It saddened me to watch Rob Bell in this MSNBC interview for several reasons. First, Bell is a creative and articulate person who was given a platform to speak into our culture in the midst of tragedy and quite frankly dropped the ball. This was a cultural moment and he balked. In a recent article in Outreach magazine, Pastor Dan Kimball said "I am more and more convinced that we need to be theologians in our culture today." That is what we need to be about.
Second, he was theologically irresponsible. It was hard to find much that was distinctively Christian in the interview. Again, I don't say this to beat up Rob Bell. This should serve as a reminder for all of us to "be always ready to give an answer for the hope we have" (1 Peter 3:15)
Finally, Bell exerts considerable influence with the emerging generation (18-30 year olds). Many will follow Bell because he is charismatic and creative. But in this case, he is not stewarding the truth well (James 3:1).
When asked to address the problem of evil and suffering, Bell simply dodges the question. What he should have said was something like this:
Christians are called to pray for and serve those in need. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that part of what it means to know God is to care for poor and needy (22:15-16). Our hearts break for the people of Japan.
We all ask the question where is God in the midst of this tragedy in Japan? This is where Christianity brings hope of an all powerful God who did not remain quarantined from our pain and tears. God was the exact same place during this event he was as he watched his son Jesus die an unjust death. It appeared that evil won. “Experience cannot be allowed to have the final word," reminds Alister McGrath, "it must be judged and shown up as deceptive and misleading. The theology of the cross draws our attention to the sheer unreliability of experience as a guide to the presence and activity of God. God is active and present in His world, quite independently of whether we experience Him as being so. Experience declared that God was absent from Calvary, only to have its verdict humiliatingly overturned on the third day.”
So even if we don’t know why these things happen, we know it is not because God does not care—that can’t be the reason. We know this because of the Cross. What we cling to in these moments is summed up well by Os Guinness, “we know why we trust the God who knows why.”
Bell also punts to speculation regarding final judgement and the importance of responding to God in this life when the Bible is clear on the matter:
"And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment—so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him."--Hebrews 9:27-28
Let us pray for boldness and compassion to love this world well. And let us remember the world is watching to see what we say and what we do.