Answer the skeptic: Why is eternal punishment fair?
A common objection from skeptics to the Christian view of hell deals with the length of the punishment for a finite sin. If our sin is committed in a finite span of time, how could eternal punishment be fair? One thing this fails to recognize is that the punishment for a crime doesn’t depend on how long the crime took to commit. J. Warner Wallace describes this by explaining that a murder may only take 1 second to commit, but the jail sentence could be a lifetime. So, is there an easy answer to the objection “Why is eternal punishment fair?”
Short Answer: Eternal punishment is fitting for the eternally unrepentant.
God does not send good people to heaven, but instead, sinful people chose to reject God. It is our sin, if left unforgiven, that separates us from God. It is important to realize how much God hates sin. “God hates sin because sin leads to rebellion and the worst kinds of evil.” We have chosen to rebel against God and commit evil acts. It is only through the forgiveness of this sin that we are able to enter into Heaven.
When it comes to eternal punishment for that sin, the problem is that there will be many people that will be eternally unrepentant. We see examples of this in Revelation 9:20-21 as well as Revelation 16:9. “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues,” according to Revelation 9:20-21, “did not repent of the works of their hands… and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.” These people were unwilling to repent of their sin even after much of humanity was killed by plagues. Revelation 16:9 says, “Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.” These people were being punished for evil and yet chose to remain in their sin. Eternal punishment is fair for these people because God cannot allow unrepentant sin into his presence.
We have to realize, as Dr. Clay Jones says, that “God cannot actualize a good and just world where all people will freely choose to follow him.” There will always be people, who for whatever reason, freely choose to reject God. It’s logically impossible for God to make someone freely choose him. If God forced these people to follow him against their will, then he would be more like a slave master than a good God. If God allowed these unrepentant people into heaven then he would not be just. We all realize that evil needs to be punished. We would not consider a judge to be a good judge if he let murderers go free. In order for God to be both good and just, eternally unrepentant sinners need to be sent to eternal punishment.
Dr. Frank Turek does a great job describing this concept on college campuses. He asks the women in the crowd if they have ever had a guy that like them and that they didn’t like back. They usually respond with laughter because it has happened to all of them. The girl likes the guy but only as a friend. Now what if the guy responded by saying that he loves the girl so much that he is going to force her to love him? How would she respond? Probably something like, “If you really love me, then you would leave me alone!” That is what God does. He loves us so much that He won’t force people into his presence (Heaven) against their will. That is why eternal punishment (separation) is fitting for the eternally unrepentant.
This is one part in a series of posts on why God allows evil. Look below to read previous posts that you missed and see what is coming up. Each section will be posted weekly in the order they appear below.
- Why do people suffer for a sin Adam committed long ago?
- Why does God let a child die?
- How might it be fair that God ordered the killing of Canaanite children?
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- Why is eternal punishment fair?
- If conscious belief in Jesus is required for salvation, how is that fair to those who have never heard the gospel?
- Free will isn’t so valuable for God to permit so much suffering.
- What good is the suffering I endure?
- How will Heaven mitigate our suffering on earth?
- Why does God allow evil?
 Clay Jones, “We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites,” Philosophia Christi, 2009, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.clayjones.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/We-Dont-Hate-Sin-PC-article.pdf.
January 29, 2016 at 7:04 pm
Verry interesting and yet a little disturbing,
Take me for example, I do not believe in God or Jesus yet I live a good life. I take care of those around me, I give blood whenever I can, I am social conscious. And yet it is ok and ‘fair’ to send me to hell with all the rapist and murderers and sadists and tyrants, and have the same punishment as them.
In your piece you waste time stating the ovious: yes punishment is carried out in relation to its ceverity and not the time it took to perpetrate. Yet you are suggesting it is fair to give everyone the maximum punishment regardless of the crime.
If punishment was handed out like this in the real world, everyone would get a life centence whenever they committed a crime.
If the punishment is for not believing in your God, then that makes all other henious and terrable acts insignificant, as someone can kill rape and pilage all their lives and as long as they repent before dying they will go to heaven.
In the real world if you commit a crime and you feel sorry for what you did later, you still pay the consequences. That is fair.
January 29, 2016 at 7:28 pm
First, if don’t believe in God, what do you mean by good? Why is it good to take care of those around you, give blood, or be socially conscious? According to what standard are those actions good?
Second, I don’t believe that people receive the maximum punishment regardless of the crime. I do believe that there are different levels of punishment depending on the sin. However, people will remain unrepentant of that sin, so in turn, they will continue to remain in that sin, making their punishment eternal. Even though everyone’s length of punishment is eternal, the degree of suffering varies depending on the sin, so it is not the same.
Third, you are correct in that someone could sin and then repent before they die. That is the amazing love that God pours out for us. He will forgive us of anything as long as we genuinely turn to Him. The problem is that with most people who are out killing and raping, they are not interested in turning to God.
Lastly, again, you are correct in that the consequences need to be paid for when you commit a crime. That is why it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross. A perfect person who was blameless took on the sin for us. Jesus paid the price so that we would not have to. We just have to choose to accept the payment.
January 29, 2016 at 7:54 pm
Sorry, I forgot you had a monopoly in good. You seem to think the only conversations about: what is good or just or beautiful happens in your sircle of thought, and anyone else that wants to talk about it cannot do so because they don’t believe in an absolute standard of morality. To me that’s just annoyingly condancending, but there you go.
