Who Goes to Hell is Not the Most Important Question

By Kiran Thadhani 3-16-2011

"Reality check: Gandhi's in hell."
"Really? Gandhi's in hell? And we have confirmation of this?"

These words in Rob Bell's newest book and promotional video for Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived have created quite a dilemma in the church world in recent weeks. I remember watching the promotional video last week with a group of friends and my heart sank as I thought, "Really, the potential for a Hindu peacemaker to be in heaven upsets so many people?"

As someone who did not grow up in the Christian tradition and a great-grandchild of a nonviolent activist who worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi in the 1940's, the statement: "Gandhi's in hell" creates a deep sadness in my spirit. I have often wrestled with these questions as no one in my extended family is of the Christian tradition. Where does that leave them?

With no baptism?
With no purity ring?
And no response to an altar call?

Where do they go?
Is that the million dollar question at hand ... or is it something else?

Bell offers insight to many of these thoughts in his new book and is quickly marred as a universalist or for having bad theology. Yet, after reading an advance copy of Love Wins last week, I would beg to say that Rob Bell addresses many tensions about heaven and hell that fire-insurance salvation does not offer. In fact, personally, that tension is not hurtful to me, yet rather encouraging, as his writings remind me of the beautiful truth that "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

I think the real million dollar question that Bell poses in his book is: Wouldn't a racist be miserable in the world to come?

The prophets reiterated their hearts for "all the nations" several times in the Old Testament. I believe that the acknowledgment of the promise to "all nations" is at the core of Bell's most recent writings. We are asked to live in a tension of heaven and hell, not denying the existence of either, but more importantly, determining who is in heaven and who is in hell is not the point. Rather, the point is that Jesus spoke of God's kingdom which included, as Bell writes, "all the nations ... That's everybody. That's all those different skin colors, languages, dialects, and accents; all those kinds of food and music, all those customs, habits, patterns, clothing, traditions, and ways of celebrating-multi ethnic, multi-sensory, multi-everything."

portrait-kiran-thadhaniKiran Thadani is circulation and resources assistant at Sojourners.

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