Eternal Punishment vs. Finite Crime

In Old Testament times, people would take revenge against one another in ways that were absolutely shocking. There was no balance. It was not uncommon to kill someone for being disrespectful or for some petty crime. Then God stepped in with the whole “eye for an eye” thing to keep things a bit more fair when it came to punishment and justice.

Later, in the New Testament, Jesus raises the bar even more. It was no longer good enough to “let the punishment fit the crime” so to speak. Now, you’re supposed to “turn the other cheek!” You’re supposed to respond with grace and love. Ok, we got the whole punishment fitting the crime thing (for the most part), but we’re still a long way away from turning those cheeks.

With that in mind, I’d like to draw your attention to Hell. (How’s that for a segue?) I’ve heard complaints about various aspects of Hell as a concept. The one that I’d like to address today is the idea that (some) people are disturbed by the fact that one can commit a one time crime (rejecting Christ) and then have an eternity of punishment.

First of all, I’d like to point out that rejecting Christ is not actually a “one time” event. It’s an ongoing thing that one does continually. That being said, if it lasts until one’s death, it’s still a finite time and therefore people have difficulty with the eternality of Hell as a consequence of this finite sin.

If we grant these types of assumptions, we still have some problems. Let’s use “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” as an example. Particularly, the question that Regis Philbin made famous…”Is that your final answer?” That’s really what this is about. When one rejects Christ, and continues to do so until their death, that point of death is basically like God saying, “Is that your final answer?”

To say that it’s “unfair” or “immoral” to enact eternal separation for a one-time thing is either a misunderstanding of how things work or it is simple intellectual dishonesty. It would be like saying that it’s unfair that someone made a one-time decision to jump from the top of a 50 story building and then has to be dead for such a long time afterward. Why couldn’t they just be dead for a few minutes or a few days? After all, it didn’t take very long to jump from the building and die.

This is one of the reasons why so many evangelical Christians try so hard to bring people to the truth. This is a big decision which will affect our entire eternity. This isn’t like trying a different hair style or something. It’s not a matter of going to a new restaurant to see if you like it. You don’t get to try it again another way.

There is nothing unfair or unjust about it. It’s simply a very important decision that should not be made lightly. We are faced with those types of decisions all the time. Though, nowadays some of what used to be lifelong decisions are less so…like who one marries. Ideally, this is supposed to be a big decision which will affect you for the rest of your life. Today, you can get a quickie divorce and move on, but hopefully you get the idea that different decisions should be weighed differently.

At the risk of bringing up Pascal’s Wager, it might not be a bad idea to think really hard about our eternal destiny. It would be a shame to miss the boat and spend eternity not having the life you could have had if only you had chosen differently in this life.

Grace, love and peace.

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8 Comments

  1. @Rick,

    Interesting stuff you mention about Matthew 5. Especially with that little disclaimer that you wrote…”if you want to be ‘children of your Father…'” So, we have a choice NOT to. Then, you include the follow on passage about being perfect (Holy) as God is perfect. How you go from there to “there is no hell” is beyond me.

    If anything, that supports the idea of hell, since we are not able to be perfect and therefore only can assume perfection by accepting the righteousness of Christ, offered as a gift of His grace and able to be accepted or rejected by us of our own free will.

    Not only that, but you also seem to be completely dismissing the idea that there is more to the Bible than the New Testament. If you take the entire Bible as your context, both OT AND NT make many references to hell.

    As you pointed out in your earlier comment, we don’t have the autographs, so we can only use textual criticism to determine what passages are most likely authentic and which were added later. As I already mentioned, scholars have done this and the doctrine of hell still stands.

    If the only other options are annihilationism or universalism, what would be the point of the Law? In either case, I really can’t lose. In the former, I simply don’t exist any longer, so there wouldn’t be a “me” to feel like I’m missing anything. In the latter case, I’m going to heaven regardless. So why bother with the Law if there is no justice for the Law?

    As you rightly point out, Jesus came to set us free. He did that on the cross by paying our debt. But, just because His grace is offered, you cannot logically conclude from that that it is accepted. We can reject Him and no longer be covered by the cross. In which case, we are held accountable for our sin and therefore justice is required of us.

    Your theology sounds a bit like a combination of some of the “emerging church” stuff and universalism. Either way, it seems like you’re picking and choosing areas of scripture that support your conclusions and ignoring (or discounting) those that oppose them.

