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.
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.....
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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