Challenge: An Infinite Hell Is Unjust

Posted: May 1, 2012 by Amy Hall in Etcetera, Weekly Challenge

After looking through the challenges, I realized we haven’t had one on Hell. Is it just? Here’s someone who doesn’t think so:

[A] major problem with hell is that it’s grossly disproportionate…. It is virtually impossible to conceive of a way in which one human being, in a finite lifetime, could have committed enough sin to deserve an eternity in hell. Whether you believe that hell involves actual fire, or simply loneliness and separation from God, it’s a distinctly unpleasant condition to be in and it lasts for an infinite amount of time — so the magnitude of the punishment is infinite. I could imagine a just God acting like a judge and doling out punishments proportional to our crimes committed during life, some of which might last a very, very long time. But I do not understand how it could be just for the punishment to be infinite. No person has committed infinite sin.

How do you answer this objection? Take a shot, and Brett will be back on Thursday to give us his ideas.

Comments
  1. Chuck says:

    • If my child tells do do something and I say “No!”, I do not get in trouble.

    • If my wife tells me to do something and I say “No!”, I may end up sleeping on the couch.

    • If a police office tells me to do something and I say “No!”, I may get arrested.

    • If a judge tells me to do something and I say “No!”, I may be sent to prison.

    • If my commanding military officer tells me to do something and I say “No!”, I may be executed for treason.

    In every situation, I simply refused the order. So what changed in all these scenarios that caused increased punishment? The AUTHORITY in which I refused to comply.

    Our sins are crimes against and infinite/eternal authority (God) and deserve an infinite/eternal punishment (Hell).

  2. Albert says:

    Chuck, I love that response!

    My whole response would be dealing with the persons last line in his comment, “No person has committed infinite sin.”

    I would be asking him what he would define as infinite sin. And what judgement he would consider fair.

    To me, this is a perspective issue. From our point of view and all the different things WE consider evil, we can’t imagine someone being punished for eternity for the mere act of not accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. But, the judgement, as well as the punishment is not coming from our perspective, it’s coming from God’s perspective.

    If I made the rules….. But I don’t make the rules, God does. And if God says that anyone that does not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior will not be with Him in Heaven, well, that’s the rules, right?

    Plus to declare something disproportionate, you would have to have an understanding of the ruler that is being used to measure it. And I don’t believe we are able to comprehend that ruler from our perspective.

    I look forward to Brett’s response.

  3. tnoflahc says:

    Consider also that this punishment is taking place outside of time–it takes place in eternity. That is why the punishment is eternal. If a person isn’t being punished for stealing a candy bar or lying to a boss, rather they’re being punished for rebelling against the Creator of everything, then how much sense would it make for God to allow such a person into eternal fellowship with Him? Why should He? If a person doesn’t want to fellowship with God, then it seems just that He would respect their wishes.

    This person’s view also fails to take into account that God doesn’t just eternally cut off these rebels (for lack of a better word–“snarl, these… these REBELS”), He eternally blesses those who have accepted Him as their Lord. Every person is given the opportunity to choose to submit to God or to rebel against Him, and because ours is a finite reality and all people will ultimately exist in eternity, it only logically follows that those who have chosen rebellion will have chosen eternal punishment.

    I feel that this viewpoint’s inability to imagine the justice of an eternal punishment stems from a lack of understanding of the nature of God in spite of the information given in the bible. “It is virtually impossible to conceive” and “I do not understand” is a poor basis for an argument when we are given the means to conceive and understand why our situation is the way it is.

  4. tnoflahc says:

    There it goes again with the “tnoflahc.”

    It’s Andy/اشکان

  5. shwilson24 says:

    I’d put out two different ideas.

    First, Hell is not infinite, because it has a beginning and then continues indefinitely. So after 1 day, you’ve spent 1 day in Hell. After 1,000,000,000 days, it’s still just 1,000,000,000 days. And no matter how many days you spend in Hell, it will always be a finite number of days. So, I think “infinite Hell” is a bit of a misnomer.

    Second, who is to say sinning stops once a person is in Hell? I see no reason to think that the person receiving punishment for past sins would be morally perfect while receiving the punishment. The punishment is ongoing because the sin is ongoing.

