In this episode of TGC Q&A, we kick off a new five-week series titled, “Gen Z’s Questions About Christianity” with Josh Butler, who answers two questions regarding hell and judgment.
- Reconciling God’s love with eternal judgment (0:00)
- A broader storyline for hell (1:24)
- Getting hell wrong (2:55)
- Reconciling heaven and earth (3:38)
- Getting the hell out of earth (4:37)
- Is hell a scare tactic? (6:45)
- Pruning the branches of the wicked tree (7:27)
- The impact of sin (9:48)
- The good news of the gospel (10:40)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of hell.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Host: You’re listening to TGC Q&A, a podcast from the gospel coalition, and this is a new series called Gen Z’s questions about Christianity. In this five week series, we’ll focus on some of the toughest and most common questions the younger generation has about Christianity. How can we winsomely respond to the issues that are driving young people away from the faith?
On today’s episode, you’ll hear from Josh Butler as he answers two important questions on hell and judgment. Josh is the pastor of teaching and direction at Redemption Church in Tempe, Arizona, and his passion is to help others who wrestle with tough topics of the Christian faith. So we’ll start with the first question, how do I reconcile God’s love and the reality of eternal judgment and sending some people to hell?
Josh Butler: That is a great question. That’s one I’ve wrestled with myself over the years, and I found many of us fear that hell is kind of this skeleton in God’s closet. This tough topic where I think our fear is if we really opened up the closet doors, open up scripture and take a closer look that we’d find that God’s not truly good or worthy of our trust, and I found this because I think we often have a caricature of what’s actually going on in the biblical story, and so I want to offer a paradigm shift or two.
I actually offer a couple in a new chapter in this book, actually by TGC, before you lose your faith. So if you want to go a little deeper, there’s more info there, but maybe just to wet the appetite a bit with, what’s been a big paradigm shift for me has been to ask what is the broader storyline that hell fits into? Because I think a lot of us have a caricature of actually what the biblical story is on this, and so if I were to describe the caricature or kind of the problematic story, I’d say it’s one of earth now, heaven, hell later, right?
So earth now, heaven, hell later where the problematic stories when we’re right now live on earth, but one day I’m going to die and when I die, God will be there, kind of wispy up to heaven or down to hell, and one of the problems with that storyline is that, A) heaven and hell kind of have no relationship to our present experience here on earth today, and B) earth is nowhere in our eternal future with God, but we actually find in the Bible is that it doesn’t tend to talk about heaven and hell the same way definitely talks about them, but an example would be heaven has a counterpart in scripture only.
It’s not hell it’s actually earth, but which I mean. The words, heaven and earth appear over 200 times in the biblical story together in the same verse. So having an earth are this narrative thread that weaves its way throughout the whole biblical story. Heaven and hell, there’s zero versus no place in scripture where they show up in the same verse. Now, that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. They’re there and they have a relationship to each other, but it’s to say that scripture doesn’t tend to talk about them the same way that we tend to talk about them today.
And I would suggest to you that often we get hell wrong because we get heaven and earth wrong, and if we kind of reclaim the biblical story of heaven on earth, the smaller subtopic of hell starts to make more sense as to what is that storyline? Well, the storyline is one where God creates a good heavens and a good earth, but then heaven and earth are created good by God. But then they’re corrupted by sin, they’re torn by the destructive power of sin, death, and hell, and so sin and death and hell are invasive intruders in God’s good world that kind of rip creation apart.
But because God is good, he hasn’t abandoned his creation, and his humanity he loves to sin, and death and decay, and the destructive power of hell that God is on a mission to reconcile heaven, to bring back together what hell has torn apart. I love in Colossians one, Paul says this, he talks about what Jesus is up to at the cross, and he says that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus in order through him to reconcile to himself all things in heaven and all things on earth by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.”
And so what Paul is saying is Jesus is the savior who reconciles heaven and earth, who brings back together what our sin has torn apart, and we could say this is one way of saying that God is on a mission to reconcile heaven and earth, and when you have that storyline in place I suggest the smaller topic of hell starts to make more sense, because too long for the dawning of the light in the morning, right? To long for the dawning of the light is by its very nature to long for the banishing of darkness, to hope for the healing of the body is implicitly to hope for the excising out of the disease.
For us, is father to Jesus to pray with Jesus had your kingdom come, your will be done, here on earth, as it is in heaven is to implicitly to pray that all the destructive powers and rebels and those who stand unrepentantly opposed to God’s good kingdom would no longer be able to hurt and harm and destroy in God’s good creation, and so while on the one hand, we could say God’s on a mission to reconcile heaven and earth. I think on the other hand, we can say the same thing from another angle that God is on a mission to get the hell out of earth.