The simple fact that the punishment is eternal makes it absolute. Once you go to hell under your idea, there is no redemption no reflection and no grouth, just souls suffering endlessly to show everyone else what you get if you don’t ‘love’ your God.
Again that is not fair, and it is not the way society actually looks at punishment in the real world. I would recomend you look at philosophy of law and justice. The ACTUAL thinking behind what we deem good or bad; just or unjust; guilty or unguilty; in modern societies. Not what you actually preach.
January 29, 2016 at 8:05 pm
All I did was ask what you meant by good. It is a basic question. Instead of using an ad hominem and attacking me for being condescending, why don’t you show me why I don’t have a “monopoly” in good?
More importantly, you are creating a straw man of my view and then showing why it isn’t just. It doesn’t seem like you want to understand what I mean since you just changed everything I said.
January 29, 2016 at 8:14 pm
Asking me what is good is like asking me “what is the colour of hate?” It means nothing because you asume there needs to be an absolute definition to which I have to live my life by. If you ask me “what do you mean by good in the context of social justice?”, I would say it is to positively affecting the epirience of all people.
I don’t accept I need to believe in an absolute morality in order to have the conversation about what is fair and what is not, and yes I find it condancending whem people then tell me I can’t know what is good without an objective moral standard.
January 29, 2016 at 8:15 pm
When did I say that you can’t know what is good?
January 29, 2016 at 8:30 pm
No, you suggest I cannot know good in the context of society without your absolute moral standard, I know you think everyone can know ‘good’ as you understand it, but only because of the existence of a God. And what does that have to do with the question at hand which is:
Is eternal punishment fair.
I just stated it is not, if your rebutal is that under my worldview that is just an opinion based on chemical reactions happening in my brain, and therefore holds no weight. Yes it is condancending. Its like saying: without you first believing what I believe, what you say can’t mean anything, you need my worldview for it to be meaningful.
The arguments stand regardless of where good comes from.
January 29, 2016 at 8:38 pm
Again, I never suggested that you can’t know good. I asked you what you meant by good. That is completely different. I agree with you that everyone can know what is good. I don’t know why you keep claiming that I am being condescending. When did I say you have to believe what I believe? When did I say what you say can’t mean anything? When did I say that you need my worldview for it to be meaningful? Never.
January 29, 2016 at 9:12 pm
Never did you say that, why ask me what do I mean by good? I answered that already. I say it is condescending to suggest the question itself has anything to do with whether eternal punishment is fair.
Esentialy, to say it is fair because it is good given your understanding of absolute goodness; is ignoring and disclaiming the actual conversation, which is:
Is it fair to torture somone forever in the name of justice?
I say it is not fair, and indeed it is not justice (or just). The absolute punishment takes away the equivalence of the punishment dished out. And it actually takes away the whole concept of justice itself. You say it is OK because people will have different punishments in hell, if you made me unscrew coke bottles for eternity, it is still an absolute punishment.
Part of modern attitudes of justice and punishment involve the idea and concept of rehabilitation. If hell exsists there is none of that, there is just pure punishment, not for justice or for redemption. Just for the sake of suffering itself, to stand as an example of everyone not already condemned to this barbarity. To me it is not just unfair, it is evil.
January 30, 2016 at 3:12 pm
Thanks for your comment and expressing your views.
January 29, 2016 at 7:10 pm
Just as a side note, you suggest that it would be wrong for the guy to force you to love him, yet you forget that under the same idea the guy would say: “its OK you don’t have to love me, yet if you don’t you will spend the rest of your life (or eternity) in a torture chamber”. Because that is love and that is fair.
January 29, 2016 at 7:21 pm
You are partially correct. However, you need to think of it in the context of a doctor and a patient. If the patient has a life-threatening bur curable disease, there are two options. The patient can go to the doctor to receive treatment and recover, or the patient can refuse treatment and die. However, if the patient refuses treatment, the doctor isn’t killing the patient, the disease is. The same goes for God. We have the opportunity to go to Him and receive forgiveness. However, if someone doesn’t want to go to God, they will die from sin. The love that is offered is the medicine to be cured. The doctor can only do what the patient allows. How does a patient refusing to go to the hospital lead to the doctor not being loving or fair? That doesn’t follow.
January 29, 2016 at 7:35 pm
If a doctor knew you where I’ll, and they can cure you, they would. Secondly your analogy makes no mention that the doctor created the disease you have. If a doctor creates a disease you contacted, he would be responsible to cure you and everyone affected. Again not even close to fair.
January 29, 2016 at 7:50 pm
Do doctors cure people who refuse to step foot in a hospital? Also, you are assuming that God created sin. In your opinion, what is sin? We have to understand that before we can know if God created it.
January 29, 2016 at 8:05 pm
I read genesis and yes God created everything including the sinful man, and the serpent.
In your analogy the doctor created you and the disease you got. He then said “you are free to refuse my healing, yet if you don’t I will put you in a room and torture you forever” to me that is still not fair or just.
January 29, 2016 at 8:10 pm
In Genesis, what did God say after He created everything? He said, “It is good.” There was no sin. He created everything good, but then sin entered from brokenness. So, sin is not something, rather it is a lack of good.
January 29, 2016 at 8:15 pm
From brokeness? I missed that, and how can it be broken if it is good?
January 29, 2016 at 8:14 pm
For example, what is a shadow? A shadow is where there is an absence of light. God created light but light makes shadows possible. He didn’t create shadows. In the same way, God created good which allows for the possibility of sin, but he didn’t create sin. Does that make sense?
January 29, 2016 at 8:16 pm