Friday, February 6, 2015

Hell and Justice

Most Christians today agree that the Bible teaches a literal hell, although there is some disagreement on the endurance of one’s soul in hell. Catholicism teaches that one can be rescued out of hell or purgatory through the prayers of the living. The Mormon faith also diverges with mainstream Protestants on the meaning and nature of hell. Save for the two examples above, most Christians believe that non-believers and the wicked will be condemned to this place of torment forever and ever. There is no chance of parole nor can you be pardoned. This will be your final and eternal resting place. Period.

So, the question we have is this: is eternal damnation a just punishment and does eternal damnation confound our meaning of justice?
With regard to punishment, the human concept of justice is closely measured with the magnitude of the offense. A premeditated murderous act would earn an individual a much harsher sentence than failing to buckle up. Not so with hell. The slightest infraction, no matter how small, will earn you one way ticket to eternal suffering. Somehow, though, suffering for eternity seems inconceivable and incredibly harsh no matter your crime. Consider the following:

A young Jewish boy caught up in the Nazi war machine is tortured, starved, and forced to work unimaginable toil. Then, he is gassed to death. As a young lad it’s quite possible that he had heard of Jesus, but he was most likely brought up in the Jewish tradition and faith. This most unfortunate and horrific event undoubtedly included several thousand young Jewish boys and girls during WWII. That is, they all died a horrific death at or near the “age of accountability” without knowing Christ.

Now consider their killers. Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels and, of course, Adolph Hitler were directly responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews. These men plotted unthinkable acts of horror and carried them out on the young, old and sick with a merciless and callous sense of satisfaction. These men, too, died without knowing Christ. Jump ahead to their judgment before God.
God: what say you?

Jewish Boy: I’m sorry, but I didn’t know your son, Jesus. I was torn from my family when I was just 10, forced into labor by the Nazis, and then tortured and killed. I, and thousands like me, stand before you today and ask for mercy.

Nazis: Yes, we are guilty of murder. We plotted evil and carried it out without any reservation. But we also ask for mercy. We understand we must pay for our sins, but an eternity spent in hell seems harsh even for us. We beg for mercy.

God to the Nazis: I’m sorry – I never knew you. You are condemned to hell forever and ever.

God to the Jewish Boy: I’m sorry – I never knew you. You are also condemned to an eternity in hell where you will suffer unimaginable pain forever and ever.
If this what the Bible teaches, does it not render our notion of justice senseless?

We could also discuss the justice of hell for people who were unlucky enough to die after the life of Christ but before they had any knowledge of Him. Untold thousands most certainly lived and died without knowing Christ, both in the literal and spiritual sense. The gospels weren’t written for years after Christ’s life and information about him could be delivered only through word-of-mouth. Yet, the Bible is clear about the fate of unbelievers: eternity in hell.

So, how do we reconcile the foreverness of hell and justice? Do we simply accept it and move on, or do we hope that exceptions apply. It’s easy (in today’s modern and connected world) to lump all unbelievers into a nice, neat category and condemn them to hell. However, a part of us can’t help but decry this all-or-none proposition as unbelievably harsh and cruel when applied to individuals.

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