I like to compare the Christian faith to a train. The first step, obviously, is to get on board. You have to first decide if you believe the main tenets of the faith, namely Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then comes the fun part, choosing which section and seat you’re going to take. Where will you align yourself theologically? How will you view certain teachings in the Bible that are not necessarily essential to salvation?
When it comes to particular issues, sometimes I feel like I’m still looking for the right seat. As I rumble over the issue of infinite punishment, I’m not so sure which explanation fits best.
Is eternal punishment a just sentence for sins committed by those who don’t follow Jesus during their lifetime? Maybe you’ve wondered the same thing. “Don’t you think an infinite amount of time in Hell is a little much God? Why not just teach them a lesson for a few hundred years and be done with it?”
Though I do agree with the Biblical view of Hell, I’ve gone back and forth on how to explain and understand each detail. As I’ve worked through the issue of Hell’s duration, I’ve studied three particularly strong arguments that give me a good deal to chew on:
1. Hell never ends, because the sinning never ends.
On countless occasions, the New Testament affirms the Holy Spirit’s critical role in a person’s salvation. Because of sin, we don’t possess the ability to even consider turning to God unless the Holy Spirit, through a work of grace, gives us a chance to do so (Jn 6:44, 65). We are literally dead in sin (Eph 2:5). What happens when you take away the Holy Spirit? Our hearts turn to stone and we want nothing to do with God. Meaning, void of the Holy Spirit’s work, a person in Hell might not enjoy their predicament, but they won’t possess any desire to turn to God for help. Thus the punishment never ends because the sinning never ends. Those in hell live in a constant, eternal rebellion to God.
2. The amount of time it takes to commit a crime doesn’t reflect the length of punishment required.
In a matter of moments, someone might decide to commit murder. Does that mean they will only be sentenced to a few minutes in prison? Maybe hours if they get an especially hard-lined judge? Sin committed over one’s life can start to rack up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean punishment will only last a lifetime.
3. To sin against a Maximally Great Being means to incur a maximally great punishment.
It might be said that one is not truly sent to Hell as a result of their personal sin. Jesus has paid the price for each of our evils already. A person is then only eternally punished for rejecting God’s gift of grace. This refusal would then be a larger matter to consider.
If you were to find me walking down the street and decide to punch me in the face, you would probably get in some trouble (not from me because I am a very weak man). If you were to meet the President of the United States and then precede to punch him in the face, that would be a different story altogether. Hello Guantanamo Bay.
J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig say this about the above argument:
We ought not, therefore, think of hell primarily as punishment for the array of sins of finite consequence that we have committed, but as the just due for a sin of infinite consequence, namely, the rejection of God himself (Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview, 620).
Each of these arguments offer a great perspective on the issue of Hell’s duration. It would seem that between themselves, these explanations offer a tight defense to the historical biblical doctrine of eternal punishment. In the end though, I believe the ultimate argument lies in the fact that God doesn’t want anyone to go there. 2 Peter 3:9 says,
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Talking about Hell on my blog this week hasn’t been a plate full of cookies. Honestly, I’m excited about the next time I get to write a humorous post. I don’t assume that all of my arguments are airtight, but I hope in someway I got you thinking. I also hope that I encouraged you to treat the subject of Hell in an honest, loving way. We have to talk about Hell. If we truly believe that Hell is real and that there are some people headed there, then it would be morally wrong not to talk about it.
So let’s talk about it.