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November 30, 2011

Comments

Edwards was a brilliant man and we should all have a lot of respect for him. This argument, however, is sheer nonsense. I don't know what went wrong, maybe he tripped over the stupid stick on his way to the office that day.

A paraphrase of the argument:

1. The wickedness of the crime of despising some person is proportional to the duty one has to obey that person.

2. So, it is infinitely wicked to despise a person whom we have infinite obligation to obey [From 1].

3. Our obligation to obey some person is proportional to that person's loveliness, honorableness, and authority.

4. God is infinitely lovely, honorable, and authoritative.

5. So, our obligation to obey God is infinite [From 3,4].

6. So, it is infinitely wicked to despise God [From 2,5]

7. So, [any] sin against God is deserving of infinite punishment [From 6???]

8. An eternity of conscious torment counts as an infinite punishment

9. So, it is just to condemn sinners to an eternity of conscious torment [From 7,8].


Other than (6) and (8), which really are just definitional, I do not find a single premise of this argument plausible. Furthermore, the key inference from (6) to (7) is just a blind leap.

How do you get (7) from (6)? Ignore for the moment that Edwards begins with a very particular sin (despising and casting contempt on another) and somehow smuggles in a generalization to all sin around step (7). As implausible and unmotivated as I think it is, let us agree that any sin against God is an act of infinite wickedness. How does it following that a man committing such a sin is deserving of infinite punishment? How does tormenting such a man for all eternity serve to make the world a better place? The controlling thought is that God has some grand scale of Justice that must always remain in balance. Sins get heaped on one side and the only thing capable of balancing them out is conscious suffering. Smith commits a sin which tips the scales. This enrages God and upsets the order of Justice. We are all anxious about this. Then we learn that Smith will suffer consciously for all eternity and our response is supposed to be "Phew! Glad that's been dealt with. Everything is now put back to normal!"

I don't buy it, and I don't understand how Edwards could have. Suffering that does not lead toward redemption does not improve the world one bit, regardless of the wickedness of the sufferer. Any being whose disappointment and dismay at the rebellion of his creatures can only be relieved by the inflicting of eternal conscious torment, is a Monster not a God.

It’s probably safe to say that most Christian apologists believe that a significant number of humans will, after death and as a punishment for the sins committed in this life, enter a state of unimaginable and unending horror. They have been around the block long enough to be familiar some of the objections to this doctrine and have devised responses on its behalf. One objection trades on the injustice of hell. The objection goes as follows:

By your own account hell is a place of punishment for sins committed in this terrestrial life. But the sins committed in this terrestrial life are finite both in duration and degree of wickedness. The principle of proportionality requires that the harshness of the punishment be proportional to the degree of wickedness of the crime. The principle of proportionality, therefore, requires that the sins of this life not be punished with infinite and unending hardship, since this clearly is not proportionate with the degree of wickedness of our crimes. The punishments of hell as you have depicted them, therefore, are fundamentally unjust.

One of the responses to this objection of which many Christian apologists are most fond can be represented as follows:

You claim that the sins committed in this life are finite in degree of wickedness, but this is not true. The heinousness of the sin is determined by the dignity of the one the sin harms or offends. To harm a human being, therefore, is a more heinous thing than harming a dog, simply because human beings possess more dignity than dogs. Since all sin offends God and since God is possess infinite dignity, all sin is infinitely heinous. Therefore, unending punishment in hell is proportionate to the degree of wickedness characterizing our terrestrial sins.

According to this chain of reasoning, all sins are equally heinous, and so stealing a pencil is just as heinous as stealing a child. Both acts merit eternal conscious torment in hell. With Aquinas, I regard that as an absurd consequence of the theory. Aquinas writes,

…properly speaking, the punishment corresponds to the degree of departure from the order of justice that is found in the sin that is punished, rather than to the dignity of the person against whom the sin offends; for on the latter supposition, any sin at all would be rewarded by a punishment of infinite intensity.

If the Christian apologist is a Protestant, Aquinas’ remarks will not likely move her. Perhaps apologists will be more concerned about the remarks of Jesus of Nazareth, who is depicted in the New Testament as clearly suggesting that some sins are more heinous than others (see Mt 23:23; Jn 19:11).

But we needn’t appeal to authority to see what is wrong with the apologist’s defense. We can begin to see where the defense goes wrong by considering these cases.

Case One: While taking an evening walk, Susan sees what she thinks is a small child. Susan, being generally irritated with small children, picks up a small rock and throws it at what she believes to be a child. And in this case it turns out that Susan is right; it is a child. The child suffers no serious harm, despite being quite alarmed at what the woman has done.

