Is eternal hell really a fair punishment for a lifetime of sin?
Some balk at the idea of eternal damnation. Is eternal hell fair? How can an eternity of punishment be just recompense for only one lifetime of human sin? Particularly if a person was generally decent, how is it fair that living apart from God for only 70 to 100 years results in eternity in hell?
There are a few things we need to understand. First, the Bible undeniably paints a picture of hell as being eternal (Matthew 25:46). Second, God is absolutely just. He is the creator of the world and He is perfect. To say that hell is unfair is to accuse God of wrongdoing.
That being said, that eternal hell is fair can still be a difficult concept for our human understanding to swallow. Much of the issue comes from our understanding of sin. In our fallen state, we simply do not understand how heinous and offensive sin really is. Sin is not simply bad behavior, but rebellion against God (Psalm 51:4). Isaiah 64:6 says, "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." Even what we consider to be righteous by human standards fails in comparison to God's righteousness. Romans 3 makes it clear that no human being is without sin. So every person is a sinner against the almighty God of the universe. He is, in essence, the victim of our crimes. In human justice systems, the level, or severity, of punishment is sometimes affected by the status of the victim. Say, for instance, that you lie to a teacher. There is a certain level of punishment for that. However, if you lie to a judge, the punishment is more severe. If you lie to Congress, the punishment is even harsher. Our crimes are against God (Romans 6:23). Consider that God has an infinite nature (Psalm 90:2). Any offence committed against Him, then, is an infinite offence. Thus each offence is worthy of an infinite punishment—an eternity in hell.
In considering the question of whether eternal hell is fair, we need to remember that the Bible does not say those going to hell stop in their rebellion, their sin, after death. There is no indication in the Bible that these people suddenly become repentant and want to worship God. So people who choose to live without God will continue to be spiritually depraved in eternity. Thus their punishment goes on for eternity because their sin does as well.
God, in His great mercy, permits us life on this earth. He gives us an opportunity to recognize our sin and receive salvation in Jesus. Second Peter 3:9 tells us, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." By His own provision, God offers us eternity with Him if we will only set aside our own will for His will. We need not spend eternity in hell apart from Him, but can choose to follow Him today. We can receive full forgiveness of our sins and learn to be more like God. In so doing, we will experience a foretaste of the joy we will one day have in His presence. This all happens because of Jesus. This is the Good News! Eternity can be spent in communion with God when we repent from our sin, accept Jesus as Savior, and begin living with a desire to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:21; John 3:16, 18, 36).
Ultimately, it is the choice of each person to spend eternity in hell, away from God, or in heaven, with Him. Which will you choose?
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