    If you oppose the Doctrine of Hell, I would think you would also have to reject the Doctrine of Sin, the Subtitutionary Atonement and the very purpose Christ came incarnate, the Doctrine of God, the Fall and a whole bunch of other teachings in scripture as these all are intertwined with one another in different ways.

    Grace, love and peace.

  2. @Rick Lannoye – To refute something (there is no Hell) and yet not provide an alternate explanation (where do the unsaved go) takes away from the credibility of your argument in my opinion.

    It would be like those arguing that the world is not flat but then not suggesting it is actually something else (like being round).

    You seem to base your beliefs on a lot of assumptions rather than looking at the entire Word of God because in all reality, the Bible is full of references to some kind of punishment for those who do not come to faith in Christ.

    When you say “no matter which faith we belonged to” you clearly demonstrate that you are disregarding John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The faith you belong to is important!

    You therefore are not a credible source to proclaim that “there is no Hell” as the doctrine of Hell itself is part of The Bible and yet you do not accept all its teachings but rather only the ones that suite your own agenda.

    It may be debatable what Hell actually is (i.e. fire, darkness, torment, separation from God, etc.) but I can’t for the life of me understand how someone who has read and studied the Word of God can deny its existence and then provide no other explanation as to where the dammed go after death.

    To each his own I guess but I’ll hold on to my belief that there is an eternal punishment for the unsaved, not that I fear it any longer as I am in Christ, but it is certainly a motivator for myself not to fall away from Christ as well as a motivator to implore others to escape such a fate as well and realize their true purpose in life which is to be in relationship with the one and true God through Jesus Christ Hi Son.

  3. For Ty,

    That’s a good question. The point of my book is to show how there is no Hell, so I don’t really address any other possibility, per se.

    That said, two of the most well known are Annihilationism and Universalism. If the Annhilationists are correct, those who do not come to faith are simply not allowed into Heaven. Their souls are annihilated.

    If the universalists are correct, a person who is “saved” in this life, or who comes to faith, however you wish to put it, is someone who has become AWARE of God’s love and the fact that the grave is not the end, and who, therefore, can enjoy this life and God’s nearness. The “lost” are not “going to Hell” but are just lost. They are still children of God, but will suffer a life of fear and foreboding, and go to the grave without hope. They will still go to heaven, but they do miss out on a lot in the meantime.

    I think I best answer your question in the last chapter of my book in which I discuss the DAY of Judgment, but very briefly, on the one day, when all will be revealed, it will become very clear to every person that whatever it is that we might be tempted to think was a good choice on our part, even when we come to believe in Jesus, will be shown to have had little to do with our innate good senses. We will see that each and every one of us who “accepted Jesus” would very likely have rejected him, had the circumstances of our birth, who raised us, how we were treated by others, and a million other things that were beyond our control…been different. We will see clearly, not through the glass darkly, that those in this life we might have looked down on for actually committing this or that serious evil, are no worse than we were in our hearts, when it is revealed that we all murdered or committed adultery, and down the list you could go, in our hearts.

    On that day, we will all see how we fell short of God’s glory and how sinful we all were, no matter which faith we belonged to and how correct we were in our doctrine. There will be a lot of tears, as we all come to realize just how much we, in practice, rejected Jesus all the time, in all the ways that matter, every time we failed, for example, to see that the person who was suffering that we could have helped, was him!

    But the good news is that, at the end of that day, Jesus will show us the wounds in his hands and feet and side, and will tell us we are forgiven, all of us. He will then wipe away all those tears, and we won’t be looking down on anyone else, but will be forever grateful for God’s love and mercy.

  4. @Rick Lannoye – No response to my question to you (above): “if there is no ‘Hell’ where do you suppose the ‘unsaved’ go after death?”

    And if you are going to strictly focus on Jesus’ teachings (excluding the rest of The Bible) to prove your point, what about Jesus’ telling of “The Rich Man & Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31) parable as well as the separating of the “goats and the sheep?” (Matthew 25: 31-46)

  5. Actually, even if we count all the interpolations and include each instance where Gehenna is translated as “Hell,’ in addition to the 4 places where the original Greek uses the word Hades, you’ve only got 15 times in all where Jesus supposedly spoke about Hell. By contrast, he uses the word “heaven,” 135 time!

    Anyone with a decent concordance can look this up, so one has to wonder why this distortion is so often repeated! The answer is that the doctrine of Hell serves the man made interest in controlling people, though Jesus came to set us free.