Case Two: While taking an evening walk, Jill sees what she think is a dog. Jill, being generally irritated with dogs, picks up a small rock and throws it at the alleged dog. It turns out, however, that so-called dog is not really a dog, but rather a small child dressed in an unusually convincing dog outfit. The child suffers no serious harm, despite being quite alarmed at what the woman has done.

In both cases the action is wrong and in both cases a small child is harmed (even if not greatly) by the act. I think most would have the intuition, however, that Susan’s action is more heinous than Jill’s, despite the fact that both had the same effect on a small child. The morally relevant difference is that constitutive of Susan’s act is the intent to harm a small child, whereas this is not constitutive of Jill’s act. It was part of Susan’s plan to harm a small child, but not Jill’s.

It is therefore not true that the heinousness of an act can be measured simply by the dignity possessed by the one actually offended by the act. If the heinousness of an act could be measured simply by the dignity possessed by the one actually offended by the act, then it would follow that Susan and Jill committed equally heinous acts. But they did not. So, the heinousness of an act cannot simply be measured by the dignity possessed by the one actually offended by the act. The intentions constitutive of the act also determine its heinousness, as we have clearly seen.

It is clear that the intention to offend God is not constitutive of the immoral acts many people perform. A person that genuinely believes that God does not exist, for instance, does not intend to offend God when acting immorally. That just is no part of her plan. Furthermore, I doubt very seriously that those who believe in God usually intend to offend God when acting immorally. They may believe God will be offended, and they may act immorally anyway, but they are not intending to offend God. It is not as though were God, per impossibile, not to be offended at their immoral action, they would take themselves to have failed at their task. Most of the time theists act immorally simply because it gratifies some desire they have. I will do such and such in order to satisfy my desire to be entertained may often be the correct intentional description of the act, but I will do such and such in order to offend God is hardly ever the correct intentional description.

For these reasons, I regard this popular Christian defense of hell as flawed.

If God made us infinitely inferior to Himself & incapable of doing His will, then it is God who is responsible for the offense; therefore, He deserves to suffer for all eternity as a man.

How can a weak, finite, immature creature that God made that way be infinitely responsible for a damn thing? How can such a creature that God put in harms way & failed to protect be at fault?

No, such a view means that God originally created an offense to Himself, & that is nonsense!

God is not a nitpick tyrant that demands perfection of imperfect creatures.

If God created anyone for the express purpose of damning him, then God is not lovely or loving alone; He is also ugly & hateful.

If the sovereign God set everything up just as it happened, then He is proportionally obligated to fix the mess He created. God is the One who is most obligated since He is the ground & cause of all things.

If sin against God is so heinous, then God should judge every sin equally; we should get no better treatment than the devil & the other fallen angels.

First off hell is not infinite as it has a beginning, secondly what has duration got to do with it? It would be like shooting and killing someone and getting sentenced to life in prison then telling the judge it is unreasonable because it only took two seconds to pull the trigger. Why am I getting life for breaking the law for only two seconds? So ,something else must be going on here. Personally I think that only when we come face to face with God we will understand. We have no clue try as we might to understand holiness, purity,justice, and righteousness. All of those things here are only images and foggy ones at that. That also means we have no clue as to the true seriousness of our sin. If God is just (and He is) then hell is no injustice even if we struggle with it.

Damian,

First off hell is not infinite as it has a beginning

This maybe a small point but (1,2 3, ...) is infinite. And it has a beginning.

Apparently, having a beginning doesn't disqualify something from being infininte.

RonH

Do people stop sinning in hell? That is, is hell a punishment for "terrestrial" sins only (as much as I'm uncomfortable with this kind of quantification)?

If they continue to sin, which seems likely, given the absence of the regenerating work of the Spirit, their punishment continues as their sin continues.

Ron, that's not an actual infinite. That is, you're not talking about objects existing in reality. If a series of events has a beginning, the actual amount of time that has passed will always be finite, even if it continues to increase forever. That is, at any given point in time, there will be a beginning point and an ending point (i.e., "now"). The two points will just continue to get farther and farther apart.

Ben, that's always played a part in how I understand this, as well. If rebellion never ends, neither does the punishment.

maybe a little Lewis will help on this - particularly The Great Divorce

Allow me to share the LDS perspective on what we refer to as "Eternal" punishment (if that is to be likened to "infinite" punishment--if I'm on the wrong track with terminology, feel free to correct me):

"We must understand that the word eternal has a different meaning to the Lord than it does to the world. In a modern revelation, the Lord said:

“I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—

“Eternal punishment is God’s punishment” (D&C 19:10–11).

Terms like “eternal torment” are more a description of the kind of torment (God’s torment) rather than the length of the suffering (see D&C 19:6–12). Remember also that this describes punishment for unrepented sins."

