Rob Bell and Hell Pt. 2: Wrestling With God

Rob Bell debateA couple posts back I wrote about an evening I had last week discussing Rob Bell’s debate on “hell” with Christian author Adrian Warrnock.

That post generated more than my usual humble levels of traffic and comments, not to mention some interesting discussions at work…

…and at home.

My wife Tammy, who is mostly unfamiliar with Rob Bell , weighed in on the debate herself in a little discussion we had.  She mentioned how Warrnock had valid points that needed to be honestly examined, but if she had to choose, Bell’s “approach” to engaging God was the more appealing…the more attractive.

And I agreed with her, God’s ways will be beautiful; something more than we can hope, dream, or imagine.

Son or Servant?

Now I know critics of Bell will quickly argue that he is simply “tickling itching ears” but I would disagree.  The biggest difference I saw in the debate was the “position” in Christ each one seemed to be operating from.  I would argue Bell approached God as a son,  whereas Warrnock approached him as a servant.

Warrnock’s arguments on hell and the judgement of God relied on an appeal to the “rulebook” (The Bible).  His attitude was something akin to “Hey, I don’t pretend to understand the Master’s rules, but I don’t get to obey the rules I like and ignore the ones I don’t.  The Bible says this… and this is what I’ll do.”


There is nothing wrong with that…per se, but it is exactly how a good servant would act.  And is God looking for servants?  Or is he looking for children who will engage him as sons and daughters?

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

Psalm 44:23

I love this verse because only a son or daughter can talk like this to God.  Where a servant has to knock at his employer’s door lest he disturb him,  the master’s child can run in unannounced, jump up on the bed, wake the father and ask, “Why?”

Lessons from my own Son

I have the privilege of working at the campus where my son goes to high school.  Other students will often come to my office, shyly tap on the door, mutter a “Umm, Mr. Hackman?”,  look to see if I am available and whether I will invite them in or not.

Not my son…

He walks in without knocking, drops his school bag on one of my office chairs, and asks if he can have some money.  True, sometimes I need to correct him, tell him I’ve already given him enough money this week, or remind him my office is not his secondary locker…

…but he gets to have access to me, ask questions of me, and relate to me in a way completely different to every other student because he’s my son!

It would be offensive if Gabriel related to me any other way because then our intimacy is lost.  If he stood outside my door and treated “my space” as something foreign…God forbid.

Christ desires intimacy with his children.  I’m not suggesting Adrian Warrnock is not a son (I believe he is) …but in the debate he played the role of a servant reminding all the other visitors to the Master’s house what his interpretation of the Master’s rules are.

In contrast, Bell comes bounding in with an approach like, “I know my father, and he knows me.  And in that intimacy I can ask him “Why” about things I don’t understand”.


Wrestling with God

A servant will never wrestle with their employer.  You won’t see the butler pinning the master’s arm behind his back.  At least not without getting fired!

But children wrestle with their parents all the time.  Sometimes it is “fun play” when they are little children and sometimes its wrestling “issues” when they are teenagers.  (I happen to be doing both right now)

I want my teenage son to wrestle with me; to question why I do things…to ask what my motivations are.  In effect I want him to “push back” because in pushing back he will become not just a “robot” mimicking what I have taught him, but a “son” who stands on his own with the values and character I have shaped in him.

In Genesis, Jacob spent a whole night wrestling with God:

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Genesis 32: 24-26

I love Jacob.  He had audacity!  In my opinion, and this part is certainly my opinion, I think God is looking for a little audacity in his children.  I think he is looking for sons and daughters who don’t act like servants at the front door with a rulebook in their hand making sure no visitors are tracking mud in the house but who will wrestle with him on the living room floor when the servants have all been dismissed for the evening.

That’s probably why I like Rob Bell…he struggles with God and humans and seems to overcome.



  • “In my opinion, and this part is certainly my opinion, I think God is looking for a little audacity in his children.”

    A great thought… reminds me of Captain Pike’s line to Kirk in the bar about what Starfleet needs.

    I don’t believe in God anymore, but if someone is going to, I prefer they view the world as Rob Bell rather than Mark Driscoll. I agree with David Dark, the author of “The Sacredness of Questioning Everything” who said, “Our ideas about God affect the way we treat other people.”

  • Just read your post! Love the anecdote about your teenage son and your office 😉 Really illustrates it perfectly 🙂

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