Eternal Hell: Supreme Justice or Evil Judge?

The Bible says that the Father is loving. The New Testament affirms the same about Jesus. But can they really be loving while at the same time sending people to hell? After all, Jesus teaches more about hell than anyone in the entire Bible. Doesn't that contradict his supposed gentle and compassionate character? Agnostic Charles Templeton laments, "How could a loving Heavenly Father create an endless hell and, over the centuries, consign millions of people to it because they do not or cannot or will not accept certain religious beliefs?"

Before I continue, I must admit that I am not at all convinced that God simply casts souls into hell "because they do not or cannot or will not accept certain religious beliefs." Instead, I find it beneficial to discuss what modern people cringe at and consider a quaint anachronism: sin. To do that, look no further than to Research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, D.A. Carson. Carson writes,

"Picture God in the beginning of creation with a man an d woman made in his image. They wake up in the morning and think about God. They love him truly. They delight to do what he wants; it's their whole pleasure. They're rightly related to each other.

"Then, with the entrance of sin and rebellion into the world, these image bearers begin to think that they are at the center of the universe. Not literally, but that's the way they think. And that's the way we think. All the things we call 'social pathologies' - war, rape, bitterness, nurtured envies, secret jealousies, pride, inferiority complexes - are bound up in the first instance with the fact that we're not rightly related with God. The consequence is that people get hurt.

"From God's persepective, that is shockingly disgusting. So what should God do about it? If he says, "Well, I don't give a rip,' he's saying that evil doesn't matter to him. It's a bit like saying, "Oh yeah, the Holocost - I don't care/" Wouldn't we be shocked if we thought God didn't have moral judgements on such matters?

"But in principle, if he's the sort of God who has moral judgements on those matters, he's got to have moral justments on this huge matter of all these divine image bearers shaking their puny fists at his face and singing with Frank Sinatra, 'I did it my way.' That's the real nature of sin.

"Having said that, hell is not a place where people are consigned because they were pretty good blokes but just didn't believe the right stuff. They're consigned there, first and foremost, because they defy their Maker and want to be at the center of the universe. Hell is not filled with people who have already repented, only God isnt gently enough or good enough to let them out. It's filled with people who, for all eternity, still want to be at the center of the universe and who persist in their God-defying rebellion.

"What is God to do? If he says it doesnt' matter to him, God is no longer a God to be admired. He's either amoral or psitively creepy. For him to act in any other way in the face of such blatant defiance would be to reduce God himself.

"...[If] God took his hands off this fallen world so that there were no restraint on human wickedness, we would make hell. Thus if you allow a whole lot of sinners to live somewhere in a confined place where they're not doing damage to anyone but themselves, what do you get but hell? There's a sense in which they're doing it to themselves, and it's what they want because they still don't repent. One of the things that the Bible does insist is that in the end not only will justice be done, but justice will be seen to be done, so that every mouth will be stopped."

To clarify and simple Carson's last statement, on that Last Day no one, in heaven or on earth, will question the fundamental justice in the way God judges the world. No one will be able to complain by saying, "This isn't fair."

--Quote [Modified] and used from The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel, chapter 9, section 2

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi


Seeker said…
According to the Bible, hell will be filled with all who did not procure remission of sins through a proper relationship with the son.

That means along with those who "shook puny fists" will be those who never heard the message, along with those who simply did not believe because the presentation was not compelling. Along with (according to most denominations) those who misinterpreted the Bible's doctrinal details. Along with those who sought to honor a supreme being, but were raised in the environment of an alternate religion. Along with those who were convinced there were additional revelations to the initial message. And depending upon your particular theology, along with millions who were not priviledged to be Jews or to be in a family God spoke to directly in the patriarchial age.

At the same time, how does one pay for sin with a eternal torture? If God has intimated through the Mosaic law that the price of sin is death, how does eternal torture suddenly become the price, rather than the cessation of existence? In what scheme of equilibrium could you consider infinite torture the appropriate punishment for any degree of sin on earth?

Carson presents an overly simplistic view of a very troubled doctrine.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for your comments Mr. Reid. The concerns and questions you pose are similar to those of my close friends. Before I begin answering your questions and challenges, I must address your opening biblical definition of hell. The bible does not teach that "hell will be filled with all who did not procure remission of sins through a proper relationship with the son." People don't go to hell because they don't accept Jesus. People go to hell because of their unforgiven sin. Jesus is the solution to the problem of sin and eternal hell.