  6. Dustin says:

    I guess in a sense, there needs to be a definition of Hell. In my experiences, many seek to define Hell as this place of fire and brimstone that God created in order punish people who didn’t follow His commands. However, instead of viewing it as a created “thing”, I would sooner describe Hell as a complete disconnect from God. Whether it be an actual physical place or not, I think of it more to be a word used to describe the absence of God. Much like light and darkness – you cannot create more darkness, you can only remove light.

    Although I’m not suggesting that Hell is not intended for punishment, I am suggesting an alternative way of looking at it. Instead of thinking, “because I have done these bad things, I am going to end up in Hell” in sort of a cause and effect manner, I propose it is more based on the rejection of God. If we think of hell as a direct result of our short comings, then that could suppose that it is possible to save ourselves, assuming it would even be logically possible not to sin for the duration of life. Hopefully it would not be to bold of me to stand in a position where I suggest that even if one managed to live his/her life without sinning, it would be insufficient to stand in eternity with God. I think that much more than our own personal sinning, we have also inherited the sins of our fathers before us, if I may put it that way. Therefore I move to suggest that Hell is not entirely based off of “cause and effect” but more than that, I believe it is also based off our deliberate rejection of God.

    Part of being a follower of Christ is recognizing that we cannot earn our salvation. So I don’t believe ones post life in Hell is a direct response to their own personal sins, but rather it is a direct response to their refusal to accept Christ. So responding to the question, “is it just, to send someone to hell?” Well if Hell is the complete absence of God, and a person rejects God here on earth and ends up going there, then I would say they effectively got their wish…a place without God.

  7. Jesse Harris says:

    I think there are already some great responses to the issue so far on this comment chain…
    But I want to add a thought of my own that will expand on some of the ideas above (hopefully :))
    It seems that God made us to be in the image of God and that image is what it truly means to be human. This takes many forms but one of them is the holiness of God. I believe we were made to be holy, good, loving, pure, intelligent, creative, and beautiful human beings. However, with the Fall that image was marred and we were unable thereafter to achieve the redemption of that image, our true humanity. Furthermore, God in His holiness could not be in perfect fellowship with sin. Because we are sinful, God cannot (in His character) be in perfect relationship with us. Thus, He extended the ultimate grace of Jesus Christ death on the cross that we might have the opportunity to accept restoration. Until we accept that restoration, God cannot be in relationship with us. Further, as we continue to reject the redemption offered in Jesus Christ, we continue to become more and more twisted in our natures. We lose more and more of our “true” humanity as we go through this life and commit acts of sin (whatever form that takes).
    If we accept Christ saving grace then relationship is instantly possible as we are justified in Him. The working out of our salvation becomes a process of re-attaining our faculty for to experience relationship with God and redeeming our humanity. Heaven is the ultimate out-working of that redemption. Justification, Sanctification, Glorification.
    If we do not accept Christ, then we merely continue on our paths of defacing the image of God as it exists in us. Hell is merely the continuation of the process which is separation from God.
    It is not God condemning or sending people to Hell. It is people choosing Hell over God (life over death) again and again in the face of His saving grace as He avidly pursues them throughout their lives. It is as though God is constantly inviting people into His kingdom and at some point He must (by nature of allowing free will and loving them) allow a person to choose Hell. I do not think the process ends there, I believe the people in Hell have arrived at a point where they will continually choose Hell for eternity.
    This Hell is not a punishment for wrong doing, it is a direct result of continuous choice. Moreover, it is the logical result of choosing to continue sinning in spite of the separation it must necessarily cause between the Holy God and the person.

  8. david says:

    Suppose one is unable to make a just payment for their crime. (This is the very reason why we require a savior. ) Then it follows that no finite amount of time spent paying for one’s crime will ever be sufficient. So, an everlasting amount of time in Hell is indicative of one never being able to make restitution for their crimes. If one could, then spending any longer in Hell than necessary would be unjust.

    Of course this requires accepting my premise that one is unable to make a sufficient payment for their crimes. I think this premise is arguable. Anselm makes reference to this. If each just act of a person is what they ought to have done, then that act is sufficient only for that circumstance for which a just act is required. Therefore no just act can be sufficient beyond itself to cover for any other unjust act(s) by the same person. Hence, once a person is guilty of an injustice he can never be able to render a sufficient payment.

