Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Why Infinite punishment for finite sin?

Yesterday I presented two statements about Hell that I have been wrestling with over the past couple of day.

“Is Hell punishment that lasts forever because the guilt lasts forever? Or, Is Hell infinite punishment because God is a being of infinite worth, to whom we owe infinite obligation, and sin against Him requires infinite punishment?”

Let me look at each one of these separately.

Punishment lasts forever because guilt lasts forever.

This is a view that is proposed, most efficiently, by Shedd. Shedd illustrates his point by saying, “when a crime is condemned it is absurd to ask, how long is it condemned?” The thrust behind Shedd’s view is that once you have broken the law you are a criminal, and there is nothing that will ever change that. This seems logical enough, and seems to gain traction when viewed in light of James 2:10-11:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

Here we see that no matter how serious the law is that you break you are still a law breaker. To quote Shedd, “What, therefore, guilt legitimates this instant, it legitimates every instant, and forever.”


As appealing as this view seems it does have some problems with it. The greatest problem with this view is that in this view punishment has no capacity to expiate sin. If punishment cannot expiate sin one has to wonder how God is able to remit the sins of man on the basis of His outpouring of punishment on His Son at the cross.

Matthew 27:46
About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

How could Christ’s one time sacrifice atone for our eternal guilt?

2 Corinthians 5:21
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The implication of the view that guilt is inherently eternal would appear to be that even the death of the guiltless Messiah is not sufficient to take our guilt away from us. As appealing as this view seemed to me on the surface, the implications of this view do not adequately explain what Scripture teaches.


Hell is infinite punishment because God is a being of infinite worth, to whom we owe infinite obligation, and sin against Him requires infinite punishment.

This second view is most notable held by Anslem, and Edwards. The thrust of this view is that the true cause of sin is not so much the nature of the sin, but rather the nature of the one sinned against. In this case the one sinned against the infinite God. This explains how we, being punished according to what we have done, can be infinitely punished for a finite sin.

Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death…

Because we are punished according to what we have done we cannot be punished with infinite intensity; so it must be the case the Hell is infinite in duration. It seems reasonable to say that because God is infinitely holy no finite punishment could ever compensate for the evil of sinning against Him. I am more comfortable with this view for several reasons.


First, it explains why the finite sins of a human lifetime deserve an eternity of suffering. Second, the power of the atonement rests in the infinite nature of Christ. Edwards put it this way, “By reason of the infinite dignity of his person, his sufferings were looked upon as of infinite value, and equivalent to eternal sufferings of a finite creature.” (Works, vol. I, 640) Christ, an infinitely good being, removed our sin, which is infinitely evil, through His substitutionary work.

2 Corinthians 5:21
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

I think that the words of John Piper best concluded these scattered thoughts, “The infinite horrors of hell are intended by God to be a vivid demonstration of the infinite value of the glory of God.” (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, 22).

Romans 9:20-24
On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

13/4/06 10:03 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Anonymous,

I noticed that I struck a cord with my conversation on Hell. I also found it interesting that in your comment on purgatory explained in the NT that the first reference was to the Ethiopian needing help understanding the Bible. I am not sure that this passage argues very well for the catholic view of apostolic authority since the Ethiopian was not a believer when he was trying to understand the Scriptures.
I also found it interesting that one of your articles said that only in the catholic church can you receive Christ. This is a problem because nowhere is this teaching found in the NT. It is for this reason that I had to delete all of your comments.
I find it very sad that you do not believe that Christ's atoning work is powerful enough to save anyone. One of your articles says that purgatory is the place that our sin's our cleansed; and that we need that because only perfect love can be in the presence of God. This is very sad for the NT makes it very clear that the Work of Christ is sufficient. If Christ is the infinitely good God that the NT claims Him to be, then why do we need His work and the work of purgatory to be sanctified? I would like your opinion, not an article from someone else on this matter. Also, I am extremely leery about dealing with this issues of eternal importance and not even knowing who you are. I would like to continue a dialogue with you, and it would be nice to know with whom am I talking.
Let me leave you with this challenge. Instead of jumping all around and trying to deal with a myriad of subjects I would like to pick one to deal with. I think that this will make for a far more productive conversation. I would like to start by dealing with Romans 8:26-39. I want you to deal with this text and the issues found in this text and I will do the same. Here Paul says that God has predestined the saints (protestant way of saying Christians) to be conformed to the image of Christ. If this is so, then why do we need purgatory?
I would like your words; I will not mind quotes and help from other writers but I would like to hear your opinion articulated.

14/4/06 7:58 AM  

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