The third sermon in the hell series preached by my minister was on the severity of hell. He said that hell must be eternal for two reasons.
First, he said hell must be eternal because our sin is against an eternal being. Here is a quote from his sermon:
Colin Smith explains it this way:You may say, "Wait a minute. How can any sin deserve everlasting destruction?... The best answer I ever heard to that question was given by a
friend of mine…He outlined the stages of the following scenario: Suppose a middle school student punches another student in class. What happens? The student is given a detention. Suppose during the detention, this boy punches the teacher. What happens? The student gets suspended from school. Suppose on the way home, the same boy punches a policeman on the nose. What happens? He finds himself in jail. Suppose some years later, the very same boy is in a crowd waiting to see the President of the United States. As the President passes by, the boy lunges forward to punch the President. What happens? He is shot dead by the secret
service. In every case the crime is precisely the same, but the severity of the crime is measured by the one against whom it is committed. What comes from sinning against God? Answer:
Certainly there are provisions in the law for protecting certain groups of people who have heightened vulnerability, such as children, or those who are at increased risk for being harmed due to their role protecting or leading our country, such as police or the President. I’m not
well equipped to discuss the law or the rationale behind it, so I appreciate any insights on this point. If the point of the stiffer penalties is to protect these groups by deterring crime, then the analogy doesn’t apply to God. He doesn’t need protection in the same sense. Even if we grant that a sin against God deserves stiffer penalties than sin against another human being, I don’t see eternal punishment necessarily following from that premise. Does anyone else? I’d be
interested in dissenting thoughts.
Second, the minister said hell must be eternal because we are eternal beings. I’m not certain that we are eternal beings and neither were the author of a number of Old Testament books, such as Ecclesiastes, Job, Isaiah, and Psalms.
But even if we are eternal, is perpetual punishment the only option? Plenty of philosophers, such as Origen, have envisioned an afterlife where souls have the opportunity to undergo refinement until they finally reach heaven. If we have all eternity, surely that would be time enough
for a good proportion, if not all, to find themselves leaving hell behind. That would seem consistent with biblical passages about God wanting all to be saved. And what about an afterlife scenario where there is no punishment or reward? Why does eternity necessarily involve these two concepts?
While it might be more neat and tidy to conclude that eternal God + eternal man=eternal hell, I haven’t been convinced that the equation must be solved this way. I feel at a bit of a loss in knowing how to address these arguments more meaningfully, so I’d appreciate any ideas from
either side of the debate.