“I think it’s actually very important to realize, maybe what has you really pissed off has Jesus really pissed off.”
Rob Bell is an Evangelical Christian preacher. He has his own megachurch in Michigan, 10,000 strong. And he doesn’t think you’re going to Hell. Weird, right? That’s why other Evangelicals are shitting themselves over his new book, Love Wins (HarperOne), in which the former indie-rocker asks his co-religionists to cool it with their obsession with damnation. “Why would an infinitely loving God torture people for eternity?” he asks. It doesn’t seem like that radical a question, especially for a guy whose other books have titles like Velvet Elvis and Sex God. But for the right’s culture warriors — the folks who think SpongeBob SquarePants is pushing the gay agenda — Bell’s ideas make him a bomb thrower. He talked with me about the doctrine of Hell, which he has called “evacuation theology,” as well as why God would beat Eminem in a rap battle.
I understand you were at a funeral this morning?
I went to a funeral. My neighbor died. She and her husband were married 50 years, and she's been battling cancer, so she's been in and out of a coma and was in the very final stages and thursday night, her husband is sitting by her bed and he says to her, Donna, I love you, and you can go now if you want to." And she stopped breathing at that moment. Just extraordinary. So I was over at the local synagogue. Beautiful lady, very very inspiring.
Had you been to a Jewish funeral before?
That's a great question - No, I don't think I had. I've been to that temple several times, but not for funerals.
What did you think of the ceremony? I ask because it's one of those places where Judaism and Christianity are most different.
I absolutely loved it. I thought it was awesome! I've known the rabbi there for a while; he actually is good friends with this couple, so he did the sermon and it was absolutely extraordinary. I told him afterwards, I mean, aside from the beauty of how he remembered her, it was a lesson in how to preach. So stirring and beautiful. The ceremony was actually overwhelming.
I ask because the Jewish prayer for the dead, the Mourner's Kaddish, is a prayer that does not say a single word about the dead, or mourners, or afterlife, or any kind of punishment or reward. It's purely a prayer in praise of God.
Yes. That was very striking and beautiful to me. The closest today got was, 'God willing, we will meet again.' We actually talked about that afterwards. It's funny, because I walked out and both rabbis were like, 'Love your new book, love what you're doing,' But yes, there's this kind of sacred reverant humility for the mysteries of what happens after this. And we can speculate, we can suggest, we can believe or trust, but any sort of dogmatic concrete knowledge isn't ours. Regardless of how much we would love this to be true.