  9. iapologise says:

    I have a few issues with that statement. First off, the complaint is that “I can’t understand God doing X”. To that I say: No kidding! I don’t understand the Trinity, the hypostatic union, amazing grace or infinite love, yet that doesn’t keep me from belief that they exist. Why should I expect to understand God’s intent for hell? I personally have no issue with an infinite being who is beyond my comprehension.

    Also, the statement questions if a human is capable of committing enough sin to warrant an eternity of punishment. By what standard do I judge my earthly sins? You may say that “I only committed this little white lie”, but by what standard are you measuring it? Even when we know that all sin offends God equally, we still fall into the trap of comparing ours to the sins of others. I suspect that most who agree with the premise above are doing so while comparing their “little sins” to those of people like Hitler and Nero, even if subconsciously.

    And Chuck…that was fantastic insight.

  10. Tim Stratton says:

    I believe those that choose to reject God and want nothing to do with Him, will hate Him infinitely, and therefore, sin infinitely. If one commits an infinite amount of sins, an infinite Hell is perfectly just!

  11. Midlake Crisis says:

    If Hell turns out to be eternal conscious torment, it will be just – God is incapable of injustice by definition. On the other hand, eternal conscious torment for the sins of finite creatures does seem unjust to me, and contemplating it has caused me a lot of grief. For me the real question iswhether or not the eternal conscious torment view is biblical, and not just an entrenched tradition. In my opinion the Bible teaches that unregenerate persons will be punished severely and justly for a finite period in perfect proportion with their sins, and that their punishment will conclude with their annihilation in the “second death” of the lake of fire, from which the “smoke of their (final and concluded) torment will go up forever” as a lasting testimony to God’s righteous judgment having been executed on them. I haven’t seen any Bible verse that can’t reasonably fit in to that interpretation, and it seems to have the advantage of being consistent with a balanced view of all of God’s attributes of holiness, justice, and compassion.

  12. John Barron says:

    The duration it takes to commit a crime is rarely tied in with how long the punishment is. For example, it’s possible to steal a few hundred dollars over the course of a few days, weeks, or months. But getting caught still results in a misdemeanor for which little if any time being punished is the result. Often times a murder happens in a mere matter of seconds, but usually results in a lifetime of punishment.

    The issue with hell is not how long it took to commit the crimes (finite crimes), but rather how serious the crimes were. But asking us — the criminal — how serious the crimes we have committed against God are is a kin to having the fox watch the hen house. God is the standard bearer by which all crimes are judged.

    An eternity in hell is just because of nature of God’s holiness. By sinning/committing crimes against God, even the most minute transgression is utterly serious.

    It is God’s nature, and not our petty crime which makes eternal punishment just. As Chuck points out, the same transgression is treated differently depending on who it is who is offended. Slapping a stranger lands a far different punishment than slapping the President. Slapping God is of eternal consequence.

    • Midlake Crisis says:

      @John Barron – “belief in the natural immortality of the soul which is so widely held by Christians, although stemming more from Plato than the Bible, really drives the traditional doctrine of hell more than exegesis does.” – (Clark Pinnock, “The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent” at http://tinyurl.com/dykwjpo ). I think this point is well taken, especially when God’s declaration to Adam is that the consequence of sin is “death”, the Bible cover to cover refers to God’s “destruction” of the wicked, including destruction of “body and soul”, that God in his wrath is described as a “consuming fire”, and that the ultimate destination of the lost is referred to as “the second death”.

  13. John Barron says:

    Warning: Shameless self-promotion. I think another problem with this objection is that it mistakenly inserts that human beings are finite creatures. But that is Atheist/Naturalist view, not the Christian view, we are eternal beings. And I think that plays a significant role in the discussion.

  14. The first issue in that statement that needs to be dealt with is the term “Just” as in “a Just God”. The idea of Justice infers a standard to be measured against, but who sets that standard? Me? You? Or by an Omnipotent/Omnipresent being who by Himself is the very standard of Justice? It’s all very easy for me to say “I don’t think that is just” but unless I have the authority to determine what that standard is, my “thoughts” are without merit.

    But let’s move on.

    The next issue is that of “I haven’t committed an infinite sin, so how can I be punished infinitely?” The misnomer here is the word “committed”, inferring a willful action on your part. From a scriptural stand point, you aren’t condemned because of the sin you committed, you are condemned because of who you are, not what you have done. (John 3:17 – 18) And we learn from David that we are sinful at Conception (Psalms 51:5) and that “the infinitely condemning sin” is passed on to each of us through our genetics (Romans 5:1 – 19).

