[ Author: Rich Christian ]
Justice and love
The teaching of eternal punishment has long been the subject of criticism for many a person. The critique goes: “If God is loving, how could he punish someone eternally for a finite amount of sins”? I’ll say this upfront, I honestly don’t like the idea of eternal punishment either. Yeah, I said it. However, what I like and don’t like is irrelevant to whether it’s true or not. Of course, some want to focus on the love of God while pushing aside his justice. (More on this later) Eternal punishment is what I see in scripture, as did the early Christians. Justin Martyr wrote:
“and we say that the same thing will be done, but at the hand of Christ, and upon the wicked in the same bodies united again to their spirits which are now to undergo everlasting punishment; and not only, as Plato said, for a period of a thousand years. And if any one say that this is incredible or impossible, this error of ours is one which concerns ourselves only, and no other person, so long as you cannot convict us of doing any harm.” 1 (emphasis mine)
Notice that Martyr contrasted what the Greeks believed, to what the Christians believed—a thousand years of punishment versus eternal punishment.
It is my position that when God breathes his spirit into us (conception, giving us life) the immortality of soul is initiated. God is eternal and the breath of life that he gives, is eternal also. Whether we choose to serve or reject him, it doesn’t change the status of the soul’s immortality, our gift of consciousness.
Now and not yet
The assumption that we stop sinning upon death, presupposes that we don’t have a soul and we cease to exist. This reasoning comes from groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and other unorthodox sects. Let’s say for a moment, that there is a soul an immaterial us, then what? Where does it/we go?
We are told from scripture that we only have one life, then the judgment. 2 The finality of where we’re to spend our eternity yet awaits all who have rejected Christ, at the great white throne judgment 3, which is a future event.
Said groups assert that since the judgment hasn’t happened yet, then neither has the punishment. One’s eternal fate is nevertheless sealed upon death. There’s an important distinction that needs to be made here; between the awaiting of sentencing and the carrying out of sentencing itself. Think of Hades being jail, and the Lake of Fire (LOF) being prison. When death and Hell (Gk. Hades) are thrown into the LOF, 4 the finality of the sentencing is being carried out. If the LOF and Hades are metaphorical (not places of actuality), then it just becomes nonsensical to throw nothing into nothingness.
Think about the fallen angels in Tartarus (which I believe to be in Hell), they’re bound in chains but still exist! 5 With that, surely, they’re not glorifying God there, so what’s the alternative? Theirs was the sin of rebellion, I don’t think this rebellion against God stopped upon them being bound. Apply this same principal to humans who make their home in Hell. If the fallen ones can still sin in this state, why can’t humans? Subsequently, these sins aren’t finite as they continue in an eternal Hell.
If you can grant that the parable of the rich man and the beggar was real and not a mere parable 6, you can see that the rich man was only concerned with his own torment rather than his rejection of God, thus lacking repentance. Only the spirit of God draws one to repentance, once he removes his hand from that person repentance isn’t possible. This is the status of the damned.
What is justice really?
It’s been said that eternal punishment can’t be reconciled with a loving God. I was recently asked in our SDA group: “What do you think heaven would be like if, say, your mother was lost? Could you truly enjoy eternity with the thought of her in eternal horrible suffering?” (Though I don’t know how, scripture says that God will wipe away every tear. 7 This includes all such points of pain and sorrow even for those who didn’t make it.) Going by that reasoning, the same could be said of those who made it to heaven, knowing that most of their friends and family were annihilated.
A Universalist might take issue with both the Annihilationist and I however, saying something like: “What kind of God would annihilate people that were truly deceived”? I must ask, where does one draw the line here? If pain and sadness is the issue, then I guess both the Annihilationist and those who take the eternal punishment position, shall concede to the Universalist albeit with a disregard for justice.
The justice of the Universalist and Annihilationist alike, is really no justice at all. This justice, which posits that regardless of how vile you were, you receive the exact fate of the next, is contrary to the greater damnation that Jesus spoke of:
(KJV) Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. (Matthew 23:14)
“therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation; both on account of their plundering and distressing the poor, the widows, and the fatherless; and also because of their hypocrisy in doing this under the cover of religion and holiness. Hence it appears, that there are degrees of punishment in hell, and that hypocrites, and all such who oppress the poor, under the mask of godliness, supposing gain to be that, will be partakers of the greatest degree of it.” 8
Think about throwing a rock at a bug. It’s harmless, right? What if you throw that same rock at an endangered bird? You could get fined for that. What if you throw that rock at a leader of a country? You could get fined and/or thrown into prison, a much steeper consequence, right? Well, what if you throw that rock at God and reject his pardon for eternal life? Well, you have Hell to pay, literally.
1. The First Apology of Justin, Chap. VIII
2. (GNT) Hebrews 9:27 “Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.”
3. (KJV) Revelation 20:11-15 “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
5. (GNT) 2 Peter 2:4 “God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell, where they are kept chained in darkness, waiting for the Day of Judgment.”
7. (ESV) Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
8. Gill Commentary (eSword)