Infinite punishment for a finite crime? Theology on Hell.

Currently, I’m looking at questions that have arisen from a previous post on asking God questions. Again, I ask you to join in the conversation and debate. I may be wrong, and you may possess gems of knowledge that I don’t have (and that is entirely probable). So, on to the question…

How exactly do you justify an infinite punishment for a finite crime? Is this your idea of ‘divine justice’?

First, we must establish what the crime is. Are they moral crimes? Crimes against humanity? Something else?

In mainstream Christian thought, hell isn’t for people who do bad things, in a sense. Hell is for people who’ve deliberately chosen to reject God’s offer of salvation and eternal life. Hell is for people who are out of relationship with God. Hell is for people who would rather pay for their own sin, rather than have it paid by Christ in full on the cross.

The belief in Christianity is that we live this life on earth and choose whether or not to accept Christ for ourselves after that. Beyond this life is eternity. Yet one cannot make the choice to follow Christ after earthly death (of course, there are some theologies which challenge this, though they are not mainstream Christian thought).

So, the crime we’re talking about, or should be talking about is the denial of Christ. If one takes the view that the soul doesn’t cease after earthly death, yet one cannot make the choice to follow Christ after the earthly death, then is the crime of not accepting Christ really finite?

It would be silly to suggest so. Because after death, that person will continue to reject Christ, making that crime eternal, and therefore receiving eternal consequences and righteous judgement. On the other side of the coin, anyone in relationship with Christ receives eternal life, as they have made an eternal choice to accept him as Lord and Saviour which continues after death.

I hope this is understandable. I also hope it answers the question! And to add to this, I have written an essay on hell in the past if anyone is interested in that. I could post it as a ‘Part II’ of the post if anyone wants that.

Over to you – what are your opinions on this? Anything to add, change or take away from what I’ve said? Any further questions? Fire away!

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Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about

  • Anna

    Hey,

    Interesting post. But I think you’ve contradicted yourself in the paragraph beginning ‘The belief in Christianity…’ and ending ‘… mainstream Christian thought)’ – I may be wrong, but it just sounds fairly contradictory to say that we chose after life whether to accept Jesus, and then a line or two later to say we do not chose after life whether to accept Jesus or not.

    I would also like to add that it is become a far more mainstream and widely held belief that there will be an opportunity post-death to chose to accept Christ. There are many people who have never heard the true teachings of Jesus, and have only been exposed to street preachers, holier-than-though people and hypocritical religious people – I’m pretty sure than Jesus loves us all so much that he isn’t going to risk losing most of humanity for eternity, by only allowing those who accept him in life to be with him for eternity.

    I mean, I consider myself a Christian, but who knows how much I could have wrong and have misunderstood, and with all the denominations and sects disagreeing with other denominations and sects, and each other, I can only hope and pray that Jesus has a plan that doesn’t rely solely on us getting the right message across, cos otherwise we’re all stuffed.

    It’s a really interesting and challenging topic, thanks for getting my brain working on a Monday morning Dean 🙂

    • I wouldn’t say it’s a contradiction, Anna. As canon laws in nearly all mainstream Christian denominations will accept this view. You’re right in saying that the idea to choose Christ post death is growing, though I would suspect in more liberal circles.

      For me personally, who’s to say that the Holy Spirit doesn’t appear to those people who don’t know about Jesus in dreams and visions, sharing the gospel with them? What about those famous verses in Romans 1:18-22 that many Christians would quote as a response to people ‘not knowing Jesus’ whilst on the earth?

      I guess this all ties in with other theologies, most notably Predestination. But I do think that all people get the chance to hear the gospel, whether you’re in the jungle or on speakers corner listening to the Street Preacher.  Therefore, in my opinion,  all people have the chance to accept Christ or not, whether or not the Gospel is presented in black and white fashion like we are so used to in the West.

  • AgentCormac

    You’re making it up as you go along!

     

    Serioulsy. You are.

    • Why do you say that AgentCormac? Believe me, I’m not. I slaved away at an essay on Hell and the doctrine of justice and salvation last year. A year’s worth of work. I do know the doctrine inside out. BUT saying all that, I am open to other ideas and am open to the possibility of being wrong, though not wrong enough to become an atheist, of course 😉

  • AgentCormac

    Oh, come on, Dean – “…the idea to choose Christ post death is growing…”

    Making choices post death?! What planet are you people living on? I find it utterly incredible just how much nonsense you lot will not only come up with but then actually believe in order to get yourselves out of the torturous logical mess your religion gets you into.

    Choices post death! Seriously. Just listen to yourself.

     

    • Actually, AgentCormac, it’s very complex theology, which is precisely why I wouldn’t expect you to understand.

      There is life beyond the grave, my friend, and that is in the form of heaven or hell. And I know where I want to be!

