Part 7 Isn’t eternal punishment for temporal sins overkill?

Question:Isn’t eternal damnation for temporal sins overkill?  Why should God punish forever those who have only sinned for a short time?

Answer: One view that tries to deal with this question of eternal punishment is universalism.  In this view when people die everyone goes to heaven.  Therefore, there isn’t any eternal punishment.  Since this view goes against the clear teachings of the Bible I consider it false.  I will not spend time refuting it.

A second view some theologians have proposed is called annihilationism.  Until recently only heretical groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses held this interpretation.  According to this view when the unbeliever dies he or she goes out of existence.  The believer goes to heaven and the unbeliever is annihilated.  Arguments in favor say 1) the Greek word for destruction of the wicked implies they are no longer in existence, 2) eternal damnation provides an inconsistency between the love of God and eternal conscious punishment, and 3) there is a discrepancy between sins committed in time and eternal punishment.

The first argument against annihilationism is all the Bible verses that speak about eternal punishment.  By reflecting on these scriptures this view is untenable.  I will examine a few of these verses.  Following the judgment of unbelievers and believers we read in Matthew 25:46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  In Mark 9:47-48 Jesus tells His disciples,If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.”  Hell here is described as a place where the worm lives on and the fire does not go out.  John the Baptist told the Jewish religion leaders that the wicked will be “burned with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).  Fire produces pain described as “weeping and gnashing of teeth”(Matt. 8:12;

English: Print by Gustave Doré illustrating th...

[By Gustave Doré parable of the rich man and Lazarus  (Wikipedia)]

13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).  Eternal punishment is depicted as a “coming misery,” “easting flesh with fire,” and the “day of slaughter”(James 5:1-5).  This suffering is constant because it is said that those in hell “will have no rest day or night” (Rev. 14:11) and “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10).  And finally, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 gives us a glimpse of heaven and hell.  The rich man was conscious as he suffered in hell.  Pastor John MacArthur writes, “Though human sensitivities may balk at the doctrine of eternal punishment, it is both the explicit teaching of the Bible and demanded by God's justice and holiness.”[1]

Many passages speak about ‘destruction’ as the punishment for unbelievers after death.  For example, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  Additional passages include Matt. 7:13, Rom. 9:22, 2 Peter 3:7, and Rev. 17:8.  The Greek word for destruction doesn’t have to mean gone from existence.  The same word has multiple meanings in the New Testament.  It can mean the harmful and destructive effects of final judgment on unbelievers; also personal ruin.  When combined with the many clear verses on eternal punishment the best definition seems to be personal ruin or the destructive effects of judgment.

What is inconsistent between love and punishment?  Doesn’t a loving father discipline his children?  Does God have the right to punish moral criminals?  If punishment is justified, then what difference is there for the length of time God can punish?  If God has the right to punish for some length of time, the span of time is a non-issue.[2]  It is the prerogative of the one whose laws have been broken.  To claim the length of punishment is disproportionate to the crime is assume we can know the extent of the evil done against God.  Who are we to judge God?  Who are we to make suggestions to God what is and isn’t appropriate punishment for the sins of the world?  Plus sins against an infinite being should have an infinite punishment.  If not then once they pay for their sins, they should be allowed to enter heaven.  Similar to human justice, we let criminals go free once they have paid their debt.

The amount of time it takes to commit the crime doesn’t factor into our justice system.  To murder someone takes seconds and yet, in our courts the person either gets the death penalty or life in prison.  Time perpetrating the wrongdoing isn’t the issue; the penalty is assessed based on the severity of the crime.  Who are we to judge the severity of our crimes against the eternal creator of the universe?

CS Lewis once said the doors of hell are locked from the inside.  People receive the desires of the hearts.  Since God has created creatures who consciously will live forever, then the penalty of rejecting God is separation forever.  Why would God force into heaven someone who would rather worship self rather than worship the creator?

Finally, where is the justice if all unbelievers get the same annihilation?  Hitler and Stalin get the same punishment as an unbeliever who has lived a good moral life.  Under this system if you are not going to follow Jesus you can be as evil as you desire; there is no ultimate justice in the universe.  This viewpoint is clearly wrong.  God is not only a loving God but He is just.  Eternal punishment preserves the eternal justice and holiness of God.  Praise God there is justice in the universe and a person like Hitler will get what he deserves!

