Answer the skeptic: Why is eternal punishment fair?

A common objection from skeptics to the Christian view of hell deals with the length of the punishment for a finite sin. If our sin is committed in a finite span of time, how could eternal punishment be fair? One thing this fails to recognize is that the punishment for a crime doesn’t depend on how long the crime took to commit. J. Warner Wallace describes this by explaining that a murder may only take 1 second to commit, but the jail sentence could be a lifetime. So, is there an easy answer to the objection “Why is eternal punishment fair?”

Short Answer: Eternal punishment is fitting for the eternally unrepentant.

God does not send good people to heaven, but instead, sinful people chose to reject God. It is our sin, if left unforgiven, that separates us from God. It is important to realize how much God hates sin. “God hates sin because sin leads to rebellion and the worst kinds of evil.”[1] We have chosen to rebel against God and commit evil acts. It is only through the forgiveness of this sin that we are able to enter into Heaven.

When it comes to eternal punishment for that sin, the problem is that there will be many people that will be eternally unrepentant. We see examples of this in Revelation 9:20-21 as well as Revelation 16:9. “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues,” according to Revelation 9:20-21, “did not repent of the works of their hands… and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.” These people were unwilling to repent of their sin even after much of humanity was killed by plagues. Revelation 16:9 says, “Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.” These people were being punished for evil and yet chose to remain in their sin. Eternal punishment is fair for these people because God cannot allow unrepentant sin into his presence.

We have to realize, as Dr. Clay Jones says, that “God cannot actualize a good and just world where all people will freely choose to follow him.” There will always be people, who for whatever reason, freely choose to reject God. It’s logically impossible for God to make someone freely choose him. If God forced these people to follow him against their will, then he would be more like a slave master than a good God. If God allowed these unrepentant people into heaven then he would not be just. We all realize that evil needs to be punished. We would not consider a judge to be a good judge if he let murderers go free. In order for God to be both good and just, eternally unrepentant sinners need to be sent to eternal punishment.

Dr. Frank Turek does a great job describing this concept on college campuses. He asks the women in the crowd if they have ever had a guy that like them and that they didn’t like back. They usually respond with laughter because it has happened to all of them. The girl likes the guy but only as a friend. Now what if the guy responded by saying that he loves the girl so much that he is going to force her to love him? How would she respond? Probably something like, “If you really love me, then you would leave me alone!” That is what God does. He loves us so much that He won’t force people into his presence (Heaven) against their will. That is why eternal punishment (separation) is fitting for the eternally unrepentant.

This is one part in a series of posts on why God allows evil.  Look below to read previous posts that you missed and see what is coming up. Each section will be posted weekly in the order they appear below.

  1. Why do people suffer for a sin Adam committed long ago?
  2. Why does God let a child die?
  3. How might it be fair that God ordered the killing of Canaanite children?
  4. Why do bad things happen to good people?
  5. Why is eternal punishment fair?
  6. If conscious belief in Jesus is required for salvation, how is that fair to those who have never heard the gospel?
  7. Free will isn’t so valuable for God to permit so much suffering.
  8. What good is the suffering I endure?
  9. How will Heaven mitigate our suffering on earth?
  10. Why does God allow evil?

[1] Clay Jones, “We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites,” Philosophia Christi, 2009, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.clayjones.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/We-Dont-Hate-Sin-PC-article.pdf.

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