The Skeletons in God’s Closet. The name was intriguing. So I bought it. And oh, what a surprise! It really pushed me to look at the skeletons at my closet. That’s good. The other thing was that I disagreed with author almost on every page. It’s actually first time I found an author who understands so many biblical truths differently.
Let’s start. First I got an impression that 2 events in Josh Butler’s life really impacted him so strongly that he redefined his theology. He gives us clues about that on p.273 Chapter 17 The Rubble of Babylon. The Lake of Fire – the story about the street preacher and p.285 Judgment vs. Torture – the story of Josh not being able to sleep at night because of the horrific things we do to each other. In fact throughout all the book author denies that God can punish someone in the sense of torturing them.
Firstly, from the conversation with a fundamental Christian preacher Josh decided, quote:
“God, I thought, I don’t want to follow Jesus like this guy does.” What did that street preacher said? He just said that all unbelievers are going to be writhing in agony in unquenchable fire.”
That’s it. The idea of eternal torture for wicked people became so much disturbing for Josh that he rather decided to change his theology, than to believe those disturbing things. And he did change his theology and wrote a book about it.
Secondly, (maybe this was already days after meeting with a fire-and-brimstone preacher) Josh couldn’t sleep at night thinking about all the injustice that happened in the world. That made indelible impact on him. No doubt. He started to think how to reconcile both the Justice of God, the Judgment of God and the doctrine of Hell or eternal punishment of the Wicked. And as he wasn’t satisfied with the traditional view on Hell, Lake of Fire and the Judgment of God he decided to write a book about his own.
Nice name. Nice cover. Nice skeletal structure, especially bibliography.
Cannot say “a nice book”, but it gave me another perspective on Scriptures. Maybe a liberal one. But now at least I know how many young preachers think and preach. Butler’s perspective is very much interesting if not to say desirable. Otherwise how would Scot McKnight, Bob Roberts Jr., pastor Dan Kimball, Sarah Thebarge, Dr. Paul Louis Metzger and many others in one accord praise this book?
I agree if what Josh wrote were true, we would have less disturbing thoughts and imagery of Hell, Judgment and Holy Wars. But that would really compromise God’s holiness. The thing is you cannot bring air-conditioning to Hell even if you’d love to. You cannot live in denial of the Lake of Fire, because of your problems in the past. You cannot bring painkillers to the Lake of Fire. In other words punishment is punishment. Yet I agree this book is a good attempt to defend God against false accusations of being a Sadistic Torturer, Coldhearted Judge and Genocidal Maniac.
The book is full of other types of info which is interesting. WWII, social injustice, Augustine, Lewis – at least that’s helpful. The book gives you an insight on how to help the vulnerable people around the world as Josh Butler does. The book gives you some clue on what the just war is. The book tells you how to defend your family and beat your enemies senseless.(p.265) The book reminds you of the Judgment Day and its surprises.(p.107, p.125) It’s always good to be ready for that day.
The book gives us some true perspective on how God will judge the world, (pp.107-207) on His association with the poor and the vulnerable ones (pp.148-149) But again all of those good views are often taken so much out of context, that if you can fit into the text’s puzzle any rock star or God denying philanthropist who spends millions on the poor — he would fit in perfectly. For example read p. 148, where Josh forgets about hermeneutical bridges and sees in “the least of these brothers of mine” all men – men under dictatorship, exploited overseas workers, regardless of their religious affiliation.
Finally, I think it is very good that the book reminds us that it is not just Heaven and Hell after death, but truly New Heaven and New Earth where righteousness dwells and also outer darkness.
After reading this book I saw several things that I cannot agree with:
#1 God who is not torturing anyone.(p. 46, p.62, p.67, p.285, p.322) Yes, He is not torturing anyone in the sense of Gestapo, but he gives all men their rewards according to their works.
6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
All of the words in Josh Butler’s book like “wrath”, “undying worm”, “Lake of Fire”, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” are redefined. All of them.
