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.