      Like I’ve said in the past, your aim is to not want to know or appreciate Christianity and what it stands for. Therefore your comments will be full of defensive and sometimes rude remarks about the world’s largest faith. Not to mention the discredit you give to those who have suffered incomprehensibly and then turned to Christ. You can say that you’ve weighed up the evidence and that you’ve thought about it and come to a reasoned conclusion, but I don’t really buy it. Christianity ISN’T reasonable, and those who believe know that. It takes faith to believe, and that’s one of the beauties of being a Christian. Having some fact, yet a lot of faith.

      You must evaluate what you’re saying before you ask what planet Christians are living on. Because their faith is more real than life itself .

  • AgentCormac

    Actually, AgentCormac, it’s very complex theology, which is precisely why I wouldn’t expect you to understand.

    How very smug, arrogant and presumptuous of you, Dean. Especially for one still in the education system, with so very little life experience under his belt and no idea whatsoever what my background might be. As for life beyond the grave, I’ll repeat what I posted before: you people are making it up as you go along. There is absolutely zero evidence (as in not one single jot) for any kind of afterlife. Nothing. Zilch. So your faith is nothing more than that. Faith. Which is another way of saying wishful thinking. So don’t give me all that ‘fact mixed with faith’ rubbish – you haven’t got any facts. Just ‘complex theology’. The very same ‘complex theology’ that gets you to utterly insane positions such as believing people are capable of choice after death, because otherwise how do you account for all those people who have never heard the teachings of Jesus? One thing you are right on, though – I really don’t appreciate christianity. It is a millstone of superstitious fantasy hanging like a dead-weight around the neck of humanity.

    • Well I resent your comment, AgentCormac. Because I said myself that I may not be right, and that this theology IS complex, hence spending a year on a small part of it alone. If you have studied the theology yourself and would like to enlighten me, then I’ve made a very clear invitation for anyone to do so in the post itself.

      I understand that you may be offended by the comment I made, but you don’t provide me with any of your background when I challenge you on it; so all I can do is be presumptuous. There’s not a lot I can do about that. Aside from that, what do you mean by life experience? Life experience can mean a myriad of different things. And as for being in the education system, that’s the place where someone is perfectly entitled to have opinions and views.

      Like I said previously myself, you have to evaluate what you write on here. Because, just because you think you may have arrived in terms of the inferior knowledge you may possess as a humanist, that doesn’t make Christianity invalid as a faith.  And as for Christianity being a deadweight around the neck of humanity. This is a very poor conclusion to make about a faith which has provided so much in the world. Of course, your atheism and pro humanist approach to Christianity will blind your eyes from this, even though scholars, architects, historians, theologians and people of other faiths and of no faith will completely disagree with you.

      And in relation to the post, I don’t believe in the choice to accept/deny Christ beyond the grave. Yet I do believe in the afterlife. And I believe it’s something that you’re going to have to experience whether you yourself believe it or not.

      Yet, of course, you’re entitled to your opinion and you’re welcome to broadcast it on here.

  • I am a Hindu. what exactly you mean by faith. Faith that my problems on earth will be solved or Faith that  what ever I do in this life will be forgotten and achieve salvation post death

    • Hey 🙂 Faith in the sense that I talk about it is believing that Jesus made you, loves you and died in your place so you can be right with God 🙂

  • AgentCormac

    So, Christianity is “…a faith which has provided so much in the world.”

    Like what, exactly, Dean? False hope? False promises? Intolerance? Faith in the supernatural? The Inquisition? The suppression of science? Material and financial enrichment of an elite? War? Inter-denominational violence? Hatred of other faiths? Hatred of gay people? The demonisation of women? Succour to fascist regimes? The denial of overwhelming evidence? The idea that condoms spread Aids? The promotion of large families in a world that can’t feed itself? Blah, blah, blah. Honestly, I could go on and on and on. And it is all being done in the name of Christianity.

    So, bringing this latest rant back on theme, if I had a question for god, it would be this: if you really exist, why don’t you just show us you do? Why don’t you just put an end to the doubt and the endless inter-faith bickering and all that  ‘complex theology’ nonsense? You are god, after all – just come on down, show your face for the first time since the Iron Age and let us all know where we stand.

    But he/she/it won’t though, will they? And why not? Because there’s no such thing as a Christian god any more than there was such a thing as a Norse god, a Roman god, a Greek god, an Egyptian god, etc, etc, etc.

    (And by the way, I note you haven’t refuted a single assertion I made in my last post, Dean.)

  • Lottie Trombin

    Hi Dean,

    I haven’t read many of these comments but I’d just like to ask, when you say

    “But I do think that all people get the chance to hear the gospel, whether you’re in the jungle or on speakers corner listening to the Street Preacher.”

    how do you equate God’s love and mercy with babies which are still born, or die shortly after death, or people who don’t have the mental capability to make the decision to accept Christ even if they hear?