    So the Justice here, is that YHWH chose to make redemption from that “infinite” sin easy for everyone. Simply believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only begotten son of God who lived as a sinless man, died on the cross for our sin, rose from the dead after three days, and now sits at the right hand of The Father (Romans 10:9 – 13).

    So I would turn the question around and say “Why isn’t it just?” A man who was guilty of no sin, suffered horrific punishment, death, separation from God, and Hell so that we would not have to. And all he asks is that we accept him for who he is, and profess that to avoid the “infinite” Hell. Sounds to me like a pretty unfair bargain, but unfair to YHWH, not to us.

    -Dave Shaffer
    Shekem.org

  15. southernbread says:

    If hell is the punishment received in order to accomplish justice on the balance of sins committed, then why, when Christ “paid” for our sins, did the punishment he endured not last infinitely long?

    BTW, I’m agnostic on the Hell issue. This is just something that’s bothered me for a while as a believer.

    • Midlake Crisis says:

      The elephant in the room is “what does the Bible actually teach?”.
      There seems to be a greater interest in formulating logical defenses of the traditional view than in interacting meaningfully with what God has revealed in scripture, which is all that really matters.

    • Amy Hall says:

      Southernbread, here’s Clotfelter’s answer in Sinners in the Hands of a Good God, and I think it’s a good one:

      Since sin against an infinitely glorious God is an infinite evil, satisfaction can be obtained only through eternal punishment or through the punishment of a Being who is Himself of infinite worth. Those who die in their sins will spend eternity satisfying divine justice for their sins. Those who trust in Christ will find that in their case the justice of God has already been satisfied in full.

      Only an infinite being (Christ, not us) could pay the infinite punishment and be done with it.

  16. Wow, this challenge has sure drawn out a lot of answers. A great deal of great stuff has been said already, but here’s my two cents.

    First, we need to make one thing very clear and that is that God is under absolutely no moral obligation to forgive anyone. The challenge that hell is unjust is to misunderstand the nature of man and his state of rebellion. God’s standard is absolute perfection. As such, why should He accept anything less from us? If a person commits even one sin, they are guilty. The fact that God in His infinite grace has chosen to offer forgiveness at all is why he is so worthy of our worship.

    So up front, the challenge that God is unjust really isn’t valid. You may not like this, but it is the truth of the matter.

    However, I don’t think it’s necessarily an unfair question to ask why hell must last forever. To this I would use the analogy of a owing a great debt. God is an infinite being. We as finite beings could never pay the debt we owe to Him for our disobedience and thus must spend an eternity trying to pay it back. Only Jesus, our perfect sacrifice, was capable of paying back that debt for us.

    Greg Koukl wrote a great article using this analogy here: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6336

    Finally, we shouldn’t forget that God sends no one to hell. He made the ultimate sacrifice for us so that we don’t have to go there. If someone rejects his forgiveness, He has no choice but to give them what they asked for, which is eternal separation from Him.

  17. chelseamariko says:

    It isn’t a tit for tat system of judgement like a debtor who owes $100 rather than $10 and therefore must suffer 10 times the “punishment” of paying it back. Sin creates a condition, not just a debt. It’s the condition that separates people in hell from God.

  18. Payt says:

    Hell is only fun to believe in as long as it’s other people who you don’t know go there. If you have to believe that people whom you love dearly have to burn there for how long? a day? a week? 10 years? 1000 years? 10.000 years? a million million years? then it’s not so much fun anymore. If you have to believe that your own children may have to burn there because they don’t believe in your God, then i wonder how much fun you’ll have in ‘heaven’. How egotistical do you have to be not to care anymore?

    How come i care more about people going to hell than God does? Am i more loving? I loved my father despite his flaws, but i will never want to call the Christian God my ‘heavenly father’ if all he is is a terrorist who is going to torture most of humanity for eternity.

    Anyway.. i don’t believe God is like that for a second. All you need to do is read 1 cor 15, and there it states that in the end God will be all in all. Who does that leave out? And everyone will come to the knowledge of Christ, every knee will bow and praise the Lord.. well i don’t think they will be doing that from hell.

  19. Payt says:

    Here’s a quote from http://jacobisrael71.wordpress.com/category/hell-revealed/

    1) God teaches us there should never be an end to our forgiveness. The question is, will there be an end to God’s forgiveness? Does God says do as I say, not as I do, OR does God’s mercy endure forever?