God is on a mission to get the hell out of earth, not in a sense to get us the hell out of earth, like “beam me up, Scotty whisk me away”, this kind of escapist story, but no God was on the mission to get the hell out of us on earth. That he’s actually on this redemptive mission in Jesus to heal and restore us from the destructive power of sin and death and hell that we’ve given ourselves over to you, and the good news of the gospel is that Jesus is not sitting there asking, “Hey, are you good enough to get into my kingdom?”
No, rather Jesus asks us, “Will you let me heal you?” Essentially. Jesus and the gospel is going, “Hey, I’ve paid the price.” Jesus is a hell defeating, fire extinguishing, life giving savior and King, and the good news of the gospel is that because God is good, he’s on a mission to get the hell out of earth. And not only that to get the hell out of us, if we would receive his life giving presence that comes to restore Jesus has atoned for our sin to heal us and restore us and to make us whole.
And the good news of the gospel is that when we receive the redemptive life and power of Jesus, we can become places where heaven and earth are reconciled, and that over time God’s patience with, his sanctifying work. But what God is up to is he’s pushing the hell out of us. [inaudible 00:06:16] he is reconciling us to himself, making us a people and a place where heaven and earth are reunited are connected god and humanity together as one and the destructive wildfire, flame of sin that’s ripping God’s good world apart gets pushed out as we become a people in a place for God’s redemptive presence.
Host: Next up, our second question we received on this topic is hell, just a made up scare tactic to frighten people into the Christian faith?
Josh Butler: At times, in some places, some circles have used it that way, almost to scare you into the kingdom. That’s not the way it works, you don’t get frightened. I love telling myself that even if it’s just out of fear that we have forgot something that we haven’t actually entered the kingdom, it’s actually in love of God, a captivated by his beauty and his glory and the goodness of who he is. So while it has been used that way, I don’t believe that’s actually how A) how it’s historically been understood and B) how it’s supposed to be used. What I find rather is it actually the doctrine of hell has immense explanatory power for some of the horror that we see in our world today. So my own life, this looked like it was new Christian in college, traveling the world.
I had international kind of internships overseas, but I was working in two main areas. One was a post genocide kind of war zones, and another was in kind of anti-trafficking, and I remember in the anti-trafficking as an example, some of the communities that the organization I was working with were in as many as 90% of the girls over 10 years old had been abducted into the sex trade, and had been pulled into the sex trade, and my heart was just broken and ripped apart at that just the grievous traumatic impact of sin in our own world. But I was also, I was reading the gospels and new Christian. I was reading Matthew five where Jesus talks about adultery. He says, “you think just because we haven’t committed adultery you’re okay. But I tell you if you’re feeling committed less, like less than your heart, that’s where the root of the problem is.”
And Jesus associates it with how and the power of hell and the future reality of hell, and what struck me was like, man, I’m working against sexual trafficking rightly and appropriately so, but often what I want to do, and I think what we often want to do is almost like prune back the branches on the wicked tree, right? I have this image of like this big, gnarly wicked in our world. I kind of want to prune back the branches and Jesus wants to get rid of second distract from too only he wants to go way deeper juice wants to dig out the root of the lust that shows up in all sorts of different ways in yeah, and way more of our lives than just those who are doing something as extreme as is that right? Or in genocide as well, and seeing the horror there, but Jesus in Matthew five goes on.
He says, “you think essentially just because you haven’t killed someone, you’re okay. But I tell you if you even called them fool or the rage and anger in our heart.”, and so what I began to see is like sin, the roots of hell are in us. We have kind of like the sparks that set the wildfire flame. We have the wicked root of sin that gives rise to these gnarly wicked things in our world, and Jesus cares about them, both and deals with them, both James, in James three, he talks about how “the tongue, even though it’s small, it can do great damage. Kind of like a spark I’ll take the spark is a set of forest, aflame.” And James goes on to say, “when it does, when your tongue, when your words cut people down and do these things”, he says, “you’re telling it is itself set on fire by hell.”
And so what’s crazy about that to me is that James is saying the power of hell it makes its way into God’s good world through us. Like we’re the ones who set God’s good world aflame and we can burn you kind of burn down people with our words, burned down, community, burnt out our own lives, and if that’s just with our words, how much more so with our lives when we’re to sin, and so I’ve actually found rather than a scare tactics to kind of scare people on the keynote, it’s more of a powerful kind of reality check of naming the horror of sin.
This is how gnarly the impact and the weight of what sin both does in the world today, and the reality of, because God is good, he’s going to judge sin. He’s going to deal with it, he’s going to deal with how he’s going to contain us, that it can’t tear apart his good world any longer when his kingdom is established, and again, there’s the good news of the gospel we can be made whole and places where heaven and earth come together and all that. I believe it’s helpful to actually name the reality of the horror of what sin does in our world to other people and even in our own lives.
Host: Thanks for listening to today’s episode of TGC Q&A in our series on Gen Z’s questions about Christianity, be sure to tune back in next week as we bring you another episode in the series.