#2 Hell is a coffin we latch from the inside through our desire for freedom from God. (p.17) According to Scriptures Jesus Christ has the keys of Hell. (Rev.1:18)One day He will put Satan to bottomless pit for a 1000 years.(Rev.20:1-3) Is that pit also an apocalyptic symbol? Here I am a firm historic premillenialist, but maybe I am wrong.
#3 Gnashing of teeth is not a picture of physical pain, but rather an image of a loss. Folks are weeping because their toys have been taken away. (p.325) That’s just making the text to say what it wasn’t intended to convey. That is eisegesis. Take any text where Jesus speaks of eternal torments in Hell and you see that he is visual, he is radical, he doesn’t hide it or sugar coat it. Pluck out an eye, cut off your hand or foot are radical measures. Doctors don’t do that if they can save those members by other means. All right. Author believes that “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is only about a loss, and a sense of jealousy. Really? Why then Angels have to bind wicked people hand and foot? (Mt.22:13) Isn’t that a torture in itself? All right. Let’s say they are weeping and gnashing teeth because they don’t have their toys, but being bound hand and foot for all eternity? Don’t you think that is also a torture?
#4 Old Testament is full of Trash Talk (p.228) of people bragging on the pages of the Bible. That’s kind of on the edge. How can we trust Scriptures then if we believe that Holy Spirit left not some trustworthy info, but Trash Talks? And although I don’t know Old Testament as good as the author, but I think that killing all people was exactly the will of God with Amalekites for king Saul. That’s however is left aside.
#5 Jericho was a military city (p.226) with 100-150 soldiers with almost no civilians. So no slaughter of civilian people took place. All right. Just imagine. Jericho is a military fortress. 2 strangers come to the city. No civilians in the city. Only soldiers with a few inn workers like Rahab. How in the world would Jewish spies get inside the city if they didn’t mix with the civilian crowds? Were all the soldiers drunk?
#6 God only blesses, but never curses anyone. He is good. (Exeptions were God curses people: Ge.4:11, Ge.5:29, Nu.5:21, De.21:23, De.27:15, De.30:19, Jdg.5:23, Ps.119:21, Pr.3:33, Je.11:3, Je.17:5, Mal.2:2, Mal.3:9, Mt.25:41 – cursed by whom?, Mk.11:21 – Jesus cursed the tree, Ga.1:8,9 – Both Apostle Paul and Jesus as I understand are ready to curse those who accept false Gospel, Ga.3:13 – Christ took the curse of the Law on Himself, Moses spoke all the curses moved by God Himself.) How do we deal with all those verses where it says that God cursed something or someone?
#7 Hell is small. (p.97) C.S. Lewis would agree. Prophet Isaiah thinks it is enlarging itself, yet this is a minor thing. (Isa.5:14) Where that idea came from that hell is small? Does the size really matter here?
#8 Heaven is big. Maybe 10 times bigger than your Bible is telling you. 15,000 miles long by 15,000 miles wide and 15,000 miles high. That is no ordinary city – this is a size of a massive country! ESV Bible comments on Rev.21:16 – twelve thousand furlongs equals 1380 miles. But that’s ok, bigger is better I think.15,000 miles is almost twice bigger than Earth’s diameter at equator (7,926 miles) That means Heaven is way bigger than Earth? Or is it just a typo that got into print?
#9 Some people who never thought that they go to Heaven will actually be there.(p.124-125) Here again I don’t know, but Josh is is really quick to admit that among some surprises in Heaven is going to be some people who were not in the visible church. That puts me to a place where I have to admit that salvation is possible outside the Church?
The worst thing about the book is that it makes all the most dreadful realities of Hell, Judgment of God and Holy War look palatable (not so dreadful) for the modern man. Imagine Hitler getting the same punishment as the unbelieving grandma that fed birds and just roaming around the New Jerusalem. Jesus teaches that there are degrees in punishment even in Hell. (Mt.11:21-24)
Imagine Hell without fire. That is a theater decoration. Wait, Lake of Fire as a decoration? Judgment as simply casting people outside the city and not letting them in without any degrees of punishment, for God is not allowed to torture or punish people in those sadistic ways?
God is not going to raise the wicked people to torture them forever, is He? According to Joshua Butler: “No, for He is a good God.”
