Rob Bell's error about God and free will
Bell's new book has the goods to make it an important work for thinking Christians to consider, but it has an unacceptable position about how God, free will, and love are related.
0. Although there are many good things in Bell's book, I won't take time here to list those. But there is one particular issue on which I think the good Reverend is in error. Apparently, others are bewitched by his position too. First, let me review where this position is, and then show how it can go wrong. Last, I'll make a case for why he (and others of piety) should have a change of mind on the matter.
1. Here's a relevant quote which showcases the worrisome position at hand:
“God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end,” Bell argues, “even at the risk of relationship itself. If at any point God overrides, co-ops, or hijacks the human heart, robbing us the freedom to choose, then God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is” (103-104). Therefore, “love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us,” says Bell. “We can have all the hell we want” (113).I think the key premise (KP) where he and others make a mistake is this one:
KP = If at any point God overrides, co-ops, or hijacks the human heart, robbing us the freedom to choose, then God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is.
2. Sentences of the type KP are called "conditionals." To show that a conditional is incorrect, one must show how the first part can be true while the second part is false.
2.1 Take this conditional, for example: "If an Okie is a preacher, then s/he drives a Mercedes." Part one is "An Okie is a preacher" And part two is "S/he drives a Mercedes." Now then--can I find an Okie who's a preacher, and who DOESN'T drive a Mercedes? Yes, I can. I are one. So's all the preachers I know around here; why, even the District Superintendent just drives a Buick! Thus, this particular conditional about Okies, preachers, and Mercedes can't be correct, since the first part could be true while the second part's false.
2.2. So now, could KP be shown incorrect just like the above Okie example? Yes, yes it can. Part one is, "God overrides [...] us the freedom to chose." And part two is "God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is." Now then, can I find a case where God overrides freedom, but where God HASN'T violated the fundamental essence of what love even is?" Yes, I can. Here's how:
3. Right now I'm about to grab one of two Reese's Peanut Cutter cups from the orange package in front of me. I could use my left hand, or my right. Happily, God is subtle and knows that even a falling sparrow can greatly affect future states of affairs. Stipulate outright that God co-ops, or hijacks my human heart, robbing me the freedom to eat a Reese with my left hand (forcing, thus, my right hand to do it). Furthermore, God did so with the foresight to greatly subvert, or even outright eliminate, the high-probability risk of a busload of kids plowing into my car five days hence, killing us all. In this case God has NOT "violated the fundamental essence of what love even is." Not for me--I'm glad God did it! Not for the kids, or their parents, or their friends--they're glad God did it! God's overriding my left-handed will shows he loves me, them, and all related parties. God's motive is loving; God's outcome is good. Indeed, all parties praise him for making this tiny, imperceptible over-ride on just one sub-component of my will.
4. In conclusion, then, KP is incorrect (first part can be true, while second part false.) That's why Bell and others that think along similar lines are in error about God when they claim, "If at any point God overrides, co-ops, or hijacks the human heart, robbing us the freedom to choose, then God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is." Indeed, one should ask God daily to override those little, throw-away sub-actions that one could care less about. Yes, I want to eat that Reese cup, oh Lord; hijack not that choice. Yet, whether by my left hand or right--not my will, but Thine alone.
[ * ] Rob Bell "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived" HarperOne (March 15, 2011)