Thursday, February 2, 2012

Does Hell Have Anything to Do With Justice?

Eternal damnation in fire seems anything but just. The punishment is more than disproportional to the crime, really to any crime imaginable. Besides, there are folk, which by just about any measure, seem to be of a good sort, but whom the Bible offers little hope because they do not believe Jesus is the Christ. With this in mind, I ask, "Can hell have anything at all to do with justice?"

My answer is no (and yes).

Ultimately, the purpose and need for hell is not justice, it is peace--God's peace. Due to his omni characteristics, opposition from other beings to what he knows is right and best puts him, in effect, at odds with himself. Opposition to God (sin) cultivates chaos into the order he has established and leads in an unswerving path to greater and greater divergence and disorder. Where can he go to not see it, to not hear it, to not have to swallow it wretching at the taste of it (wrath)? For one perfect in every respect, things have got to go his way or no way. Any other way would make him other than what he singularly is.

Christian theologians have traditionally cast the terrors of hell as justified on the basis of egregious offenses by sinners against a righteously indignant God. By and large, however, the offenses envisioned were nothing more, really, than being human (for instance, eating a set aside apple). This misses the point entirely--God doesn't hate people (sinners) just for being people, but it is necessary for them to come into agreement with him, for there is life and love in nothing else. Rather than casting God as the ultimate, cosmic Gloria Allred throwing an eternal hissy fit over being offended, we would do well to help sinners understand the need of reconciliation with God.

Only secondarily is hell about justice, or the retribution for wrongs done. This gets the most attention, even scripturally, which makes some sense. Retributive justice is of the most practical concern for humans, but it is only derivatively divinely purposeful. God gets no pleasure from the death of the wicked, not the physical which comes first nor the eternal which will follow. There is no delectable glory attachable to hell. It is necessary rather than desirable.

To be clear, God does love justice. If death (and hell) were about justice, God would love the death of the wicked and glory in it. He'd spit on their carcasses and dance on their graves. Would Jesus have wept over Jerusalem if he loved justice in that way? God is just, of that there can be no doubt, but I do not see that hell is primarily about justice. Hell does serve the cause of justice eternally, but the nature of hell, its unending continuity, are not in place to serve justice, but peace and order as God sees it.

8 comments:

  1. Hey SLW,
    There is one thing about this topic that I can't seem to find any answer to. I get the purpose of hell in extinguishing any one souls ability to think or act in opposition to God. That would bring a measure of peace in that God no longer hears it or sees their sins. However, would not the reality of those souls being in the condition they are in still be an irritant to God? Yes those souls aren't acting/sinning but they are still there. Wouldn't God's awareness of what is going on there still be bothersome to Him? It's difficult to grasp these things as we are the finite trying to understand things only clear to the Infinite. I suppose the next logical argument here would lead to total annihilation as a means for peace to God. I don't believe that is the case but it does leave me wondering about God's thoughts towards hell once all it's permanant residents have arrived. Your thoughts?

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  2. Heanous,
    Nice to hear from you, hope you're feeling well.

    I believe souls are eternal, in that the model (Adam) had his soul animated by the breath (Spirit) of the everliving, indestructible God. In that instant, by that pattern, I think annihilation ceased to be a possibility for man made in the image of God. How does one, even God, destroy the breath of God? That raises the question of traducianism v. creationism, but that can wait for another time.

    This represents quite a risk or irritation, even eternally so, by God, but I believe that is what he did. For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame, so it seems to me a divine quality that the joy he has in redeemed, resurrected mankind is worth some personal dis-ease to God. His purpose is that those he foreknew would be conformed into the image of Christ. As long as sin is quieted, incapable of coming to fruition in heart or deed, the the weight of glory overwhelms every other consideration.

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  3. SLW,
    Agreed! There is ample scripture to support God's joy over the redeemed. It is easy to see how that can overshadow any negative feelings over the fact of hell. Do you think we "the redeemed" will be aware of it's existence? Will our Joy in the Lord serve to overwhelm in the same sense? My guess is not in light of Rev. 7:17; 21:4.

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    1. I suspect the redeemed will be blessed with a sort of divine amnesia, but I don't have a lick of scripture to back up the contention. It may be something we're just not prepared to understand given the limits we have in the current age.

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  4. Hi SLW, I'm trying to understand one of the implications of your view. For example, I believe that God is at peace today while wicked people prosper. What is your view on God's current state of peace?

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  5. I do not believe he is at peace "currently" (not that there is a "currently" that has him bound). Romans 1 declares: the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. So God is wrathful against the prospering wicked, or as I likened his wrath in the post--he is swallowing it wretching at the taste of it.

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  6. I agree that God is currently wrathful toward the unrepentant, but that does not mean God is not at peace. For example, Paul also taught that that the peace of God surpasses all understanding when we pray to God about our concerns. Paul additionally taught that the fruit of God's Spirit is love, joy, peace.... If God is not at peace, then how could God give us peace?

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  7. JG,
    The peace of God for believers is something different than God at peace, in fact the peace of believers rests in being at peace with God.

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