There has been a lot of … discussion … around Rob Bell’s new book, “Love Wins.” Here is the trailer for his book:
[vimeo 20272585 w=440 h=248]
I think it is intriguing, and I think he raises the question in a beautiful and honest way. Is God an ogre? Does making Jesus out to be the exclusive way to God mean that God unreasonably condemns most people? Doesn’t grace and the love of God imply that He would never condemn anyone? The book, as of this post, has not been released, so I don’t really know what Rob Bell’s answer to this is. However, it set me to thinking, and I have an answer from a grace perspective that I think really works.
Implicit in this question of Ghandi’s salvation is the idea that Ghandi is a really really great guy. Anyone who would want to condemn Ghandi must be out of their mind. If you lived a life as wonderful as Ghandi’s, you would surely be saved, how could God honestly condemn such a person?
I really don’t know the secrets of Ghandi’s life, but this is not really the question. Behind this notion that Ghandi ought not to be condemned, there is a none-to-subtle injection of gracelessness: if you were to live like Ghandi, then God would accept you! Powerfully non-violent people of tremendous purpose and vision, earth-shakingly wise, empire-busting Moses-like figures earn God’s favor, but mere worms like us who just have American jobs and go to normal American protestant churches with normal families and who don’t get epic movies made about them probably don’t earn God’s favor. When we ask, “Really, GHANDI isn’t saved because he isn’t a Christian? How can that be!?” We mean, we at least know that if we were as good as Ghandi, then God would accept us.
Jesus doesn’t say that He is “the way, the truth, and the life” because He is some crazed megalomaniac. He is not looking for a way to condemn Ghandi. We don’t say Jesus is the only way because we are selfish mean small-minded scared religious wackos. It isn’t that there are a number of choices, Muhammed or Buddha or Confucius or Jesus, but we decided that Jesus is better and your weird beliefs scare us so you should be the same as us. That is not the dynamic at all. If you want true justice for all mankind, and a God who forgives and accepts and loves you as you are, despite your failures and sins, you can’t go to Buddha or Confucius for that. They tell you in various ways how to live, but not where to go when you don’t live that way. As Bono says, they can give you kharma, but not grace. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life in the same way that 1+1=2. I know it would be convenient if we didn’t have to step on everyone’s toes with such an exclusive claim of arithmetic, but in fact 1+1 does not ever equal 3, regardless of how many billions of people might think otherwise. It isn’t an opinion or a cultural taste, it is simply the way things are. At one time the entire world thought that the earth was the center of the universe, and they were all wrong. I am not saying that Buddhism is evil; I use zen concepts all the time in my thinking. It is often a fantastic place to go for a crucial insight. However, if you want to escape kharma, the impossible cycle of reaping what you sow, of living under the weight of your mistakes, you need to come to Jesus, not as a teacher, but as a savior.
I think it is interesting that grace, and belief in the love which God has for us, does not imply universalism. People largely do not want or believe in grace; it is too easy, it is not something you can do to distinguish yourself. Mostly people want harsh difficult paths involving rigorous or mystic practices that are beyond the normal course of living. People are not condemned because they adhere to Buddhist practices or Atheistic ethics instead of of adhering to Christian practices. This is the inevitable conclusion when your idea of Christianity is reduced to praxis. Christian ethics are not what distinguishes Christ. Grace is what distinguishes Christ.
I think Ghandi was a great man. I don’t mean for any of the billions of unbelievers to perish. I don’t mean for any bad thing to happen to anyone. I would prefer not to disturb the beautiful indigenous culture of anyone. The ‘exclusive’ claims of Christ are not about any of this. This is not an American or even a Western notion. He is saying, if you want to come to the Father, God as the One who loves you and accepts you and forgives you, you must come through Me, in the same way that you must go through space to get to the moon. Others tell you how to live, but I am the One who lived and died for you. I am the way. I am the lamb standing as if slain. I am the One who satisfied the needs of love and justice for you, I am the One who frees you from this wretched death. You don’t need to be as good as Ghandi, you don’t need to be good at all. Just come to Me and I will forgive you, I will refashion, I will begin a work which I will bring to completion. In that sense, Rob Bell is absolutely correct. Love Wins!
Jesus being the only way to God is really all inclusive, so really nobody should be offended by His statement.
As for whether or not Gandhi is condemned, and how terrible people might think the idea is: people seem to have some kind of inherent pride in humanity, where we think at least one of us can make it on our own; maybe not our-self, but someone can make it. After all, we were promised that if we ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, our eyes would be opened, and we’d be like God, knowing good and evil, and we still have faith in that promise, whether we believe the Bible or not. Its probably the mentality that leads to so much works based salvation, because we don’t take sin or God’s holiness seriously, because we’re not THAT bad. Right?
At this stage, it seems as though Bell’s problem is he is thinking of love as some sort of kindness without the grounding of justice and righteousness. In his world, love wins but justice loses. I believe in heaven and in hell, and where you go depends on how you respond to God’s gracious gift. It’s lunacy to reject God, but it’s what so many decide to do. Yet in the end, love wins. AND justice wins too. God needs both sides of His character to win to declare His perfections – and that’s the point of this whole earth project anyway.
The problem with love as kindness without justice is that it is impossible. For one thing, if there is injustice, it is an unkindness to someone, and if you show kindness to the instigator of the injustice, it is unkindness to the person harmed. If there is to be kindness all around, there must be propitiation. If love is going to win, it can only really happen through grace, and graceless ways of earning kindness must be rejected. 1+1=2.
Is Ghandi condemned? If he’s in hell how about we just go to his grave and raise him from the dead so he can go to heaven and if he doesn’t want to go then that’s between him and God. Or maybe he rejected God’s kindness way before he died. Nobody’s going to say “God you have to let me in heaven” or “it’s your fault I’m going to hell.”