Friday, December 18, 2015


The most serious challenge against God’s just and righteous nature is the challenge presented by the prospect of an eternal punishment. It is part of the greater challenge – the problem of evil and suffering. It goes like this:

·       If the God of the Bible is just, loving, and omnipotent, he wouldn’t allow the death of babies and suffering in general.

However, this challenge can easily be set aside by the words of Paul:

·       I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18; all verses from the NIV)

If the suffering of this life is no more than a moment compared to a blissful eternity, Paul’s revelation neutralizes the problem of evil. Besides, the Bible assures us that God has a good reason to allow this evil for a limited amount of time.

However, there is no relief from eternal punishment. Besides, it doesn’t seem right that God would eternally punish us for sins that were committed within the moment of this life. The famous atheist Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899) stated:

·       “Eternal punishment must be eternal cruelty and I do not see how any man, unless he has a brain of an idiot, or the heart of a wild beast, can believe in eternal punishment.”

Put less crudely, the atheist argument goes like this:

·       PREMISE #1 - Eternal punishment is not just.
·       PREMISE #2 - The God of the Bible promises to punish with eternal torment.
·       CONCLUSION - The God of the Bible cannot be just.

PREMISE #1 - Eternal punishment is not just.

Admittedly, this challenge is difficult to address. This is because it is hard to precisely determine of what eternal punishment will consist. For one thing, there is the problem of figurative language. For example, the skeptic charges that they will not believe in a God who is stoking the eternal fires of hell. Even “Christian” evolutionists question the just nature of the God of the Bible. For example, the former co-Head, Karl Giberson, of The Biologos Foundation, which is devoted to selling evolution to the church, had written:

  • [The OT God is a] “tyrannical anthropomorphic deity… [who] commanded the Jews to go on genocidal rampages…but who believes in this [OT] deity any more, besides those same fundamentalists who think the earth is 10,000 years old? Modern theology has moved past this view of God.”
Although Giberson didn’t mention disdain for an eternal punishment, it seems likely that his understanding of and preference for “Modern theology” would also lead him and many “Christian” evolutionists to question the NT teachings on eternal punishment.

But does God proactively torment the unbelievers with fire? I doubt it. It seems that much of the language of eternal fire is figurative, not literal. Sometimes, Jesus refers to hell as “outer darkness”:

  • "Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” (Matthew 22:13; also 8:12; 25:13; verses “fire” – Matthew 13:42, 50)
Clearly, both of these descriptions of eternal judgment cannot be taken literally. “Outer darkness” and “fire” are mutually exclusive. Besides, there are other verses describing what is associated with darkness or fire – “the weeping and gnashing of teeth” – as associated with neither fire or darkness, but of eternal regret:

  • "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. (Luke 13:28)
In this verse, “weeping… and gnashing” is not the product of darkness or fire but of the eternal loss of blessing. This would lead us to believe that eternal torment might not be the product of God proactively tormenting these unfortunate souls but of their perceived loss.

It also seems unjust for God to punish all of the lost souls with the same exact punishment. However, it seems that there will be degrees of punishment:

  • Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-22)
Judgment will depend upon the amount of evidence we had (John 15:22, 24). Nevertheless, it seems that we all have some degree of evidence or light (Romans 1:18-20; 2:14-15). However, we reject that light (John 3:19-21).

And the fate of babies or the aborted pre-born?

  • "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:47-48)
Although these verses do not explicitly lay out the punishment that each deserves, they do teach that God will judge fairly, taking into account individual situations.

There are also other considerations that make it difficult for us to determine the exact nature of eternal punishment. It seems very possible that hell and our condemnation might self-chosen:

  • “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict [“condemnation,”  KJV]: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." (John 3:17-20)
Many verses inform us that Jesus didn’t come to judge (John 5:45; 8:15; 12:47-49; Matthew 7:2). How then is the unbeliever condemned? He is self-condemned because “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not [refused to]believed (John 3:18).” Verse 19 reconfirms that judgment is a self-judgment. The unbeliever has the light but rejects the light in favor of the darkness and flees from the light.

Will this same condemnation accompany the unbeliever into the next life and before the great judgment? It seems so. Many verses assure us that those who reject the light will not approach the light:

  • Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. (Psalm 1:4-5; also 24:3-4; 15:1-2; Luke 21:36; Isaiah 2:20-22; Malachi 3:2; Rev. 6:15-16; 20:11)
It is very possible that this same hatred of the light that had brought about the sinner’s present self-condemnation will also bring about their self-condemnation in the next life. Although this is horrific, in light of this self-condemnation, we cannot easily charge God with injustice. Instead, it is we who are unjust! From this perspective, the sinner is merely choosing his own destiny – the darkness - where he feels the greatest sense of comfort.

But doesn’t this theory circumvent the Bible’s teachings that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that “each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10)? No! The great judgment might simply represent an affirmation or a rubber-stamping of what we have already chosen.

For the children of God, the great judgment will be a time of rejoicing. This is because our fate has already been revealed in all clarity when Christ appears to gather us to Himself. It is then that we will be changed “in a twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:50-52) to become like Him (1 John 3:2; 1 Thess. 4:14-17). Therefore, when we stand before Him, there will be no doubt of our eternal fate.

Likewise, it seems that the lover-of-darkness has also sealed his own fate by running from the light. In light of this, no one can coherently blame God.

PREMISE #2 - The God of the Bible promises to punish with eternal torment.

There are many verses that promise eternal judgment or condemnation, for example:

  • "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:46)
The punishment will be just as eternal as “eternal life.” It is understandable that such verses are troubling. However, as I have argued above, we do not know the exact nature of this eternal judgment. In light of this uncertainty, the lover-of-light will give God the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, I often respond to these challenges this way:

  • I don’t know how it will all come out in the end, but I do know that our God is both merciful and just. I also believe that our Creator has the right to judge His creation, and if we find this troubling, we should reconcile with Him before it is too late.

CONCLUSION – Job had also charged God with injustice, and it seemed that he had good reason to do so. God had allowed Satan to deprive him of almost everything, and Job was left devastated. However, his loss didn’t justify Job’s allegations against God.

  • Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (Job 38:1-3)
The Lord then asked Job a series of questions, and Job could not answer any of them. And Job got the point. He understood too little to bring his indictments against God and, therefore, repented:

  • The LORD said to Job:  "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!" Then Job answered the LORD: "I am unworthy--how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.” (Job 40:1-4)
What made Job unworthy? He was beginning to understand that he had spoken presumptuously about things he didn’t understand:

  • “You [God] asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You [God] said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.'  My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:3-6)
Many will find Job’s response repugnant, but why? We too speak about things we do not understand. Although we know that we are just a speck in this grand universe, we act as if we were omniscient. Instead, we cannot even define the basics like time, space, matter, or light. The simplest things are beyond our knowing, and yet we too have the hubris to accuse God of injustice. Perhaps we too need to learn a little humility in keeping with our speck-ness.

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