    Thanks Dean,

    Good work on the blogging 🙂

    • Hey Lottie! 🙂
      I think it’s a tough one, and a question that requires a lot of wisdom, grace and understanding, all of which I lack at times…
      BUT – in 2 Samuel 12:23, David talks about his dead son (who was only alive for 7 days) and says that the son wouldn’t return to him, but that David himself would see his son again. That indicates to me that the God of mercy and love that we believe in takes into account these situations. And it seems to me that there is hope that in these cases, the unborn child, children who die before an age of understanding, and people who may not have a mental capacity to compute belief in Christ will share eternal life with us.

      Though saying that, I personally believe that God does give understanding to those who we think may not understand, and I think many of them may be closer to God and experience God in a more tangible way than many of us who can think… but that’s just a personal thought of mine! 🙂

  • Lottie Trombin

    Also, to AgentCormac

    “Like what, exactly, Dean? False hope? False promises? Intolerance? Faith in the supernatural? The Inquisition? The suppression of science? Material and financial enrichment of an elite? War? Inter-denominational violence? Hatred of other faiths? Hatred of gay people? The demonisation of women? Succour to fascist regimes? The denial of overwhelming evidence? The idea that condoms spread Aids? The promotion of large families in a world that can’t feed itself? Blah, blah, blah. Honestly, I could go on and on and on. And it is all being done in the name of Christianity”.

    It’s a real shame that there are some people out there who DO do these things in the name of Christianity, but to be honest the large majority of people who have faith do not engage in these things. In fact, as a Christian I am disgusted at the attitudes of the bigoted minority.

    However, this is an incredibly ignorant view of what Christianity is, in the same way that claiming Islamic Extremist terrorists represent the whole of Islam and all Muslims.

    In pointing out the ignorance of a small minority (of people who frankly, most Christians would rage against too) your ignorance of what real faith is about and weakness of the ‘straw-man’ arguments used has been highlighted here.

  • AJ

    To make any sense of this I think you first need to understand the attributes of God. What it means to be holy, to be love, to be God.

    It’s not as simple as a case of the sin being not choosing Christ, the fact is, before choosing Christ all we ever did was sin, even our most righteous acts like filthy rags when they’re not done unto the glory of God, whilst subsequently still using the grace of God to carry them out.

    When sinning, you’re not committing a finite crime, you’re sinning against an eternal God of eternal holiness as an eternal judge which can only lead to the eternal wrath of a holy God. Christ isn’t saving us from the devil, he’s saving us from the wrath of God which is hell and we all deserving. Any proud man can admit he’s sinned at one point or another in his life. Not everyone will accept they’re in desperate need of a saviour. In this age who will freely accept somebody as Lord over their lives? No, I am my own God

    The path is narrow and there are few who find it.

  • AgentCormac

    @ Lottie

    I completely understand and agree that the vast majority of religious people, regardless of which brand of religion they follow, are not extremist in any way, shape or form. However, I still stand 100% by my assertion that religion is not a force for good in the world. Indeed, it is, in my opinion, quite the opposite. Not just because it does and always has created division, hatred and strife, but also because it is based on lies – on superstitious claptrap dreamed up by people who couldn’t explain rainfall never mind how the universe and everything in it were created. Most importantly, however, it tries to confound and stifle human advancement at every turn, precisely because that advancement increasingly shows religion for what it is – irrelevant hokum designed to control and suppress others.

    Sadly, the millions and millions of well-meaning people around the globe who claim to be religious unwittingly give tacit support and credibility to the minority you mentioned – from the Vatican to the Taliban – whose actions and edicts are directly responsible for much of what’s so wrong in this world.

     

    • AJ

      It could be easy for one to mistake beautifully written poetry for science

    • “Sadly, the millions and millions of well-meaning people around the globe who claim to be religious unwittingly give tacit support and credibility to the minority you mentioned – from the Vatican to the Taliban – whose actions and edicts are directly responsible for much of what’s so wrong in this world.”

      So, AgentCormac, what is it that you’re offering that will make the world such a better place? Because, of course, if you’re an atheist or humanist or… whatever, then you’re so much more likely to make the world a better place aren’t you?

      Rubbish.

      Without religion, the same problems would be here, maybe even greater than they are now, actually. We’re all in the same boat. We all do wrong, religious and non religious. Which is why Christianity asks the individual to turn to Christ in order to be saved.

  • AgentCormac

    “So, AgentCormac, what is it that you’re offering that will make the world such a better place?” An end to religion, for all the reasons given above.

    “Without religion, the same problems would be here…”  No they wouldn’t, for all the reasons given above.

