God is a God of freedom and love. He freed the Israelites and Abraham's descendents from having to make sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice--never knowing where they stood with God. Then He sent His son as the final sacrifice, the pure and perfect lamb.
I'll be honest--this is when my memory of exactly what Rob Bell said gets fuzzy. It's been more than a week since I saw him. But I'll quote this to you:
"Repentance of sin is just waking up to what God has already done."
This makes me think of the quote from CS Lewis: "Prayer doesn't change God, it changes us."
God is finished in the sense that He knows exactly what is going to happen. He has already forgiven us and made His plans. He knew us before we were born and knew exactly who'd we become and what decisions we'd make. He knows the desires of our hearts and what sins we'll commit. And He loves us. Something Rob has said in interviews and during his message was that God loves us all--those who embrace His message and ask for forgiveness, as well as those who do not and reject Him. He's gotten flak for this and many Christians believe that God only loves those who have accepted Christ as their savior. My first instinct is to side with Rob and say that God loves all humans, inside or outside of communion with Him. I don't have a lot to back this up with, other than the fact that He created us and I don't imagine He flips a switch between love and hate whenever we convert to Christianity.
The last half of Rob's message expounded on God's love for us. He is not a God who sits in heaven, waiting for us to make a mistake and zap us. He loves us and desires for us to love Him and love others and have a real relationship with us. Rob told stories of people he knows and how their lives have been changed by Christ. People who were abused physically, mentally and emotionally. People who lived in poverty and were touched by another Christian. We only have the ability to love like this because our faith has given us this ability (my own thought--not Rob's).
One important story he told was a personal story of how he used to work constantly and was miserable. He was talking with a friend and this friend kept telling Rob that he didn't have to live like this. He didn't have to work to get ahead. He didn't have to climb the ladder of success or have this big-time career. Rob tried to defend himself, but his friend kept saying over and over 'you don't have to live like this.' Eventually it dawned on Rob--he didn't have to live like this. Our fallen selves have made gods out of our careers, money, the approval of others, success and anything else we sacrifice everything for. We scoff and wonder how in the world people could ever believe in Zeus or Aphrodite or any of those gods, yet we do the same thing. We work for these invisible 'forces' that say we have to get ahead, we have to make money, we have to do, do, do. We can't stop. We've done more than make idols out of these things, we've made them our gods and we worship them and the false sense of security and happiness they bring.
Final thoughts: I remember in high school learning about the different types of ways to approach research for writing papers. You could read a story/poem/book and research it by focusing on different aspects of the story and its creation. My favorite way of researching things was by looking at the author's personal history and the current events/culture of the world when the author wrote it. What we write is directly related to our world and what's going on at the moment. One of the most blatant examples is the poetry that came out of World War I. For years beforehand, poetry about war made the whole thing seem romantic and pure, but the poetry written by soldiers in WWI revealed just how horrible war is. Their poetry was directly influenced by their world and their biography. All of this is to say that I appreciate how Rob looks at history to see how it shaped the stories in the Bible. I read one blog where the writer said Rob believes that the story of the Good Samaritan is supposed to be about the prejudice of the audience Christ was preaching to. Interesting.
During one of the stories Rob told, he retold a story that Brennan Manning has used about a woman who claimed to be hearing God's audible voice and had been having conversations with Him. A priest, who was upset about her claim, talked to her and said that the next time she 'talked' to God, she should ask Him what sins the priest last confessed. After her next conversation with God, the priest came and asked her what God had said. She said He simply stated "I don't remember." I understand the sentiment of this story and the belief that God forgets our sin once it is confessed, but I don't know if I agree that God forgets our sin. He's omniscient, isn't He? I believe part of being omniscient is knowing the past, present and future, including sin. And doesn't a God as powerful as the true God have the ability to really and truly forgive without forgetting? And doesn't it make Him all the more amazing that He knows our past mistakes but still loves us?
I've always struggled with taking the intellectual concept that God loves me and making it real and feeling like God not only loves me out of obligation, but because He wants to love me. It's not just a "I'll take care of you and make sure you have food to eat" love, but a deep and emotional love, a love that wants me to be content and happy in Him. He knows the desires of my heart and has a plan for me. He's more like Aslan and less like the distant God we often have in our minds. He is my heavenly father, not my earthly father and does not have the flaws of my earthly father or any other human I know. Hearing Rob speak about this love and lack of anger toward me was refreshing and eye-opening. It's hard to take the things I know about God in my head, and make them real to me in my heart.
These three entries on what Rob Bell spoke about don't do him justice. He's an amazing orator with the ability to take profound truths and stories and messages and make them completely accessible, without dumbing them down. I know a lot of people have issues with some of his teachings and views, but I've never heard him say anything that is harmful to the absolute truth that we must come to faith in Christ alone and that it is by grace alone this happens. He doesn't advocate the crap that is 'prosperity gospel' and actually rails against it. He lives and breathes God's command to love your neighbor and spread His Word. He loves people and wants to see them come to faith in Christ. I certainly can't fault him for that.