Scattered Ramblings on the Holy City, Hell, Church

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 him.

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.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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