Exploring the Justice of Eternal Punishment


#1

One of the major things that has led me to Universalist thinking is simple: a contemplation of eternity.

The classic response to someone who is considering Universalism from an Anti-Universalist is, “well God is both just and loving and so God must punish an unrepentant (unsaved, nonreligious, unbaptised, ) person forever.”

There are many things wrong with this concept of justice, I will name a few.

This assumes a retributive view of justice under most formulations. The goal according to this view of justice, it seems, is to balance some abstract scales of justice. Because if there were any concept of reconciliation to this, they would have to admit that the punishment must be temporary and not eternal. Which brings up an interesting point - how can an infinite punishment balance the scales of a lifetime of sin, or a lifetime of having a fallen nature, etc.?

Why forever? I have never heard a convincing explanation of this. Some have suggested that it’s because they have committed an infinite crime, because they have sinned (not believed, etc) against an infinite God. But how? Any sin or period of disbelief that takes place in our lives on earth must in fact be finite. Our being born fallen and living with a fallen nature (whatever that means) must be finite. Everything about our lives on earth is finite.

On a slightly more subjective note - A simple meditation on what eternity means and allowing that to bump up against the ceiling of our imaginations should make a Universalist out of anyone. Could a truly Loving moral Being (or even a moral energy) subject a person to torture forever? Never giving that person reprieve, ever. It is such an order of magnitude larger than any punishment I can even imagine that there is just no conceptual way that eternal punishment is true

And finally, why must God punish at all? I cannot think of a single reason why God could not simply choose to forgive. As such, God chooses to put the reconciliatory justice of the unity of God’s creation over the sin/disbelief/violence and chooses to renew and restore the person into God’s family. I am not suggesting that this is what God does - in fact it seems the parable of the Prodigal Sons suggests that Jesus believed God to be more of a patient Being waiting for the change of heart of the person. But I do think the logic of the concept that God must punish sin or disbelief to be simply wrong.

So - is there any explanation as to why God must punish? Or why God must punish forever?

I would appreciate your thoughts.

Peace,
JD


#2

Finally able to catch up on back-postings!

JD,

I can understand punishment of an aggrieved tyrant, one who responds to rebellion against himself by acting to permanently thwart the external victory of the rebellion (or acting to thwart the internal rebellion through annihilation of the person). If God was not Himself essentially an active interpersonal unity, and so not essentially love, I would have much less problem believing that God could and would behave that way. As an orthodox trinitarian theist, though, I have severe logical problems coherently believing that God would (or could, while still existing) behave that way.

That being said, I don’t have problems believing that even an ortho-trin God can and would act to thwart external victory of rebellion by means of imprisonment, handicap, death, whatever.

(Nor, at the same time, do I have problems understanding why an ortho-trin God might be “longsuffering” in His patience over sinners, either, as the scriptures often put it; allowing us some terrible victories as sinners rather than simply poofing us out of existence or treating us like puppets.)

But, let us suppose an essentially loving God, Who loves both me (the sinner) and my victims: for the sake of love to me, He may be longsufferingly patient over me, but for the sake of love both to me and to my victims He will eventually act against my sin.

Whatever that action is, no matter how light or how heavy, it must count as an infliction of punishment on me–especially if I refuse to release and forego my sin!

So if I continue to refuse to forego my sin, and repent and do justice instead–what is God to do? For love’s sake, He must continue acting to lead me away from my sin; but so long as I refuse to forego my sin, this action must be some mode of punishment. Even if my intransigence lasts for ages of ages!–even so, the punishment will continue, not because God hates me but because He love me and hates my sin. In a secondary way He could be said to ‘hate me’, too, but only insofar as I insist on holding to my sins; and even this hatred must be contingent upon God’s love for me, if God is Himself essentially love.

When I repent and begin to do positive justice instead, though, both to God and to other derivative persons in fair-togetherness (perhaps even to natural creations which are not persons yet but which are still loved by God their creator in their own way), then justice and fair-togetherness are being fulfilled by me and in me: for which God is first and foremost to be credited, for not giving up on me, the intransigent sinner, but continuing to love me to my uttermost completion. (This crediting is what the biblical authors call “confession”, whether in the OT or the NT: the acknowledgment and grateful praise of God for His victories over sin, especially the rescue of His people from their sin.)

Now, Arm and Calv theologians both would agree with all this in principle–so long as they could put limits on the scope of God’s application, one way or another. (Calvinistic soteriology limits God’s scope in one way; Arminianistic soteriology limits God’s scope in another way.) Those limits, however, end up denying key tenets of ortho-trin doctrine (or even supernaturalistic theism more broadly); and, in my own experience anyway, those limits make it very difficult to coherently interpret many portions of scriptural revelation, which go beyond the limits that other portions of scripture may at the moment (in this or that way) have in view. (Which excesses of limitation are in fact recognized by Arm and Calv theologians both, in different ways, while denying the excess of limitations recognized by each other.)


#3

I am not suggesting that God could or would not act to reunite various divided pieces of God’s creation. Not even that this may not include punishment of some kind. However, I am suggesting that the punishment, in whatever form it takes, would if I am understanding love and mercy and goodness correctly, have the ultimate goal of reconciliation.

This, by definition, precludes eternal punishment since eternal punishment cannot reconcile.

But all this necessarily implies temporary, reconciliatory punishment. And thus, even if there is justice in punishment, there is none in eternal punishment.