    As to textual criticism, it’s important to check your sources. Impartial scholars have known for some time how a number of the biblical texts are not likely original, but the Fundamentalists have been supplying their own “scholars” for some time who, with a view to preserve certain ideologies, including the myth of Hell, refuse to acknowedge the validity of the art of literary criticism.

    That said, you need not be a scholar to see that the 2 passages which place “hell” on Jesus’ lips are later interpolations. The only way to accept the doctrine of Hell is to deny everything Jesus originally taught about God’s nature! Take Matthew 5 for example, where Jesus makes it plain that God is against punishment of any sort! He rejects the notion of “an eye for an eye” and then says, if you want to be “children of your Father who is in heaven,” to not only turn the other cheek when you are slapped, but to be “perfect” as God the Father is, go even further, and return love for evil.

    This is just one example, but if God were actually so vindictive, that he would not only go back on the idea of making punishments fit the crime, but to take out vengence in an infinitely worse way, then you would have to reject what Jesus said about God’s true nature in Matthew 5.

    I explain much more in my book “Hell? No!” Check it out at my web site: http://www.thereisnohell.com or take advantage of the free sample booklet “Did Jesus Believe in Hell?” I think it will help you out.

  6. @Rick,

    I think, perhaps, you may want to revisit the gospel accounts. Jesus talks more about Hell than He does about Heaven.

    Yes, we are to live with compassion and forgiveness. However, I think you are taking this way too far. You are basically getting into universalism.

    The main problem seems to be a misunderstanding of what Hell is. According to Jesus, salvation (or “eternal life”) is spending eternity in the presence of God (John 17:3).

    Your conclusion about Luke 9 does not follow from the story itself. Just because Jesus did not want to burn an entire village, that does not mean you can conclude that Jesus didn’t believe in Hell or thought that it was appalling.

    At the end of your comments, I find myself concerned about your belief in the authority of scripture. Granted, biblical inerrancy is NOT the most necessary aspect of Christian faith. However, it seems that you’re not familiar with the way textual criticism works.

    If you look at the bulk of New Testament scholars, you’ll find that they have the utmost confidence in the fact that the scriptures are reliable. While, true, we do not have the original autographs, that doesn’t mean that we can’t determine a very close proximity of what they contained.

    In every intance where things were added (John 8 and the woman caught in adultery, for instance), there are footnotes to point out that those passages were added. Contrary to what you may think of those who made the copies of scriptures, nothing is being hidden.

    The long and short of it is, Jesus did, in fact, believe in hell. He taught at length about it. It was more than just a few mentions.

    God is not a “Cosmic Nazi” as you seem to think I’m trying to say. God IS, however, a JUST God. Sin against Him requires justice. This justice is separation from Him (death) for eternity. THAT is what Hell is. Eternal separation.

    Grace, love and peace.

  7. @Rick Lannoye – So if there is no Hell (a place where people who reject Christ go after death) where do those people go – Heaven?

    Many unrepentant sinners already feel uncomfortable enough in any church setting. How much more would they feel discomfort in Heaven? In fact most if not all would look for the darkest corner to hide in.

    Also consider the fact that we have free will and as such, God would never “force” someone to go to Heaven. That would violate our right to choose and free will.

    So, with that in mind, if there is no “Hell” where do you suppose the “unsaved” go after death? Looking forward to your response.

  8. Wow! How could this post have started so well and still end up with a justification for making God out to be some sort of Cosmic Nazi!

    You quoted a very important teaching of Jesus, that he rejected the entire concept of punishment. Unless you don’t believe that Jesus is THE WORD of God, The Expression of who God really is and what he is really like, then I gather you don’t really believe Jesus meant it when he said, “No, I am telling you, when people sin, the response is to love them, even an enemy!”

    And it’s not like this was some isolated quote. Think of what Jesus said on the cross about the very people who were crucifying him–“Father forgive them!”

    No, Jesus did not, nor could he have believed in Hell, and to believe in Hell is to reject everything Jesus stood for.

    I’ve actually written an entire book on this topic–Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There’s No Such Place As Hell, (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of Did Jesus Believe in Hell?, one of the most compelling chapters in my book at http://www.thereisnohell.com), but if I may, let me share one of the many points I make in it to explain why.

    If one is willing to look, there’s substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: “You don’t know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!” Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

    So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

    True, there are a few statements that made their way into the copies of copies of copies of the gospel texts which place “Hell” on Jesus’ lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

    Bear in mind that the historical Protestant doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures applies only to the original autographs, not the copies. But sadly, the interpolations that made their way into those copies have provided a convenient excuse for a lot of people to get around following Jesus’ real message.

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