New York Times writer Ross Douthat recently wrote a column defending the idea of hell. Douthat was in part responding to Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. Interestingly, Christian commentator Albert Mohler thinks that Douthat’s argument is not much different than Bell’s. Mohler contends they both embrace “human libertarian freedom”, where humans have to “have the ability to exert the will, even if the will is in hell” (which God “must respect”). Therefore, they are not really in disagreement! To quote Mohler:
[It is an argument that says] the sovereignty of God is ultimately secondary to the libertarian decisions of human beings. That God Himself cannot keep – cannot help – cannot prevent – someone from going to hell if they are determined to do so. That’s an interesting story. It’s just not the story of the Bible. That’s just not what God has revealed in His Word.
Of course Lutherans would assert that we can certainly lose our salvation and make shipwreck of our faith. Here’s a bit of what Douthat wrote (see the italics in the 3rd paragraph in particular, which are mine) in his article:
The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.
As Anthony Esolen writes, in the introduction to his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” the idea of hell is crucial to Western humanism. It’s a way of asserting that “things have meaning” — that earthly life is more than just a series of unimportant events, and that “the use of one man’s free will, at one moment, can mean life or death … salvation or damnation.”
If there’s a modern-day analogue to the “Inferno,” a work of art that illustrates the humanist case for hell, it’s David Chase’s “The Sopranos.” The HBO hit is a portrait of damnation freely chosen: Chase made audiences love Tony Soprano, and then made us watch as the mob boss traveled so deep into iniquity — refusing every opportunity to turn back — that it was hard to imagine him ever coming out. “The Sopranos” never suggested that Tony was beyond forgiveness. But, by the end, it suggested that he was beyond ever genuinely asking for it.
Is Gandhi in hell? It’s a question that should puncture religious chauvinism and unsettle fundamentalists of every stripe. But there’s a question that should be asked in turn: Is Tony Soprano really in heaven?
I just find it very interesting how someone with Mohler’s mind would make the comment that he does, seemingly unaware that the first Reformers, the Lutherans, would have no difficulty with the way Douthat has countered Bell. It seems to me that there is a world of difference between Bell’s and Douthat’s argument.
For salvation, God gets all the glory. For damnation, man gets all the blame. That’s all you need to know. Don’t think like a rational adult if that means leaving this critical way of looking at things behind.
More interesting reading (comments to)