    • That’s a very naive thing to say. The rule of atheism does not mean a better world, fact. If you don’t believe me, just look at the example of Stalin. Arguably history’s cruelest and sadistic dictator the world has ever known.

  • AgentCormac

    Oh, not that tired old chestnut again. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Hitler and Pol Pot, too. Perhaps you could tell me how, as you are clearly suggesting, you believe totalitarianism necessarily follows from atheism.

  • Lottie Trombin

    AgentCormac: I’d probably agree, ‘religion’ as an establishment has been the cause of many, many issues world-wide. But again, here ‘religion’ is the problem, not personal faith.

    It is important not to merge these two things. I know many Christians who are disappointed and downheartened with the past and present behaviours of the church, but then again as with anything, human error is inevitable.

    It’s also important to remember that the Vatican is not the beacon for all Christian belief and many of the other denominational Christians find much of traditional Catholic teaching outdated.

    You really must be more specific in your argument; putting all people of faith under the ‘religion’ umbrella is an inaccurate and unhelpful generalisation.

  • AgentCormac

    Hi, Lottie.

    For sure, I understand that the Vatican is not, as you put it, ‘the beacon for all Christian belief’. And I do not have an axe to grind with any specific brand of religion or any denomination within that religion. I simply do not understand or agree with any faith in the supernatural – in believing that there is some kind of sky fairy that made everything by magic and who, despite there being no evidence whatsoever for his/her existence, we are all supposed to somehow revere, spend our lives worshipping and live by the rules said god’s zealots laid down for us in the dawn of human existence. The Romans had gods. The Egyptians had gods. So did the Greeks. The Norse. The Mayans. The Incas. Etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. Does anybody believe in those gods any more? Of course they don’t. We scoff at such silliness. Yet millions still believe in a god. In different gods. So when you say, ‘…putting all people of faith under the ‘religion’ umbrella is an inaccurate and unhelpful generalisation’ I kind of think you are helping me make my point. Is there a ‘right’ god to have faith in? Do christians have a monopoly on the truth? Muslims? Jews? Buddhists? Or are you all just wrong? There are many religious people today who would have us all worship ‘their’ god. They are prepared to fly planes into buildings for it, they are prepared to go to war for it, they are prepared blow themselves and anyone around them up for it. So, for me, ‘putting all people of faith under the ‘religion’ umbrella is an inaccurate and unhelpful generalisation’ doesn’t ring true at all. Indeed, it merely confirms to me that all faith/religion is poison. That all faith/religion is, as I have previously commented, a millstone around the neck of humanity.

  • Lucy

    Hello!

    In response to this I would say that you have assumed that atheists will continue to reject Christ after they die, making their crime infinite and hence justifying an infinite crime.

    Firstly, atheists definitely do not reject God. Rejection is defined as ‘to dismiss as inadequate, inappropriate’ – this is very different from disbelief. I have a sincere disbelief that the Biblical God is not there. In order to reject God I must first believe he is there. This is a common misconception among Christians, and I can 100% assert that this is not the case, I have not rejected God – honest :).

    Secondly, as it happens, I think most atheists will agree that if there was solid evidence for God, (i.e. absolute proof), either on Earth or in the sense that we came to an afterlife to be judged in front of God we could not deny his existence. Most atheists pursue the truth, and if God was 100% real then and we had evidence, by all means, how could we deny his existence? So no, if I came to be judged in front of God I would not continue to think him a fallacy (or as you put, I would not continue to reject him); I would accept him as the truth and accept that I was wrong as I would be in no position to deny what evidence would be telling me. (This is all hypothetical, of course 😀 ).

    So if God condemned me to Hell for my life on Earth not believing, then he would be sentencing me to an infinite punishment for a finite crime. Or supposing that he did accept me into Heaven for finally accepting him then it would completely defeat the purpose of divine justice. Nobody could deny that he existed if he was right there in front of their eyes, judging them and their eternal fate, and so obviously everybody would accept Jesus at this point. Therefore every single person would get into Heaven. Which, as I said, completely defeats the purpose of there being a divine justice.

    Like I said in another post, I think you will agree it would be a much fairer and generally better way of judging people if it was solely on the quality of the life they lead – how ‘good’ or how ‘bad’ they were. Except in his eyes, we’re all sinners, so every single person would be condemned to an eternity in Hell.

    Also, going back to the point I was making earlier about how every person would accept God as the truth and Jesus as the saviour if they came to be in front of God and could see that the Bible was genuinely the truth (hence every person getting into Heaven anyway) – surely that also would defeat the purpose of God hiding himself and having belief in him be centered on faith whilst we lived on Earth.

    Whichever way God’s ‘divine justice’ system works, it either doesn’t make sense or is, plain and simple, unjust!