On pages 58 and 59 Bell tries to get at an understanding of time and existence that human beings have difficulty with. He views eternity, not as a physical, endless expanse into the future, but a different plane of existence altogether. I take that to mean that eternity can be a very present reality. I agree with Bell. I find reality in heavenly things and understanding; truths that I cannot grasp in a physical realm are easy and common in a spiritual state.
Here may be the hardest place for me to connect with Rob Bell. In Mark 10:25-31 the Bible records the words of Jesus:
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
28 Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (NIV)
Rob Bell insists that heaven is here. I agree that we are connected to there, to heaven. Our hope is there, but it begins here. This is the hardest concept for me to master, to have faith in the realities the Bible promises while my experiences are confined to the physical and tangible. Well, not altogether. Sometimes I have been in tune with heaven and rejoiced in its splendor, but it was a brief sojourn, and the jarring reality of earthbound activities returned with force.
So how can I as a physical and fallible human ever understand and appreciate the promises of heaven and eternal life? I am afraid that trying to fit heaven into an earthly reality deminishes the prospect. and perhaps I am missing some part of Rob Bell's argument. I may need to give the book a closer read. The truth is I don't want heaven to be here. I want the promises to be only a reflection, a hint of what heaven will be; these hints are just something to spur me on to the full reality of God's glory.
One theory found in the field of literary theory is called binary opposition. We define things as black or white, up or down, heaven or hell, life or death, time or eternity. Opposites are used to define the subject by what it is not. Heaven is defined in terms we use as earthly surperlatives--choirs of angesl, crystal sea, golden streets. In one passage Bell suggests that heaven and hell is like the celebration with the prodigal son and the sadness of the older brother. If hell is not punishment and torment, is heaven still joy and exaltation? All our metaphors collapse when we examine them too closely. Heaven and hell will be revealed in that other dimension, and now we only throw darts at the target hoping to get a bull's eye.
I am afraid my attempts to grasp this idea have only muddied the water. I may need to start over.