I.E., if we do not repent of our sins, we must suffer the same kind of suffering which the Savior experienced, ie.:

"...the Savior of the world commands us to repent and keep his commandments. 'Repent,' he commands, 'lest … your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

'For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

'But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

'Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

“Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

'Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken” (D&C 19:15–20)."

When the full price of a sin has been paid, the torment is finished.

Completely off topic but saw this and thought of you guys.

[Comment removed. Please don't insert off-topic topics. Thanks!]

If an omnipotent being decrees that he shall consign you to conscious torment without any possibility of reprieve, then I don't think we need to concern ourselves with the fact that, at any point in the future, an actual infinity of suffering hasn't occurred.

I'm somewhat confused now. I understood the original post to be en endorsement of Edwards' reasoning but perhaps it was only a 'conversation-starter'. Is the position being endorsed that each sin merits eternal conscious torment, or that those in hell perform infinitely many consecutive sins and that the (finite) punishment for each adds up to eternal punishment?

I think the intended point of the quote is to describe that in a climate of perpetual sin, perpetual conscious suffering and unrest are synonymous. You cannot have a rebellion without an authority figure to defy and God is the ultimate authority because he is the author, the master poet speaking our very reality into existence.

If you are a faithful Christian, you understand that we are not to rely on our own understanding of these matters. There is nothing to really ponder here because the truth has been laid out very plainly for us all. If you want to wax-intellectual over fluff grab some Descartes and head for Starbucks.

Those of you dissecting the language and re-stitching it with high-brow philosophical laces in order to marginalize Edwards' words are missing the greater idea here which is, very simply, that hell is an eternity without God.

The End.

The location, temperature, scenery, and tangible constitution of Hell are irrelevant to the discussion.

And to Arnauld, you began your argument by paraphrasing Edwards' argument by restating it as if God were a person and not God, then went from there, so of course it sounds ridiculous. God is not a person. God is God.

That's like taking a Little Tykes bicycle, dropping the frame of a Harley Davidson on it and expecting not to look silly when you attempt to take it out for a spin. Your individual understanding of God is not sufficient to challenge his word. Neither is mine. Neither is anyone's.

Somehow I doubt Arnauld will second-guess himself based on those remarks...

Melissa S's remarks remind me of a comment once made by a Christian philosopher who very much influenced Edwards, John Locke:

The assuming an authority of dictating to others, and a forwardness to prescribe to their opinions, is a constant concomitant of this bias and corruption of our judgments. For how almost can it be otherwise, but that he should be ready to impose on another's belief, who has already imposed on his own? Who can reasonably expect arguments and conviction from him in dealing with others, whose understanding is not accustomed to them in his dealing with himself? Who does violence to his own faculties, tyrannizes over his own mind, and usurps the prerogative that belongs to truth alone, which is to command assent by only its own authority, i.e. by and in proportion to that evidence which it carries with it. (Essay Concerning Human Understanding 4.19.2)

Melissa

Your advice seems to be "Don't think too hard about it, just read the Bible and accept the plain sense of the message." I contend that following your advice will lead you very quickly into contradictory beliefs. A large part of the apologetics industry is devoted to reconciling 'apparent' contradictions in the biblical text. We MUST think hard about what we read in order to avoid inconsistency. Perhaps your advice would extend to just accepting contradictions where they are apparently endorsed in scripture, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt by assuming you did not mean it to go that far.

The question, I suppose, is where/when to stop thinking hard. You might be tempted to claim that we should think hard up to the point of getting an adequate, consistent interpretation of the text, and then leave our 'intellectual fluff' behind and simply assent to the text. I think this temptation should be avoided. There is no clear line between the use of reason in interpreting a text and the use of reason in thinking hard about whether or not to accept it. If I followed this advice, thought hard about the relevant texts, and concluded that "Gehenna" is a metaphor referring to the trash heap outside the walls of Jerusalem and that 'aeon' refers to an age rather than to eternity as we conceive it, I suppose you would complain that I am over-intellectualizing my interpretation of the text. I should have stopped thinking hard before reaching that point.

I think it one of the most damning myths of popular evangelicalism that there is such a thing as "the plain meaning of the text". The Bible is a book for grown-ups (which is not to say that it is of no use to those who read it like a child), and I think we DIShonor God when we stop short of putting our full effort into understanding it. We must make full use of the soul and heart when doing so, of course, but we must also make full use of our minds.

"Ben, that's always played a part in how I understand this, as well. If rebellion never ends, neither does the punishment."

Then I suppose people will be accruing guilt throughout eternity. But since, on the traditional view, the duration is fixed, the only way to account for the increasing levels of guilt will be to increase the intensity of the punishment. Which means that at some point, all humans in hell will experience suffering that is at some theoretical maximum.

So much for degrees of punishment.

