A friend of mine has been having some serious doubts about Christianity and one of the reasons he gives for his doubt is hell. How could a loving God send people to hell for eternity? If most of us are honest, its hard for us to reconcile too. When another friend of mine was raving about Joshua Ryan Butler’s book The Skeletons in God’sCloset (2014), I couldn’t wait to read it.
In Skeletons, Butler takes on three of the hardest questions that Christians are often faced with and frankly we don’t really know how to answer with grace and truth. First, how can a loving God send people to hell? Second, Isn’t it arrogant to believe Jesus is the only way to God? And third, why is there so much violence in the Old Testament?
What if Hell, judgment, and holy war are extensions of God’s love? I believe, with all of my heart that when it says in First John that God IS love, that John meant it, but I also believe that the Bible does teach about the reality of hell and that Christ really is the only way to salvation. Butler goes a long way to help his readers to reconcile these truths.
Regarding hell, what if God’s purpose is not so much the torture of the unrepentant, but the protection of his holy city from the destructive powers of sin? I think that Butler rightly says “sin takes things that are whole and tries to break them up”—marriages, community, humanity. In restoring the whole, he will not allow the intrusion of that which destroys.
Butler says that judgment is meant to heal, not destroy the nations. It is meant to restore relationships, not break them down. Finally, he describes God as outrageously patient with humanity, but that ultimately he is for his people and he will do whatever it takes to defend them.
I didn’t like everything about this book, but I liked it. Butler grounded some of his arguments politically and in ways that I probably wouldn’t have, but this is a thoughtful, important, scripturally defended book that deals with some of the most important questions we may face as believers.