The first problem deals with Bell’s understanding of the Trinity. He writes,
“There is an energy in the world, a spark, an electricity that everything is plugged into. The Greeks called is zoe, the mystics call it “Spirit,” and Obi-Wan called it ‘the Force’…In this poem [the Bible], the energy that gives life to everything is called the ‘Word of God,’ and it is for us.” (p 144-145)
What sticks out to me is that he seems to equate the mystics’ use of the term “Spirit” with “Word of God.” Yet, the mystics were not doing this, rather they understood a distinction between “Spirit” and “Word of God.” It appears that Bell is equating the Spirit with the Word, which is a major problem.
It is true that the Spirit and the Word share the same essence (nature), but they are distinct in their persons. The “energy” of the world isn’t the Word of God, but the Spirit. God created through the Word and all things came into existence through the Word, but it was through the Spirit that power was put into everything. Thus, the idea of creation begins with the Father, is spoken through the Word, and is enacted by the Spirit. All of this is obviously mystical, but we must recognize some distinction, let we become modalists.
Genesis 1 is a good example of what I’m referring to. In Genesis 1 it is the Spirit that is breathed into Man to give us life, not the Word. Through the Word things come into being, but through the Spirit they are formed and made alive. The Word brings everything into existence, but the Spirit gives it power and movement.
It is vitally important to maintain the distinctions within the Trinity because if we lose them then we eradicate the Trinity. If we do so then we lose a God who is love. For at some point God was all that existed. If He was all that existed, how could He be a God of love if there was no one to love? True love involves sacrifice and acquiescence, but if God is singular then prior to creation how could He truly love? Such love can only exist within a Trinity, but within a Trinity there must be distinction; hence the importance for keeping distinction. Without it, we lose love.
In addition to the problem with the Trinity, Bell seems to argue that we can know the essence of God. He writes, “This is an important distinction, because in talking about what God is like, we cannot avoid the realities of God’s very essence, which is love.” (p176) Bell seems to say that because 1 John 4:8 says “God is love” that love defines His essence and all other attributes fall under “love.”
Before going on, we should understand what “essence” means. An essence is what defines us. An essence is what makes a cat a cat and a dog a dog. Turning to John of Damascus yet again we read, “The essential term either shows what a thing is or of what sort it is. (Fountain of Knowledge, V). You are your essence and once I know your essence I can define you, I can understand you, and in some cases I can comprehend the essence.
To say that love is the “essence of God” means we can define God, but God cannot be defined. Psalm 145:3 says that God’s greatness is unsearchable, meaning that His greatness (which is an attribute, not His essence) is beyond us; we can’t even search it out. 1 Corinthians 2:11 says that we can’t comprehend the thoughts of God, so how can we hope to define who God is? All of this is because God is beyond comprehension and beyond definition.
Thus, when John writes that “God is love,” he is saying that love is defined by God, but God is not defined by love. God is also just, He is holy, He is great, He is wise, and so on; but none of these define His essence (or nature), but instead flow from His essence. John of Damascus explained it by writing, “The names ‘Good,’ ‘Just,’ ‘Holy,’ and the like are consequential to His nature and are not indicative of the essence itself.” (An Exposition, Book I, Ch IX) When we describe God as eternal, love, good, just, or anything else we are speaking about His attributes, about things that flow from His essence.
When Bell then defines God’s essence as love it puts him at a disadvantage for the book. If God is defined by love, then Hell doesn’t make any sense. As it is, God has other attributes that work with love and not against it, nor is love above them or work against them. The reality is that love doesn’t win because it’s not competing against anything. It can’t win because it’s not in competition. It’s not love or justice, it’s love and justice. The two work together, not against each other, because both flow from the same essence.