Rob Bell's Love Wins attracted a great deal of attention last year partly because of the questions he raised. They are not just Bell's questions, but questions all of us have. Take these, raised twice in the book:
Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number "make it to a better place" and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?
These questions come in many forms today, and range from the theoretical to the personal: The Buddhist child who dies in some remote corner of China, having never heard the gospel—is she going to hell? Why would a good God allow my wife to get cancer? And so forth.
No matter how or why it is asked, its basic form is this: How do we know that God can be trusted to be good?
That question usually comes with a partial answer, which also depends on the particular concerns of the questioner. It often goes like this: "Well, I know one thing for sure, I could never believe in a God who would ___." Fill in the blank. Like: "I could never believe in a God who would condemn the Buddhist child to hell."
This is one way we shape our faith as we stand in the shadows of one of these dark scenarios. Faith becomes not confidence in the love of God but mostly a defensive bulwark against our nightmares, against the haunting possibility that God may be unjust and arbitrary.
But can we do better than this? Is there a way to face this question squarely—is God good?—and come away with even more confidence in the love of God?
A faith ...1