That's been a central idea of Love Wins. Instead of keeping our eyes on a future life way out there somewhere else, we ought to keep our eyes focused on life now with our neighbors, here. In the End, God comes down to us, to dwell with us Here. Here is where the End will occur - with a God who is Love. In the End, God wins. In the End, Love Wins. In the End, Love will be Here.
Whatever you've been told about the end - the end of your life, the end of time, the end of the world - Jesus passionately urges us to live like the end is here, now, today. Love is what God is, love is why Jesus came, and love is why he continues to come, year after year, to person after person. (197-8)
This is the core of Rob's summary. An emphasis on God as Love - an emphasis gleaned from an immersion of the Scriptures, from Genesis thru Revelation. God is holy, just, glorious, jealous, and righteous - but the Great Commandment is for us to Love God and Love our Neighbor (just as God in Christ loves us). It's not an emphasis on love to the exclusion of holiness or justice, but an emphasis that points to the heart of God.
...I believe that the indestructible love of God is an unfolding, dynamic reality and that every single one of us is endlessly being invited to trust, accept, believe, embrace, and experience it. Whatever words you find helpful for describing this act of trust, Jesus invites us to say yes to this love of God, again and again and again. (194)
So here is a focal point of the controversy, of the rejection of Rob's argument: "endlessly being invited" instead of eternal conscious torment. From Rob's point of view, Scripture points to a God who loves covenantally, who loves through substitutional atonement, who loves through global redemption. A God who blesses his own people, but then curses them. The curse is part of the judgment, but it is also the beginning of the restoration. The judgment is a form of discipline that is to bring about repentance and righteousness. Judgment is designed to be ultimately restorative for those that God loves. God punishes rebels so that he might bring about their reconciliation.
Jesus invites us to trust that the love we fear is too good to be true is actually good enough to be true. Jesus invites us to become, to be drawn into this love as it shapes us and forms us and takes over every square inch of our lives. Jesus calls us to repent, to have our minds and hearts transformed so that we see everything differently. (195-6)
What's the motivation to repent if hell is not forever? If the conscious torment is not eternal, what's the motivation to cease rebelling and embrace reconciliation? As Rob seems to insist, God's love compels love as a response. Obedience to God through fear of fire, or appeal to restoration? Is it possible that people will still repent of their sins though they don't believe in the traditional teachings of hell? Yes. But then what to do with the images and words of Jesus himself that seem to point to eternal conscious torment?
These are strong, shocking images of judgment and separation in which people miss out on rewards and celebrations and opportunities. Jesus tells us these stories to wake us up to the timeless truth that history moves forward, not backwards or sideways. Time does not repeat itself. Neither does life.
While we continually find grace waiting to pick us up off the ground after we have fallen, there are realities to our choices. While we may get other opportunities, we won't get the one right in front of us again. That specific moment will pass and we will not see it again. It comes, it's here, it goes, and then it's gone.
Jesus reminds us in a number of ways that it is vitally important to take our choices here and now as seriously as we possibly can because they matter more than we can begin to imagine. (197)
When Jesus spoke words of judgment to his fellow Israelites, it was within a particular historical and cultural context, within an economic and political reality. Those words he spoke were for them, not us. The phrases and ideas recorded by the Gospel-writers were done so in light of those contexts and realities. And so we "listen" in on their wrestling to believe and understand. As Hebrew Christians, immersed in the First Testament, expectant for a deliverer, they grappled with what actually happened through Jesus. The Messiah they had waited for did not accomplish what they had anticipated - he did something bigger and better and more beautiful. And so it is for us.
Can our choices "matter more than we can begin to imagine" if there is no eternal conscious torment? Is there another compelling way to think about the connection between our decisions today and our experience in eternity aside from the fear of burning for billions of centuries? What will God do with all the rebels and idolaters, the doubters and deceivers, the ignorant and innocent little babies? Will the mass of humanity writhe in agony as fulfillment of God's justice? Does this bring glory to God?
The End is Here. We take today seriously, tomorrow has enough worries of its own. The consequences of the decisions we make now have ramifications now that we ought to pay more diligent attention to. The threat of hell is by itself insufficient to prompt rebels to repent. The work of God is the only hope we deceived humans have for receiving a second chance. If we ignore or reject or misunderstand God's overtures for salvation now in this life, that has consequences for now, in this life. But will God continue those invitations in the life to come? Or is this life it?
Rob seems to believe the invitation is endless. Only God can turn a heart towards him - and God will not cease until every man and woman repents. Rob believes that the fires of affliction, the torment of hell that we experience now will continue - on both sides of death - until we surrender and relent in our rebellion. Love never fails.
That seems to be what Rob believes. When God comes down to Earth, everyone who has ever lived will dwell before him - their experience in God's presence will be heaven or hell - it's their choice. Their response to God's presence, their response to God's gift of faith and grace through Jesus will determine their experience in God's midst. Those outside the gate can walk through any time they want. It's their choice. And Rob believes that God will wait out their rebellion, that his patience and kindness will prevail. In the End, God will win. Through Christ, love will win Here.