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Friday, March 04, 2016

Hell and Justice

I was looking for something in Scripture and accidentally came across this.
"Behold, God is exalted in His power; who is a teacher like Him? Who has prescribed for Him His way, or who can say, 'You have done wrong'?" (Job 36:22-23)
Quite a claim. Clearly these are rhetorical questions with straightforward, easy answers. "Who is a teacher like Him?" No one. Period. "Who has prescribed for Him His way?" No one. Period. "Who can say, 'You have done wrong'?" No one. No one at all. Except, of course, that they do. They do question His teachings. While many of us see the Bible as reliable, without error, God's exhaled Word, others question it and even question Him. "You know, the God of the Old Testament was pretty mean. At least we have Jesus in the New Testament to correct the God of the Old." More common still is the belief that we prescribe for Him His way. That is, He decides what He is going to do based on what we choose to do. He maneuvers His way through our free will, picking up the pieces and making something good out of it (to some) or maybe not even that (to others). Very popular today, however, is the last one. Who can say that God has done wrong? Well, of course, we can. With vigor.

As I said recently regarding the justice of God -- outrageous justice to some -- many think that sending people to Hell is wrong. Well, no, that's not quite right. They think it's wrong, wrong, wrong. It is, in fact, unjust. Despite Abraham's certainty that the Judge of all the earth would do what is right (Gen 18:25), these people are pretty sure that if God does what Scripture says regarding judgment and Hell, it is indeed an injustice.

One such person argues that "Everlasting Hell is unjust." It is the standard argument. Justice requires proportionality. You know, eye for an eye, that kind of thing. No "lopping off a head if a finger is lost" kind of judgment. So an eternity of torment for a single lifetime of sin is not proportional and, therefore, antithetical to justice.

This breaks down in two ways. First, the suggestion is that "a single lifetime of sin" is the proportion. The idea is that an eternity of payment for a, say, 70-year crime is not proportional. This, of course, sounds reasonable ... until you actually reason. Taking a normal offense with this kind of thinking would say that a murder that took an hour to commit should not require more than an hour of punishment. And you can see this is not sensible. The magnitude of the crime, not the duration, determines the proportional punishment.

The second aspect, then, is precisely that. We -- and by "we" I mean frankly almost all of us -- fail to grasp the magnitude of the crime. The crime of murder, biblically, is near the top of the list of human evils because it is a violation of the image of God (Gen 9:6). That is, due to the intrinsic value that God has placed on human beings, murdering such a being is a high crime which God says deserves the termination of the life of the murderer. The Old Testament listed some 16 crimes that required the death penalty. The rest had decreasing consequences. We see, then, that the magnitude of the crime determines the penalty of a crime. What, then, is the magnitude ... of sin? According to Paul, sin is falling short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Since God is all about His glory, this is a pretty big problem. "The one thing I care most about," God says, "is the one thing you've rejected." Further, if murdering a human is worthy of death because of the value of a human, how much more worthy is God and, therefore, how much bigger is the crime of violating His authority and glory? You see, we tend to think of "infractions", even "mistakes", while sin is Cosmic Treason, an attempt at overthrowing the Master of the Universe. "I will be like the Most High." Tha magnitude of this crime is determined by the magnitude of the One who has been violated. Violating the Eternal God requires an eternal penalty. It is only reasonable. It is only just.

Jesus describes Hell as a place of outer darkness, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a prison, a place of torment where the worm doesn’t turn or die. Whether or not these are merely symbols (I suspect they are given our complete inability to visualize what it really must be), it may not be a place of fire or worms in a literal sense, but it cannot be a warm and friendly place, either. "Hell symbolizes separation from God"1 is all well and good, but it is still a place of eternal torment of the worst possible kind. Those who argue that God is unjust if He sends the unrepentant sinner to Hell only display their ignorance of the magnitude of the crime. They've reversed John the Baptist who said, "He must increase but I must decrease." (John 3:30) They've removed the Most High from His position and replaced Him with Man, with "me".

The Bible isn't vague about the punishment of the sinner who does not place his or her faith in Christ. The punishment for violating the eternal God is eternal torment. This is equitable. This is proportional. This is justice. And no one can say to God, "You have done wrong." Conversely, if this simple truth of justice is properly grasped, the magnitude of His grace and mercy becomes massive.

1 The suggestion that Hell is a symbol for separation from God sounds better, even more plausible, perhaps, than "eternal fire" and all that, but if God is indeed Omnipresent, He would also have to be present in Hell. David wrote, "Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence?" (Psa 139:7) If Hell is simply a separation from God, He would not be Omnipresent and there would be an answer to David's rhetorical question.


David said...

I think the separation from God isn't a literal one, He's omnipresent after all, but a figurative one. Sometimes in our lives, we feel like God is hidden from us. It's not true that He is, but it feels that way. Imagine if He actually hid His presence. The feeling of despair we have when it is only a perception of abandonment would be exponential.

Stan said...

In our existence right now, unbelievers are "separated from God", but God is not NOT here. They're just not aware of it. I think that in Hell they will be aware of the gulf between them and Him, the spiritual gulf between the perfect God and the sinful man. I think it will be torment without abatement, but not physical.