This makes what Jesus does in his story about [the prodigal son] particularly compelling. Jesus puts the older brother right there at the party, but refusing to trust the father's version of his story. Refusing to join in the celebration.-Rob Bell, Love Wins
Hell is being at the party. That's what makes it so hellish. It's not an image of separation, but one of integration.
In this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other.
If the older brother were off, alone in a distant field, sulking and whining about how he's been a slave all these years and never even had a goat to party with his friends with, he would be alone in his hell. But in the story Jesus tells, he's at the party, with the music in the background and the celebration going on right there in front of him.
I've wondered more than once what it would be like for an individual like James Dobson to reach Heaven, only to discover himself surrounded by the people he had spent a lifetime denouncing and condemning to hell. Would he learn to accept that God's love is more radical than he believed, and eventually reconcile with those he wanted to spend eternity apart from? Or would heaven be an eternal hell for him?
I suppose it's not really fair of me to single out Dobson; history is rife with individuals (pious and otherwise) whose hatreds run even deeper. And even the best of us have our own sets of prejudices and grudges that we must either battle or feed on a daily basis.
If reconciliation is indeed our future, as Bell proposes, what kind of eternity are we preparing for ourselves?