Francis Chan's new book released Tuesday, Erasing Hell, is not an easy read. Well, it is easy to complete as I did so in 2 days. It is not easy to enjoy or embrace.
The book is in answer to recent writings which suggest the doctrine of hell should be reconsidered since it is difficult to reconcile a God of unconditional and everlasting love, with a God of wrath and eternal damnation. Much of Chan's work is in direct response to Rob Bell's March-released work Love Wins. Many have labeled Bell a Universalist because of numerous of his comments, and the questions raised in his book. He challenges the reader to consider that love ultimately wins and that all will come to God eventually, even possibly after death. Hell is more about the injustices of the here and now than a future place of torment for unbelievers.
I have read both works and Chan's is much more thoroughly researched, even using writings from Judaism that represent Jewish thought and beliefs which were common during the time of Christ. Biblical references are considered in full context and relevance yielding stronger conclusions than Bell was able to accomplish convincingly.
A couple of my take-aways...
1) No one can know the answer to the questions posed with 100% certainty but conclusions can certainly be drawn that are uncomfortable. Yes, there is a hell and though it was created for the devil and his angels, people we know and even love will end up there. So, what are we doing about in response?
2) It is OK for us not to like it, for us to want not to believe in such a terrible place. However, we must understand that we aren't going to think like God because we aren't God, but rather a being created by God. The prophet Isaiah writes in chapter 55 (vv. 8-9) that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not like our own. We may not 'want' to believe that hell is the consequence for failure to accept God's Son and His sacrifice, His gift of love and grace, but 'can' we believe it ... just because He is God?
Chan challenges the reader to stop apologizing for God. After all, does a work of art ever get the opportunity to apologize for the artist? Chan writes, "Like the nervous kid who tries to keep his friends from seeing his drunken father. I have tried to hide God at times. Who do I think I am? The truth is, God is perfect and right in all that He does. I am a fool for thinking otherwise. He does not need or want me to "cover" for Him. There's nothing to be covered. Everything about Him and all He does is perfect. Yet sometimes from our human perspective, its tough to see exactly how..."
Chan summarily concludes that "God, as the Creator, is free to do whatever He sees best, He is compelled by none other than Himself."
Before you turn away thinking 'I wouldn't have done it that way' or 'Why would I want to believe in that kind of God?', consider a few final words from Chan. "Would you have thought to rescue sinful people from their sins by sending your Son to take on human flesh? Would you have thought to enter creation through the womb of a young Jewish woman and be born in a feeding trough? Would you have thought to allow your created beings to torture your Son, lacerate His flesh with whips, and then drive nails through His hands and feet?"
Doubt it that I would have. I'm glad I'm not God, and you should be just as relieved.