At church this morning, the pastor compared Jesus coming back with Santa Claus coming to town. The pastor portrayed Santa as a benevolent judge: Santa does not expect kids to be perfect, but to be good. Similarly, the pastor said, Jesus will not judge us for the equivalent of leaving our toys on the floor. Rather, Jesus will judge those who absolutely refuse to embrace God and God’s way.
That reminded me of that book I just read about hell, The Skeletons in God’s Closet,
by Joshua Ryan Butler. That book presented a similar picture: you have
God’s kingdom, which is about peace, love, justice, and
reconciliation. But suppose there are people who want nothing to do
with those values? What should God do? Let them in and make God’s city
into another hell? According to the book, God will expel evil,
allowing the unrepentant to do their own thing in another place.
The thing is, the book was saying, we can look at this picture and
think that we are not part of the problem, but we are. Jesus criticized
lust and hatred, which many of us have, on some level. These things
will have no part in the holy city that Jesus will rule. One has to be
willing to let those things go to enter the holy city. I have heard
similar things from other Christians: heaven (or, as Butler would say,
the restored earth) is a place where people give to each other, whereas
hell is a place of selfish people. If you lived your life in
selfishness, would you fit in in heaven?
There is a certain logic to all of this. If this is true, there
would actually be a purpose to us becoming good, and that would be for
us to fit in in heaven, or, for Butler, the future restored earth. The
problem is when I look at myself and see how short I fall. Butler
refers to C.S. Lewis’ point that hell is a place of isolation, where
people build houses far away to get away from each other. I could
actually identify with those recluses! Similarly, on the issue of
generosity, the pastor this morning was going into tasks that we could
volunteer to do; I seriously did not want to do any of those things!
I guess that, if it came to me having to let go of my lust and hatred
to get into the holy city, sure, I’m willing. But let me clarify in
what sense I would be willing: I would be willing if God were to help me
out. Just expecting me by sheer force of my personal will to get rid
of my lust or hatred is pretty unrealistic, in my opinion.
Would I be willing to become an extrovert, though? Well, it
depends. There is a part of me that reaches out to other people and
appreciates doing that. But can’t heaven respect introverts, too?
There are different kinds of people, after all. I can understand the
point of there being moral standards in God’s kingdom, but for everyone
to be the same? That’s going too far, in my opinion. Moreover, I would
hope that God would understand where people are coming from and why,
rather than just excluding them because their mindsets, actions, or both
are not good enough for the holy city.
Back to what my pastor said: Jesus will judge those who are
completely unwilling to follow him. Who, though, would fit into that
category? There is some goodness even in, say, a mobster. He may love
his family. He’s not completely unwilling to follow the path of
righteousness. The thing is, though, he would have to give up his
criminal tendencies to be in the holy city, since Jesus would not want
that sort of thing there. But here’s a thought: maybe he’d be willing
to do so because life would be so much easier in the holy city. In this
life, he may feel that he has to compete with others to have a share of
the pie, that he has to be just as bad as the next guy to survive.
That won’t be a problem in the holy city, where there is greater
equality and people are all playing by the rules. Still, the mobster
would have to give up any longing for power. That may be difficult for
These are just some scattered ramblings. I’ve written about such
things before. Perhaps they illustrate where I struggle with Butler’s
book, or Christians who say similar things.
The Devil’s Empathy
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