Have you read the book Love Wins? It’s written by Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill, which happens to be the church I attend. The book confronts the notion that God condemns people to spend an eternity in hell if they do not believe in him. The book does not say there is no hell, but it leaves room for anyone, anywhere, dead or alive, to come to God and live the full life he offers us. Bell implies that God never gives up on us, not now, not ever. He loves us always, every single one of us, no matter what we do or what paths we’ve followed. Because of this love, we can always return to him.
I know that many do not agree with the ideas in Love Wins. For me, however, it is a book that tells me what I already knew. God, through Jesus, came here to save us from hell. This is not the hell we usually picture – some shadowy fire-filled place under the ground. This hell is the one where we’re separated from the love of God. When someone says “it feels like hell,” we may think it’s just a euphemism, but they may be struggling in their own personal, very real hell.
I am a big fan of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (stay with me here, I swear there’s a point to this). Have you seen the show? Think it’s all just a bunch of cheesy vampire-fighting fluff, right? Okay, well, it is. There are moments, however, when I watch and cry because of how poignant it can be.
Recently Stewart and I watched the last episode of Season Six on Netflix. There is a lot of soul-searching and relationship drama in this season. At the forefront is Willow, Buffy’s best friend. Willow is a sweet, funny, quirky girl. She’s a genius with the computer and a true nerd at heart. She has always come to the aid of Buffy to fight the good fight, and in the process has become a very powerful witch. But she abuses her powers, forcing Tara, her girlfriend, to break up with her. After Willow goes through some magic “rehab,” she and Tara make up and are once again happy together.
Throughout Season Six, Warren, Andrew, and Jonathan (former classmates of Buffy) form “The Geek Trio.” They plan several schemes to take over the world, but Buffy and her pals always stop them just in time. Warren gets bent out of shape when Buffy kicks his butt, so he shoots her (she survives, of course). He doesn’t realize that a stray bullet also hits Tara. Tara dies instantly, falling into Willow’s arms.
The rage inside Willow takes over, so she calls on the forces of black magic, intent on taking revenge on Warren. Willow is in her own personal hell. She’s grieving, in pain, and all her hope is gone. Her red hair turns black, her eyes become shadowy dark orbs, and blue veins show through the pale skin on her face. She’s a scary sight, and a force to be reckoned with.
Willow’s friends, Buffy, Anya, and Xander, try to stop her from killing Warren. They know he is a murderer, but they have never killed a human being. It’s not what they do. They find Willow, but it’s too late. She is in the woods, with Warren tied up in front of her, and with her telekinetic powers she rips the skin off his body, leaving him a gruesome mass of muscle and blood.
Fueled by the evil now residing inside her, Willow sets off to kill Warren’s cohorts, Jonathan and Andrew. Anya, a vengeance demon with her own powers, teleports to warn them and help them escape from Willow. Buffy’s super speed allows her to find Willow in order to fight her.
Xander tries to hide Jonathan and Andrew, but doesn’t know where to go. He is full of self-loathing, feeling like he does everything wrong. He’s surrounded by people with supernatural powers, but he can’t do anything to help.
After a long fight, Willow knocks Buffy out, claiming she now has more power than anyone. Giles, Buffy’s watcher who has been in England until this moment, shows up just in time to battle Willow with magical powers he received from a coven in England. Willow sucks all the magic from Giles, leaving him barely alive, but it is too much for her to bare. With it she is able to feel all the emotions in the world, all the pain and sadness.
“I have to stop this,” she says. “I’ll make it go away.”
She is going to end the world.
Willow finds a satanic temple, to which she can transfer her power in order to bring the world to an end. Then something happens. Xander appears. He puts himself between Willow and the temple, directly in her line of fire. Xander’s finally doing something right, I thought as I watched. He’s going to save the world!
Willow strikes him down with a bolt of lightning. “You can’t stop this,” she says.
“Yeah, I get that. It’s just, where else am I gonna go?” Xander replies. “You’ve been my best friend my whole life. World gonna end … where else would I want to be?”
We realize Xander is not there to save the world. He’s there to save Willow.
“First day of kindergarten,” Xander continues. “You cried because you broke the yellow crayon, and you were too afraid to tell anyone. You’ve come pretty far, ending the world, not a terrific notion. But the thing is? Yeah. I love you. I loved crayon-breaky Willow and I love scary veiny Willow. So if I’m going out, it’s here. If you wanna kill the world? Well, then start with me. I’ve earned that.”
Willow continues to strike him down, and each time Xander gets back up and comes closer.
“I love you,” he says. Willow waves her hand, Xander falls to the ground, his shirt ripped and scratches on his chest. He stands up again. “I love…”
“Shut up!” Willow gestures toward him again, but she’s not able to strike him down.
“I love you, Willow.” Xander keeps walking toward her, she tries to force him away, but her magic is fading.
“Stop!” she says. “Stop.”
He doesn’t stop. He reaches for her, and she pummels him with her fists, tears coming to her eyes. They fall to the ground and she sobs while he holds her.
“I love you.”
The black magic leaves Willow, her hair turns red again, and the veins disappear from her face. Xander cradles her as she cries her tears of grief and pain and sorrow.
See? It really is a touching show.
I think hell is like that place Willow was in. And I believe that God can come to us, in whatever form he chooses – even other people, stand in our way and say, “I love you. I love you when you’re doing wonderful awesome things. I love you when you’re hurting and in pain. I love you even when you’ve done horrible things.” He doesn’t stop. He extends this love, even when we try to strike him down.
I haven’t watched Season Seven of Buffy yet. I don’t know what will happen to Willow. I have a feeling that she’ll have to work through her pain, she’ll have to confront the fact that she killed another human, and she’ll have to grieve the loss of her girlfriend. But she knows she is loved. Through everything she did, her friends continued to love her.
Usually Buffy is the savior of the show. She’s the one with the supernatural powers, the one who can really kick some demonic butt. In this episode, it was Xander who saved the world. He was an unlikely choice, not the one we’re used to. But all he had to do was tell Willow he loved her. His love was by far greater than any powers that she had. His love defeated the evil inside her.
A mother once wrote to C.S. Lewis, author of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, telling him that her son Laurence was worried that he loved Aslan more than Jesus.
“Tell Laurence from me, with my love,” C.S. Lewis responded, “[He] can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”
I have often been troubled by the notion that I do not have a “personal relationship” with Jesus. My mother has asked me if I love God more than my husband and children. I told her in the past that “I try to, but it’s hard.”
But guess what? There is no way that I can love God more than my husband and children. I don’t feel God in that way. I see God in my husband, in my children, in my friends. I feel the love that they give and I feel the love I have for them. And that, to me, is the way I connect with God. God is love, and I see that love in the people around me.
We may call it by different names, but if someone finds that love through some other means, I believe that they have looked God in the face. If God is love, then any caring, humane act of grace and kindness is the same love that God annointed us with. I believe anyone can feel it, whether they have a religious or spiritual affiliation or not.
God sent Jesus to save us from our pain, our sorrow, our own personal hells. God sent Jesus to show us love. This love is for everyone, and it’s more powerful than any hell we can imagine. We don’t need super powers. We just need love.
I’m not a philosopher and I’m definitely not a theologian. I just really like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and, also, I’ve been thinking a lot about God lately. Hey, when something strikes me, I write about it.