Infinite Punishment for Finite Crimes?

Infinite Punishment for Finite CrimesTrying to explain how a good God created Hell can be a challenge for the Christian apologist. In my last post, I considered the distinction between torture – which implies intentional infliction of punishment for the pleasure of doing so – and torment which is a byproduct of the God’s legitimate end of separating Himself from those who have rejected Him. A related challenge often encountered when discussing the doctrine of Hell is the seeming unfairness in endless punishment for what appear to be brief – in some cases extremely brief – temporal actions.

The PleaseConvinceMe website contains a thought-provoking treatment of this question. You can see the article here. The article reminds us of the fact that the amount of time a crime takes to commit bears very little relationship to the length of punishment it merits. After all, a person’s life can be snuffed out in the wink of an eye, an act which rightly merits a sentence of death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. But, on further reflection, perhaps the case is even stronger; perhaps it is too generous to view the crime as simply the operative act, and not view it from the perspective of the injured party.

Consider for a moment two men each firing a single shot at his intended victim. The first uses a high powered handgun; the second, a plastic air pistol. Each involves a similar action and takes no more than a few seconds. But the one act, in that instant, stops a vibrant, beating heart, while the other only momentarily stings. We punish these similar acts differently because the harm of murder has nothing to do with the time it took to commit, but everything to do with the harm inflicted. The murder victim remains dead, after all, despite the fact that a moment earlier, he had every right to live until the point of his natural death, which may have been decades away. The sting of the pellet, on the other hand, causes no lasting harm and is soon forgotten. In a sense, every day of living, of planning, of enjoying the company of loved ones, that was ripped from the deceased amounts to a re-infliction of the harm. Moreover, the agony that is inflicted upon the victim’s family and friends will also last for decades. So, while from the killer’s perspective, the criminal conduct for which he suffers punishment may seem quite limited, it is anything but limited when viewed from the victim’s or the victim’s family’s perspective.

How does this apply to God, and to the question of eternal punishment? God of course cannot be victimized. But each of our sins, each of our criminal offenses if you will, is against Him. Since God is not limited by time, perceiving every moment in an endless eternal present, then each of our offenses against Him is therefore eternally present to Him. By that measure, eternal separation from Him – eternal punishment – starts to make a bit more sense.

Thank God, then, that the eternal Son stands in the gap for us, with the power, and the love and the eternal will to receive the punishment we so rightly deserve.

 Posted by Al Serrato

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One Comment

  1. RF says:

    I’ve found Jonathan Edwards to have a few great points as well, if you’re interested:


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