As such, the the general retort that Universalism is false due to God being just - is defunct.

Peace,
JD


#4

Nor did I think you were arguing against those points.

However, you did also ask: “And finally, why must God punish at all? I cannot think of a single reason why God could not simply choose to forgive. [etc.] But I do think the logic of the concept that God must punish sin or disbelief to be simply wrong. So – is there any explanation as to why God must punish?” [emphases original]

This was what I was answering.


#5

I regard Universalism as certain. The eternal loss of even one person would turn Christianity (of any brand you care to name: Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Arminianism, etc.) into an incoherent and internally self-contradictory hash.

I regard Ultra-Universalism (i. e., the doctrine that all sin is punished 100% in this life, and thus there being no post-mortem suffering or punishments) as probable.

I regard Restorationist Universalism (i. e., the doctrine that some sin will not be punished or purged in this life, and thus there is post-mortem suffering or punishment) as possible.

My reasons for being an Ultra-Universalist rather than a Restorationist Universalist are primarily two-fold:

  1. I believe the Bible teaches Ultra-Universalism. Most texts brought forward as evidence of post-mortem suffering are parables or apocalyptic texts, and such passages are certainly not of clear and obvious interpretation. In contrast, the Bible shows us (in historical texts rather than in parables or apocalyptic passages) what happened when the WORST sinner in history (i. e., Paul) saw Christ in His glory: Instant conversion, turning away from his sin (i. e., repentance), and obedience to Christ. If even the worst of all sinners reacts thus, how much more so for the rest of us?

  2. While Restorationist Universalism is indeed Good News, Ultra-Universalism is even more so. I find it preposterous that I or anyone else could interpret the Gospel in such a way as to be better than the Reality. Our interpretations and imaginings, no matter how wondrous and glorious, are pale little things that (at best) vaguely hint at how wonderful the Gospel is. When your mother (deep in sin) dies, what is a more comforting and glorious belief? That after dying she is immediately made perfect even as our Father is perfect, free from all sin and suffering, and rejoicing in everlasting bliss? Or that she is undergoing painful purgations that could last millions of years for all we know? In short, our asking will never outstrip God’s giving.


#6

My issue is primarily with the notion of necessity in God’s punishing.

I think you outlined a few explanations, forgive me if I am oversimplifying here, as to why God could punish someone and not be immoral. I agree with this, wholeheartedly. God would be morally justified to invoke some kind of reconciliatory punishment if that punishment was intended specifically for the reconciliation of that person.

But, I do not think that this proves the necessity of this course of action.

After all, it has been said that it is God’s kindness which leads to repentance, not punishment.

Interestingly, in the parable of the lost son - the rebellious son is punished from the natural consequences of his own actions - and the thought of his father’s goodness and kindness is what led him home.

Peace,
JD


#7

True; and even more interestingly, to me, is that the Father is just as patient over the sinful brooding of the older brother.

However: there are other parables which suggest in pretty strong language what’s going to happen to that older brother if he persists in being unmerciful toward the younger brother. When the unmerciful steward is handed over to the jailors, and won’t be coming out until he pays the uttermost farthing, the problem isn’t the money; the problem is that he himself owes mercy which he has refused to give (in the face of the mercy shown to him by his master). It’s better to be led home by kindness, and there’s a lot to be said along that line in the Bible. But it is also “a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God”, and “we are acquainted with the Lord Who says, ‘Vengeance is mine’ and ‘I will repay’.” (Both of which statements are aimed squarely at backsliding people of His, not at those pagans or atheists or serial killers or whoever over there.) And when St. Paul, around the end of Rom 1 and the beginning of Rom 2, reminds his readers that
the kindness of God is what leads to repentance, it’s smack in the middle of a strong warning that they are the ones building up wrath against themselves for judgment by treating those disgusting pagan sinners over there as though the judgment against them is hopeless, while we the elect with our apparently ‘little’ sins expect to get off scot-free.

Frankly, I’m better off hoping in the judgment of God against my sins (and against me, insofar as I insist in holding to my sins). If God sees fit that I don’t need punishment, fine. If He sees fit (which, by the way, He certainly has so far) that I still need punishment, be it light or heavy or whatever, fine.

I am not primarily concerned with being saved from punishment. I am primarily concerned with being saved from my sins; and I know my own heart well enough to know perfectly well that just because I see what I understand to be right, doesn’t mean that that is what I’m going to choose. There are times, and plenty of them, when I am the one who seeks the darkness rather than the light because my deeds are evil and (God help me) I would rather hold to those wretched sins, than to come into the light.

It should be noted, in relation to this, that when I was answering your question about why God must punish, my specific focus on why God would be morally justified to invoke some kind of reconciliatory punishment, was because there are cases where the sinner does in fact refuse to even try to walk according to whatever of the light he can see (much less look for more light thereby). I know!–I’m a sinner! Superior understanding does not of itself inoculate against sin: whether one regards “Satan” as a real entity or a mythical expression (and I regard Satan as a real entity), the moral of Satan’s story is exactly the same as the moral of the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees. No one is too “enlightened” to be safe from falling–and falling into the most monstrous rebellion, too.


#8

I’ve always thought Deuteronomy 25:3 to be relevant here…

ooh look 100 posts :astonished:


#9

Congrats! (Nice quote, too!)