Let me now address your argument for those who have "never heard the message," regardless of how compelling the presentation. The "message" you are referring to is the gospel, which includes good AND bad news. The bad news is that we have a deadly disease in need of curing, sin. The good news is that the ultimate Physician has come to provide the cure. That aside, the view your promoting is that "the Gospel alone saves." So can God justly convict a man or woman who hasn't heard the message of Jesus? The nature of sin must be addressed to understand the answer. Sin brings guilt. Mercy is a gift. Anyone who is a sinner receives punishment he deserves. Anyone who is saved receives mercy he does not deserve and which is not owed him. Put another way, How could the sheriff send anyone to jail if he didn't offer him a pardon first? The answer is simple. If he's guilty, the sheriff is justified in throwing him in jail. There is no obligation to offer a pardon to a guilty man. The same is true of God. He can justly convict a man who has broken His law even though the sinner has heard nothing about God's pardon in Jesus. God owes no one salvation. He can offer it to whomever He wishes. That's why it's called grace.

Following, you go on to assert the salvific status of those who "those who sought to honor a supreme being" and others who, unfortunately, were subjected to other "messages" such as Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam in the Koran. First, I am not at all convinced that there exists persons who truly seek after a supreme being on their own. God, through the Holy Spirit, is the active agent in drawing us to salvation. Secondly, assuming God exists for the sake of argument, progressive revelation would prove that He is contradictory and not a God to be desired after. Why you might ask? Because the Bible, Koran, and the Veda (Hinduism) all make contradictory truth claims. God cannot be personal and impersonal in the same sense. Nor can He be objective and reincarnation exist as true. All religions can't be true at the same time. Either the Muslims or Hindus are right, but neither can be true if Christianity is.

Then you mention those who (in your own words) "God spoke to" directly in the patriarchial age. I'm glad you said this the way you did. Because it taps into what I first said about the nature of grace. God speaks to those whom He chooses, which brings Him glory. Objecting on the grounds that this is not fair is a red-herring. I understand your concern for those who do not accept the free pardon. This was a stumbling block of mine for a long time till I understood that I was in the position of being under punishment and needed a pardon for my sin which brought guilt.

In your closing remarks, you ask "how does one pay for sin with a eternal torture?" This can be a difficult answer to understand, so bare with me as I try to communicate my thoughts clearly. I've heard it asked, "if sin is a limited action, how could the punishment be eternal?" Here on earth our wrong actions are committed towards finite beings, thus limiting the punishment. However, unlike here on earth, our actions are offending an eternal transcendent being. This changes the whole ballgame. Our wrong actions, thoughts, and motives turn out to be of eternal worth. This strikes at the core of Christianity. Christianity recognizes this vital state of pending seperation from God and offers a reasonable and intelligent solution: grace offered by God through His Son's death upon the Cross for the atonement of sin.

In conclusion, God has no obligation to pardon, then, and this is not a violation of justice or fairness. But if God is just, then He does have an obligation to punish the guilty and an obligation not to punish the innocent. A violation of either would be injustice. God cannot merely let the guilty go free, and He can by no means punish the innocent.

And this, incidentally, is not good news; its bad news, because the other thing God says about this situation--and one that we're all aware of in our more honest moments--is that we are not innocent, we're guilty.

Whether God has made forgiveness available to everyone or not is another issue. But I want you to be clear on one thing: God owes no one forgiveness, but He does owe them punishment, if they break His law--and that's all of us. Those who are finally condemned will have received justice; those who are finally saved will have received grace, which they did not deserve.

Troubled doctrine is in the thought and conviction that both sin does not truly exist, nor is there an accountability factor which guides our moral and ethical decisions. I hope this response has helped. Your comments, questions, and concerns are welcomed. Welcome to the Cadre blog, Mr. Reid.
Anonymous said…
One final rejoinder, when discussing the "hearing the gospel message saves" argument, I did not (regretably) mention the power of the natural theology argument to explain how those who have never heard the Gospel can come to know their is a God and that, given the existence of evil, they need reconciling with that God.

Much more can be said about this particular aspect of theology to interwieve the trouble with evil and salvation for those who never hear the Gospel. Again, I must mention that I still don't believe it is required of God to offer equality in salvation give that it grace that we have been saved. This view would put God at the mercy of people, which I do not believe to be consistent with biblical Christianity.
Seeker said…
I am certainly not as eloquent, but let me banter...

First, God is the originator of the system. Sin is ungodliness, which means he defines it. If there were no God or if God were not morally perfect, there would be no sin. So God in essence, creates sin by existing. Much in the same way that your sheriff (or his superiors) creates crime in defining law. Assume that some native Americans were arrested for poaching on said sheriff's government lands, as they were unaware of the strictures. It may be legal to punish them for said "crime", but I would not consider it just. In the same manner, what of the sinner who knows not his sin? If he is not aware of God's law, is it just to punish him for violations of it?