Go to part 8 here

 


[1] John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Revelation 12-22.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic theology, Intervarsity Press 1994 pp. 1150-1151

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Larry Wallace October 15, 2019, 6:56 am

    John 3:16 gives us the answer, and that is we are not born with immortality. Without immortality a person can not burn forever in hell. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him shall not PERISH, but have EVERLASTING LIFE.
    The word perish, as mentioned in John 3:16 in the Greek is, apollumi which means to DESTROY FULLY.
    There is nowhere in the bible the words eternal soul or immortal soul is mentioned. Looking at scripture. I Timothy 6:15, 16. “Which in his times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, Lord of lords; (talking about Jesus) WHO ONLY hath immortality, dwelling in the Light, which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see (talking of God the Father) to whom be honor and power everlasting.” — I Corinthians 15:53 – For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this MORTAL must put on Immortality. If you had immortality you wouldn’t have to put it on. There are many scriptures that says the soul dies, or about the SAVING of the soul, “Let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, James 5:20. But nowhere does it say you have an eternal or immortal soul without Jesus Christ. That was the very reason he came into the world to give you eternal life because of the loss of the soul’s immortality suffered in the garden. Adam and Eve did not die that DAY haven eaten from the tree of Good and Evil. Adam lived to be over 900 years old.
    Now about the flames of hell. You would have to have an immortal soul to burn throughout eternity as stated above, and the only way to have immortality is through Jesus Christ. Let’s look at another verse of scripture in Revelation 20:14, 15. “And death and HELL were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, (Death of the soul).”
    Read Psalms 92:7 “When wicked spring up as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be DESTROYED FOREVER.” Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed unto man ONCE to die, but after this the judgment, showing the error of reincarnation.” EZEKIEL 18:4, 20: “The soul that sinneth it shall die!”

    Jer.7:30,31says; For the children of Judah have done evil in my sight, saith the Lord: they have set their ABOMINATIONS in my house which is called by my name, to POLLUTE it. And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of Hinnom, TO BURN THEIR SONS AND THEIR DAUGHTERS IN THE FIRE; WHICH I COMMANDED THEM NOT, NEITHER CAME IT UNTO MY HEART.Duet. 12:30-31 Take heed to thy self, thou shalt not do so unto the lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, WHICH HE HATETH, HAVE THEY DONE UNTO THEIR gods; for even their sons and their daughters THEY HAVE BURNT IN THE FIRE TO THEIR GODS. Yet we still hear preached that if you are a sinner, God’s going to burn you for all eternity. These two scriptures show God hates the burning even of the children of the ungodly (sinners). It is certainly understandable why many have rejected the Gospel, being told that God who is supposed to be merciful and loving would burn someone throughout eternity! The bible says God is just. Common sense tells us this is not justice.The Gospel is not about heaven or hell it is about life or death.
    Duet. 12:30-31 Take heed to thy self, thou shalt not do so unto the lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, WHICH HE HATETH, HAVE THEY DONE UNTO THEIR gods; for even their sons and their daughters THEY HAVE BURNT IN THE FIRE TO THEIR GODS. Yet we still hear preached that if you are a sinner, God’s going to burn you for all eternity. These two scriptures show God hates the burning even of the children of the ungodly (sinners). It is certainly understandable why many have rejected the Gospel, being told that God who is supposed to be merciful and loving would burn someone throughout eternity! The bible says God is just. Common sense tells us this is not justice.The Gospel is not about heaven or hell it is about life or death.
    Now this leads to the question, “What about the punishment for the likes of Hitler, Stalin and all those who have murdered millions? I did not mention there is not a lake of fire. Again, without an immortal soul you cannot burn forever but you can certainly burn for the sins you have committed whether great or small. Just as in our day, different crimes get different punishments. Yes, I believe there is a place of torment and depending on the sins committed, an allocation of time will be spent in horrific pain or Jesus would not have said that those who do harm to children would wish they had never been born. For the likes of Hitler and Stalin, that pain will be allocated to them for all who have suffered at their hands. These two men died and never paid for the atrocities they committed.
    The word of God does not return unto Him void. The scriptures state; “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” “That which you sow, so shall ye reap!” We may not see those scriptures fulfilled in our lifetime, but justice will be processed, eternal life or eternal death!

  • Steve October 22, 2019, 6:14 am

    Larry, 10/22/19
    Thanks for your reply. However, in the article you referenced, I made a strong case that we live on beyond death. I was refuting annihilationism. You didn’t address any of my passages.

    Rather than throw proof texts at me, first deal with my verses in my post. After you have dealt with my passages, then I will answer your passages.

    Steve Bruecker

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