“How is eternity in hell a fair punishment?”

This is a common question. The Bible teaches that everyone will be judged by God when they die (Hebrews 9:27), that there are two destinations, heaven and hell (Matthew 25:31-46), and that both destinations are eternal (Matthew 25:46). This typically rattles people. “Surely the punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” They say. Both Christians and non-Christians need to grapple with this question. Here are a few reasons for why the punishment does fit the crime.

First, if all good derives from God, which the Bible says it does (James 1:17), then to reject God is to reject all that is good. Naturally, the punishment for rejecting eternal goodness is to receive eternal badness. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Second, the heinousness of a crime is always measured by the object of the crime. For example, punching a grown man is bad but punching a three month old baby is worse. Stealing from a bank is bad but stealing from an orphanage is worse. Cussing out a edwin-andrade-153753-unsplashfriend is bad but cussing out your grandma is worse. We measure the heinousness of an action by the innocence, virtue and position of the person being harmed. Now, if all sin is against God, which it is (Psalm 51:4), and God is the perfectly innocent, perfectly virtuous, and holds the highest, most honorable position in the universe, the consequence for spending your entire life not submitting, dishonoring and actively sinning against God is justly severe.

Third, hell won’t make you better. Let’s say that there is parole in hell (there’s not but for the sake of argument). Will anyone be released from hell for good conduct? No. Imagine every evil thought you’ve ever had, every bad attitude, every burst of anger, every ill motive, every stubborn disposition. Now imagine that you lived in a place completely absent of good. There is nothing to be thankful for. There is no friend to cheer you up. No ice cream to turn your mood. There is no God given conscience to say, “Man, I’m being a real ass.” In that place will you be a better or worse person? Obviously you’ll be worse. The longer you are in hell the worse you will be. In this sense hell must be eternal because you’re progressively getting worse and this trajectory is eternal. 

Fourth, hell was created for the demons and we have willingly followed them there. Matthew 25:41 reads, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The devil’s name is on the lease of hell and anyone else who is there is willingly sleeping on his couch. Ephesians 2:1-3 states that we are “dead in our sins” because we follow the world, the flesh (our own evil desires) and the devil (“the prince of the power of the air”). In other words, we do things we know are wrong (the flesh) and we especially do these things when others are cheering us on (the world), and, whether we know it or not, all of this is in lockstep formation behind the devil himself. We have chosen the wrong side and his fate is ours.


Resources for further reading:

Why is there evil in the world? 

Our college ministry will occasionally host open Q&As on campus and this question is always asked, usually more than once. It’s easy to understand why. There are a lot of horrible things in the world. If God is all powerful and all loving, why doesn’t he stop it? This is a good question.*

What are the options? It is impossible to critique or defend the Christian view of evil without laying out the options. The problem of evil exists for two reasons- existence (Is there evil?) and purpose (Why is there evil?). With these two categories in mind, here are three options:

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Option 1: Evil does not exist and has no purpose.

Option 2: Evil does exist and has no purpose.

Option 3: Evil does exist and has a purpose.**

Option 1 is the necessary option for anyone that doesn’t believe in evil or has bought into a line of thinking that eliminates the category of evil. A common line of reasoning that leads to this is naturalism, the belief that all is nature. If all is nature you have to believe that evil doesn’t exist. Why? Because you need knowledge outside of nature to condemn nature. You can’t prove morality in a chem lab. When students object to this I’ll often ask them, “Which element of the periodic table is evil?” They often look at me crosseyed and say, “None of them.” The non-evil, elements are the building blocks for all things on earth and if all is nature then, logically, all things are not evil. You have to have a standard outside of nature to declare something as evil in this world.

Option 2 is seen in any worldview that doesn’t have a redemptive story line. This is true for some Eastern religions that view history as an endless cycle. This is true of spiritualities that acknowledge a spiritual realm (unlike the naturalist) but do not acknowledge a God who is sovereign over all things. Option 2 makes evil a weight that no-one can bear. It has no end or resolve, because evil doesn’t fit into anyone’s plan. This makes evil a lone criminal, not like the renegade in a western film that will always come to their demise, but more like the serial killer in a horror film that in the end might win.

Option 3 is the Christian view. Evil exists and has a purpose. The existence of evil is clear in the Bible. It is also clear that evil is used for a purpose. Take Genesis 50:20 that shows that what Jospeh’s brothers intended for evil God intended for good. God had a purpose for their evil. Although we can’t know the specific purpose for all evil (e.g. Job gets no explanation), we can see glimpses of purpose in our life and history. Timothy Keller writes in his book The Reason for God: “With time and perspective most of us can see good reasons for at least some of the tragedy….Why couldn’t it be possible that, from God’s vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them?” (Keller, 25). The Christian can turn on CNN and correctly label things as evil, while at the same time knowing that the evil is a part of a grander storyline. Christians aren’t afraid to fight the dragons of this world because we know in the end it will be slain, and oh, what a story that will be. 

Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Notes:

*There is a lot more that can be said on this topic. This is a mere blog post and is meant to be more of a primer than a tome.

**There is a fourth option where someone could believe that there is evil and it does have a purpose but the purpose is evil. This person could believe in some evil being that has evil intentions for the world. I did not include this because I am not aware of any worldview or religion that promotes this. Let me know if you know of one.


Into the future all questions will be categorized under “Q&A on Campus.” Add a comment to post your own question.