I agree varying religions offer contradictory claims. But unless you were priviledged to be raised to give a Christian system the benefit of the doubt, could you find convincing evidence that it was indeed the truth? That's another topic in itself and I won't ask you to indulge me, but surely you would concede that there are those who will, from limits of intelligence, wisdom, opportunity, etc., choose the wrong system with an honest conscience? I disagree strongly with the implication that those who choose another path have ignored the Spirit. If the Spirit is the primary agent, then it is only those who would outright refuse salvation that would be lost. It is implied that any who follow other faiths are doing so in rebellion to a drawing force. As one who has long struggled with faith, I would hotly deny that I resist God's call. I can assure you I seek it with every fiber of my being. Finding it has been more elusive.

An alternate to your either/or stance in religions is the idea that many have some concept of the true nature of God, but none have the complete picture. It is more or less an expansion of Christian denominations' tolerance of one another. It is not my personal belief, but not one that can be summarily dismissed in light of the failings of all practiced religions. They all reflect the failing of humanity as often as they reflect the glory of God.

Returning to the torture issue, I point to initial paragraph. Very few who do sin are conscious of the fact that they insult an eternal being. The debate might proceed over whether ignorance of the law is a valid excuse. God in this system might have an airtight legal argument to convict us, but would justice in his nature be satisfied?

Thanks for the indulgence.
Steven Carr said…
I was intrigued by the idea that people go to hell because they commit sin.

Does everybody commit sin?
Steven Carr said…
Why should people be consigned to Hell,just because Satan has attacked them, and deceived them?

Is Satan not a very powerful being, wily and clever, and a master of deception? Does God send people to hell, because they were deceived? Talk about blaming the victim.....
Anonymous said…
Hello Mr. Carr,

You ask, "Does everybody commit sin?" Short answer, yes. In our honest moments, when we observe our thoughts and actions, there is an intuitive sense that we're not perfect. In fact, we know we're not perfect by compensating our guilt by blaming others.

Once we understand that we have missed the mark of all of God's law (Ten Commmandments), there is an awareness that we are then held guilty and liable for punishment on God's terms. This places us in a terrible position. We've violated God's law numerous times and we stand condemned before Him. This is what makes the atonement that Christ achieved by his brutal death on the cross and 3 days later his resurrection. God, through his Son, etched a path to salvation.

Later you ask, "Why should people be consigned to Hell,just because Satan has attacked them, and deceived them?" By asking this question, you have confused your previous one. We are guilty before God because we violated his law (sin). That grants our souls into punishment of hell, not because Satan "attacked" us. And if you look closely to how temptation works, it's ways Satan tempting, but it is US who freely choose to act on that temptation to commit sin. Satan has a vital role in the process, but the act itself comes on our own choosing. You make a good point, though I think disrespectfully, that Satan actually is "a very powerful being, wily and clever, and a master of deception." But even then it is still our act that commits the crime. Satan does not commit the crime for us. Thus, it is completely reasonable to conclude that we are still in fact guilty, even though Satan played "devils advocate" (pun intended).

"Does God send people to hell, because they were deceived?" See above for understanding the punishment of guilt for our violation of God's law that allows us to be punished.

This is what makes grace so beautiful and undeserving, Mr. Carr. We impede death and punishment on our own free will and then too often we deny that guilt and blame others or use cynical comments (like you last statement) to compensate and/or hide the truth. A man who gave his life and defeated death so that we may inherit life and stand before God unjudged deserves far more attention, obedience, and most of all our dedicated lives for His glory.

Merry Christmas Mr.Carr.
Steven Carr said…
First of all, a Merry Christmas to you too. (I can't be doing with that American 'Happy Holidays' stuff) I hope you have a good Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

CA writes that all sin, but some obtain salvation.

The original article said 'Before I continue, I must admit that I am not at all convinced that God simply casts souls into hell "because they do not or cannot or will not accept certain religious beliefs." Instead, I find it beneficial to discuss what modern people cringe at and consider a quaint anachronism: sin.'

But now we learn that all sin, and some are cast into hell, because they do not or cannot or will not accept certain religious beliefs.

And if you are deceived by Satan, and commit a sin, you are going to Hell, although everybody sins. CA claims that everybody deceived by Satan deserves to go to Hell, because of what they did after they were deceived.

This really is blaming the victim. Doesn't America have laws about entrapment?

Anybody can be deceived - even CA. There is the old saying 'What is the difference between somebody who can be tricked, and a sucker?' Answer - Anybody can be tricked, but a sucker will bet a hundred dollars that he cannot be tricked.

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