I understand that many ideas are taken by author from other authors, but you tell me what would any person prefer in Hell — be eaten alive eternally by unquenchable fire and undying worms or a house million miles away from others (C.S.Lewis, The Great Divorce) and the answer is obvious — anything but eternal torments.
On the surface Josh Butler looks like a firefighter, like the one who tries to make sense of eternal punishment of the wicked, but at the same time he tries to be more merciful than God himself. And that is impossible for no one is more merciful than God Almighty.
There were also some things that I didn’t understand quite well. In my mind I saw people who are at the gate of New Jerusalem were they are left with 2 options, either to leave their sin and enter, or keep their sin and be shut out of the city forever. It’s hard to grasp when that happens — before death, or at the literal Gate of the New Jerusalem?
I also saw no fire burning. Neither in Hell nor in the Lake of Fire. Strange apocalyptic imagery. Scared the guts out of people for centuries till we actually found out that it was apocalyptic symbols. No, I don’t think it is a symbol.
Also saw there sort of a twilight or light emanating from the 15,000 mile bigger than Earth Cube of New Jerusalem and all the evil people are just walking around that city and gnashing their teeth saying:
“Or, what a fool I was! I kept my sin and it is nothing. And now those people in New Jerusalem are having all the joy! What a loss!”
Strange sight indeed. Then when author needed to explain the absence of tortures everyone was lying dead. (Isa.66:24, p.322)
Again, God is not inflicting any pain, any suffering on those people. He doesn’t curse anyone, for He is good. Neither Hitler, nor Stalin nor Pol Pot are writhing in agony in fire in the Lake of Fire.
They are just walking around New Jerusalem bewailing their eternal loss. No pain is inflicted on them. No torture, no curse from the side of God, for God is not a Sadistic Torturer. Lake of Fire is just an apocalyptic symbol for the smoldering rubble of Babylon (p.286) Hell and Lake of Fire looked more like eternal anesthesia than eternal punishment. Again, everyone would prefer Joshua Butler’s described Hell than the one that is drawn to us by Church Fathers.
I also saw many people who never repented, never excepted Jesus as their Savior in the New Jerusalem. I saw many unbelievers who gave a lot for the poor, the needy and vulnerable in Heaven. How come? All they had to do is to leave their sins at the gates of the city and enter into it with gladness. Does it matter then how they lived?
I also saw that the worst thing that can happen to any person who didn’t have fellowship with Jesus is his eternal banishment from the New Jerusalem. Period. That’s the worst case scenario. Like Napoleon on St. Helena island.
More than that. There will be those who never heard about Jesus, but who will be allowed to enter into the New Jerusalem and rejoice with Jesus there. I always thought that only saved nations will enter into New Jerusalem, or maybe I am wrong?
So all things that Jesus said in Mark 9:42-48 are not that scary – after all there is no torture after death, God is good, He only takes away your sin and banishes you from the New Jerusalem so that you wouldn’t spoil the party. All that talk about undying worms and unquenchable fire is “better” understood in the context of Isa.66:24. The rebels outside the city are dead…the fire is not burning the folks alive(don’t forget God cannot torture anyone). Let’s pretend we didn’t open Da.12:2 – no pain, no torture, no fire, just pangs of conscience, Jn.5:29 no resurrection of the wicked, and Rev.20:11-15 – no literal Lake of Fire, nothing serious, just an apocalyptic symbol, don’t be scared, it’s not an eternal torture. Seriously?
I don’t believe that.
I still am convinced that God is a good God, even if the fire in Hell is literal, even if the Lake of Fire is literal 24/7 burning with sulfur Lake of Fire for all who chose their sin over fellowship with Jesus, even if people are going to writhe there in agony, even if people are going to gnash their teeth from pain and sorrow, even if there were many Canaanites slaughtered, even if I do not understand all the details about those things. I just have to bow down and worship Him in adoration whether He saves me or not. (Phil.2:10) But I will so more gladly praise Him for saving me. If I was going to Hell and He saved me through the death, through the Cross of His Son, then anything that is better than Hell is mercy to me a wretched sinner saved by His grace. And I rejoice in His salvation.