of things, pretty much all of them totally awesome, but he was a not a Christian. What does it mean to “be a Christian” in the parlance of American Protestant Christianity today? Generally it means that you’ve said some version of the “Sinner’s Prayer,” you’ve asked Jesus “Into Your Heart,” and had a “personal relationship” with him as your Lord and Savior.
Huh. Well, I didn’t know the guy, but I’m guessing he didn’t do any of those things.
So he’s in Hell, being tormented for eternity by Satan and his minions, right? Is it that simple? Does 2000+ years of Christian theology and doctrine really come down to that formula? Does what you did in your life really not matter in the slightest?
Well, that’s an interesting question to think about, isn’t it. Most of us wouldn’t bat an eye at consigning a serial killer or a terrorist bomber to the eternal pit barbeque, but Gandhi? We have to stop and consider that one.
Generally I’ve encountered Christians who will answer that question in one of four ways. The first group will not even skip a beat, they’ll answer “Yes, he is, and it’s too bad. It just goes to show that you should accept Christ now!” The second group, the group into which I put myself, generally says, “I don’t know. Only God knows what’s in a person’s heart, and it’s his job to judge, not mine.” This kind of sounds like a cop out, but in truth, the Scripture tells me not to judge (Matt 7:1) and I would not presume to know the mind of God on this or any other issue.
The third group will be a group of what are sometimes called “Universalists.” I’ve got about 20 pages left in “Love Wins,” and I would probably put Rob Bell here. To the Universalists, Gandhi would most likely have been reconciled to God after his death in whatever way God chooses to do this. This position draws heavily on the voices of the prophets who throughout Scripture who consistently say that God is going to reconcile all of creation to himself. All of creation means ALL OF IT, every person, every plant, every animal. This position basically holds that death is not the final chance, that like the prodigal son, (Luke 15: 11-31) we will always have the chance to come home to God no matter what stage of existence we are in, yet it remains our choice whether to do so or not.
Then of course there is the final group who will just say that Hell and Satan aren’t really a thing, so don’t worry about it. My conception of Bell’s book before I read it was that he was probably in this camp, but as I said, I’ve only got about 20 pages to go, and not once as he said that Hell is not real or that our choices and actions in this life carry no consequences.
So where are you at, my friend? Which group do you fall into, or is there even yet another perspective out there?
Is there something “magical” about the Sinner’s Prayer? If I just say that prayer, but then go about my life doing whatever I want, to whomever I want, anytime I want do I still go to “Heaven” just because I punched my ticket when I said those magic words? Would I get to the Pearly Gates and smirk because St. Peter had to grudgingly let me in just because I said the words?
I don’t think most Christians see it quite that way (thankfully), but if you take that one step, you admit that the situation is not that black and white, and then where does it go from there?
Let’s come at this from another angle. What about Ted Bundy? Where is he at right now? If you’re one of the younger crowd and aren’t familiar with Mr. Bundy, he was an American serial killer who tortured, raped, and murdered 30+ women throughout the United States in the 1970s. Honestly, we have no idea how many women he did that to, but he confessed to 30. When I was getting my Criminal Justice degree, we talked a lot about Bundy. Bundy was first arrested in here in Utah in 1975. The director of the Forensic Science program at the time I was in it was one of the scientists who developed the evidence used against Bundy at his first trial. I know a lot about that case, it hits home.
I also know that shortly before he was executed in a Florida electric chair in 1989, he supposedly found Jesus with noted evangelical leader Dr. James Dobson. Dobson said that Bundy had followed the formula and been “saved.” Dobson took that cow and milked it for all it was worth, using it to crank out promotional materials for his ministry long after Bundy was killed by the State of Florida. I should know, I watched them in youth group. Of course many credible psychologists and Criminologists that worked directly with Bundy, some of whom I studied under, were quite confident that Bundy had played Dobson for a fool. Bundy was a master liar and manipulator. I will never forget in 2004 one of my professors said “The only thing Ted Bundy believed in was Ted Bundy. He just made that Christian guy his last victim.”
So which is it? Was Bundy’s death house conversion genuine or not? Again, I don’t pretend to know the mind of God in this or any other circumstance. I will say this: My God is big enough, my God is awesome enough to reconcile and heal somebody as evil as Ted Bundy. Nobody is beyond the grace of Jesus.
So that begs the question: Is my God big enough to reconcile Gandhi to himself even though he didn’t say the prayer or have a “personal relationship” with Jesus? Does the saving power of God lose it’s might the minute someone on earth takes their final breath, the second their heart beats for the final time?
Rob Bell says that his God is definitely big enough to handle that. I still have a few pages left in his book but I looked ahead to Chan’s book and spoiler alert, he takes an entirely different view on the subject.
And thus the Great Hell Smackdown of 2017 continues. Chew on this one for awhile, and then stay tuned for part 3, hopefully coming Tuesday or Wednesday!