First, let me point you to Ben Myers' wonderful review of Love Wins--Will Hell Be Empty?--which puts Bell's book into conversation with church history and theology. It's a great read.
Chapter Four of Love Wins is entitled Does God Get what God wants? In this chapter Bell tackles a bunch of issues, most of which swirl around questions regarding God's sovereignty. Can history end up any other way than how God wants it to end up? If God desires that all people be saved (1 Timothy 2.4) will God get what God wants? Will God be victorious or oversee a defeat of epic proportions? Will the grand story of God's Creation, started in hope and love, end in tearful and torturous tragedy?
Will God fail?
As I've said repeatedly, the belief in universal reconciliation is really just the endorsement of two very biblical and uncontroversial beliefs:
1. God desires to save every person who has ever lived (omnibenevolence).If a person struggles with how God can pull this off, in the face of death and human rebellion, we can throw in a third adjective: omniscience.
2. God gets what God wants (omnipotence).
God's a pretty smart cookie. God can figure it out.
(Let me pause here to say that I'm not wholly comfortable trotting out the Greek "omnis" to describe God. I have doubts about all three of them. Along with my friend Matt, the only one I'm about 100% confident on is that God is love. I use the omnis here because most Christians play with these three cards. In light of that, playing the omnibenevolence and omnipotence cards is often the quickest way to get someone to see that universal reconciliation is both biblical and orthodox.)
Here's how Bell describes all this at the start of Chapter Four. Prior to the quote below he's been contrasting the faith claims many churches make on their websites. How, on the one hand, these churches claim that billions of non-Christians will spend eternity in hell and how, on the other hand, God is loving, sovereign, mighty and powerful. As Bell points out, those two claims don't go together very well:
This is the God for whomObviously, not everyone "gets saved" this side of death. Thus, for God to accomplish God's sovereign purposes we have to confess that God is both Lord of Time and of Death. This is why, as I've contended over and over, that the defeat of death is so central to an understanding of God's love. We confess that God is the widow, the shepherd and the father in Luke 15, relentless in pursuit and eternally open to our returning home. And if people doubt that God can reach us after death--people who think that Death is greater than God--Bell quotes Martin Luther on this point. In a letter written in 1522 to Hans von Rechenberg discussing God's power to reach us after death Luther asks:
"all things are possible."
I point out these parallel claims:
that God is mighty, powerful, and "in control"
and that billions of people will spend forever apart from
this God, who is their creator,
even though it's written in the Bible that
"God wants all people to be saved and to come to a
knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2).
So does God get what God wants?
How great is God?
Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do,
or kind of great,
great most of the time,
but in this,
the fate of billions of people,
not totally great.
Sort of great.
A little great...
Does this magnificent, mighty, marvelous God fail in the end?
Who would doubt God's ability to do that?Who indeed?
It's really a simple question: Is God more powerful than Death?
Christians sort themselves into two groups depending upon their answers.
The No group. And the Yes group.
I'm in the Yes group. I think love is stronger than Death.
The Song of Songs 8.6Here, in human love, we find a mirror of God's own love. I believe that God's love for us is stronger than Death. That God's passion for us is more relentless than Sheol.
Set me like seal on your heart,
like a seal on your arm.
For love is strong as Death,
passion as relentless as Sheol.
The flash of it is a flash of fire,
a flame of Yahweh himself.
That the fire of love, in this life and the next, is the flame of Yahweh himself.