Justifying Eternal Punishment: People Have It Backwards

June 28, 2021

(Note: This is incomplete where I need to address another thing or two. I uploaded it because I feel it already answers hard questions. May help people.)

We often can't fathom God punishing us infintitely for finite sins. We do one bad thing in one, short life. Then, He keeps us alive forever to punish us forever in a lake of fire of all things. If they'd ever be honest, I bet many Christians would admit they think God isn't really just specifically because of that. Everlasting punishment for finite sins keeps a lot of people from becoming Christian, too. Every time we hear "we deserve to burn in hell for..." we immediately think, "Uh, no we don't." Others take His justice on faith in His character and Word but have to turn their brain off. I use His sovereignty for the hardest topics saying, "I don't get it but you can do what you want with us. I just have to accept some things." That feels weak, though. I'd rather have *something*.

After someone else struggled with it, I asked God to give me an answer a while back periodically nagging Him about it. This poured out of my mind one morning while I was trying to go to work. Almost late writing it down. Although I haven't Scripture-tested it, I'll share it in case anyone finds it useful or has Scriptural feedback on it.

I've not studied anyone's opinions on hell for this. I'm almost entirely ignoring justice, too. Instead, I'm going to explain Hell using three parts of God's nature: timelessness, immutability (or unchanging character), and relationships. Here goes. We're not temporary beings who commit finite sins whose lives He extends and punishes forever as justice for those specific sins. We have it all backwards.

God is an everlasting being. Everything He creates that He values most, from angels to humans to the new earth/heavens, is made to last forever with Him. He's a relational God that sovereignly decided to create all these beings to have a relationship with Him. That we were eternal began at conception. Our lives are not really extended for heaven or hell. We'd exist with and experience Him forever no matter what we did. Our bodies, this earth, and this heaven are what's temporary. They're exceptions, not the rule.

It's our relationship with God, esp if He expresses mercy or wrath, that determines the baseline of our eternity. He reacts emotionally to the status of our relationship. He's setup these temporary things, our circumstances, to show us who He is, love us as if He's a faithful partner in marriage, ask we freely love Him back despite any temptations/struggles, give us room to fail and be restored via Jesus Christ, and again ask we love Him back and stay committed to Him in a relationship. This temporary life and our changing circumstances in it determine the type of relationship we have with Him. All evil and changing things that could change that happy ending, ruining our salvation, are contained in the temporary body and place. Once our life and test of comittment is over, our circumstances stop changing, His feelings towards us also stop changing, and the resulting relationship never changes. Like He and His important creations, the relationship is also everlasting.

Then, once He's separated those with or against Him, His justice kicks in. We're judged for every thought, word, and deed we do. Those He relates to as a Father and friends are rewarded for each good deed they did. Their sins are already cleared by Christ's blood. Those He relates to as enemies are punished for each sin they committed. Their being everlasting was set in stone before they were even born, their baseline experience (reward or punishment) by the relationship they chose, and now their specific actions affect their experience on top of that. If anything, the relationship is the foundation that His mercy and justice builds on.

Quick recap. He's an everlasting God who creates people to be with Him forever. He's a relational God that will react emotionally toward them during that forever. Since He's unchanging, His reactions only change with changing circumstances. Their circumstances only change in this temporary world via their actions in it. Eventually, their time to act is up, their circumstances can no longer change, and the status of their relationship with Him is all that's left to react to. In His justice, He also counts their deeds for or against them. The nature of their eternity was already decided by that point. The deeds just determine how kind or angry He's going to be from there.

(Read the Gospel, learn to share it, read other essays, or back to home.)