    2) Gods finishes his creation in VICTORY. Is sending a majority of his ignorant creation to endless torture, Victory? God saw all that he created and he said, IT IS GOOD?…How can that be, if a majority is lost? (It is God’s will that none perish.) How is that Victory?

    3) How can any be lost, if EVERY tongue confesses Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God? And the only way to glorify God is to be completely obedient to Him.

    4) If “NAME” is translated as “NATURE” from the greek, is it possible that EVERY NATURE that is not written in the book of Life, like greed, lust, hate, envy… is what is actually destroyed? And if the Lake of Fire is eternal Torture, why do ALL OF US have our part in it?

    5) If the things of the Kingdom are a Mystery, and many things are meant to be taken allegorically… is it possible the same is true for HELL?

    6) Can anything separate from the LOVE OF CHRIST? Bible says no.

    7) If Hell is eternal Torture, then how did David make his bed there? How did Jonah pray from there and be released?

    8) If God doesn’t change and is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, then how come ETERNAL TORTURE, which was created by the Holy Catholic Church and there is no record of it before that? … Why don’t the JEWS believe in Eternal Torture… Paul worshipped the God of his Father’s, and if the Jews do not believe in Eternal Torment, than Paul couldn’t believe if he worshipped the same God.

    9) God says we cannot choose HIM, but he Chooses us. God hardens and loves whom he hardens and loves… How then are we responsible? Name one character in the Bible who didn’t do God’s will… including Pharoah and Satan.

    10) If Hell is ETERNAL TORTURE, why is HELL thrown into the lake of Fire?

    11) 1 Timothy 4:10: If God is the SAVIOR OF ALL MEN, and the GREEK WORD FOR ALL… means “ALL:)” How can any be tortured for eternity?

    12) If someone is ignorant, what is better for a Loving God to do… PUNISH ENDLESSLY WORSE THAN ANY EVIL PERSON CAN DREAM UP… Or would a Loving God TEACH HIS IGNORANT CREATION to know better?

    13) If we wouldn’t cast away our children and torture them endlessly for doing the wrong thing and not knowing better, and we be “evil” know this, why would a PERFECT GOD OF LOVE do different?

    14) How come Hell is sometimes translated as Death and The Grave if it is endless torture.

    15) How come the word TORMENT from the Greek is translated as “THE TESTING OF PRECIOUS METALS BY USE OF TOUCHSTONE” and not Torture? (Is it more likely we are TESTED until we are PURE? Or Tortured endlessly)

    16) If God is a Just God, how is ENDLESS TORTURE a just punishment for IGNORANCE?

    17) If God doesn’t give us the spirit of FEAR, and Jesus taught that we shouldn’t use fear as a motivator, why is there a DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS TORTURE?

    18) If it is IMPOSSIBLE for MAN to know the things of God, is it possible then that the way HELL is UNDERSTOOD and TAUGHT by some today, is completely wrong?

    19) If God ONLY DOES WHAT HE WILLS, and it is GODS WILL that ALL BE SAVED? And ALL OF CREATION comes to perfection and the knowledge of the perfect man Christ, HOW then are any Lost? And if they are Lost, will he not leave the 99 found sheep to go after the one who is astray?

    20) IS GOD’S ARM SLACK THAT IT CANNOT SAVE? Is it possible, the doctrine of Eternal Torture is in fact error… considering even the word FOR EVER, is translated as “age, ages, period of time” — from the Greek Aionos. Could many be wrong?

  20. sewinmama says:

    The problem is not in whether you have committed a sin worthy of INFINITE hell, the problem is people are punishing THEMSELVES to this infinite hell. Hell was never intended for us. God has forgiven all sin and all we have to do is accept the ticket OUT of the punishment for sin. In light of ETERNITY… we are eternal beings, nothing is going to change that. God is giving us the chance to spend eternity with him. By choosing the things and desires of this world you choose what is temporary. A temporary fix for a temporary emotion… you are choosing to tell God to leave you alone, so ultimately he gives you what you ask for.

  21. Reggie says:

    If there is no possibility of rehabilitation, it is NOT punishment it is pure torture for the SAKE OF TORTURE and thus inherently immoral. Oblivion would be a more reasonable action… Infinite punishment is a truly putrid notion.