I don't have trouble with infinite punishment for an infinite crime, which would be rejecting an infinite God...but isn't it true that on Edward's view that some people were unconditionally reprobate with no hope of salvation by God's choice? I don't understand how a good God can be reconciled with one who infinitely punishes those who have no ability to choose Christ according to God's own predetermined choice.

Hi Roscoe, I dont think your description is quite accurate where you said "unconditionally reprobate". All men after Adam are unfit for Gods presence. The term unconditinal is associated with Gods unmerited favor toward some who He determines to save from their state and restores them to a reconciled state in Christ. Edwards' view wich is classical Protestantism would state it as God does no injustice by leaving the reprobate in their sins and subject to the judgement that perfect Holiness demands.

A interesting element to maybe make a point about mans condition is told in the story of Davids failed attempt at delivering the stolen Ark of the Covenant bact to Israel. Uzza reached out his hand to steady the Ark when the cart it was riding on shuddered on rough ground--he was immediately struck dead. The earthly inhabitation of Gods presence demanded that it be treated as holy and Uzza's mistake was to think that his hand was cleaner than the dirt that he was hoping to keep off of the Ark.

Humankind is unfit for God's presence, just because of our uncleanness, even one sin, the Original Sin was enough to damn mankind to permanent separation, not because of the seriousness of the crime, but because of Gods perfection in Holiness. All would suffer this penalty if not for Gods mercy.

Hopefully this ins't too long, but in usual Edwards' thoroughness, here is Edwards' own words on God and reprobation:

"Objection. If I am not willing to have Christ for my Saviour, I cannot make myself willing.- But I would give an answer to this objection by laying down two things, that must be acknowledged to be exceeding evident.

1. It is no excuse, that you cannot receive Christ of yourself, unless you would if you could. This is so evident of itself, that it scarce needs any proof. Certainly if persons would not if they could, it is just the same thing as to the blame that lies upon them, whether they can or cannot. If you were willing, and then found that you could not, your being unable would alter the case, and might be some excuse; because then the defect would not be in your will, but only in your ability. But as long as you will not, it is no matter, whether you have ability or no ability.

If you are not willing to accept of Christ, it follows that you have no sincere willingness to be willing; because the will always necessarily approves of and rests in its own acts. To suppose the contrary, would be to suppose a contradiction; it would be to suppose that a man's will is contrary to itself, or that he wills contrary to what he himself wills. As you are not willing to come to Christ, and cannot make yourself willing, so you have no sincere desire to be willing; and therefore may most justly perish without a Saviour. There is no excuse at all for you; for say what you will about your inability, the seat of your blame lies in your perverse will, that is an enemy to the Saviour. It is in vain for you to tell of your want of power, as long as your will is found defective. If a man should hate you, and smite you in the face, but should tell you at the same time, that he hated you so much, that he could not help choosing and willing so to do, would you take it the more patiently for that? Would not your indignation be rather stirred up the more?

2. If you would be willing if you could, that is no excuse, unless your unwillingness to be willing be sincere. That which is hypocritical, and does not come from the heart, but is merely forced, ought wholly to be set aside, as worthy of no consideration; because common sense teaches, that what is not hearty, but hypocritical is indeed nothing, being only a show of what is not; but that which is good for nothing, ought to go for nothing. But if you set aside all that is not free, and call nothing a willingness, but a free hearty willingness, then see how the case stands, and whether or no you have not lost all your excuse for standing out against the calls of the gospel. You say you would make yourself willing to accept if you could; but it is not from any good principle that you are willing for that. It is not from any free inclination, or true respect to Christ, or any love to your duty, or any spirit of obedience. It is not from the influence of any real respect, or tendency in your heart, towards any thing good, or from any other principle than such as is in the hearts of devils, and would make them have the same sort of willingness in the same circumstances. It is therefore evident, that there can be no goodness in that would be willing to come to Christ: and that which has no goodness, cannot be an excuse for any badness. If there be no good in it, then it signifies nothing, and weighs nothing, when put into the scales to counterbalance that which is bad."

The complete piece by Edwards is titled: The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners

http://www.redeemer.com/news_and_events/articles/the_importance_of_hell.html

What is it, Tokyo?

Arnauld,

Let us be reminded of your words:

"Edwards was a brilliant man and we should all have a lot of respect for him. This argument, however, is sheer nonsense. I don't know what went wrong, maybe he tripped over the stupid stick on his way to the office that day."

Oh, Arnie. There is an enormous difference between having knowledge of God and knowing God. The study of Hermeneutics is massively important in properly understanding scripture. This I am sure we can both agree on.

Where we need to be careful is tip-toeing on the fine line where God's word is subject to being diced-up by a flaw in our feeble human nature as reflected in our tendency to sometimes over-intellectualize it.

God's messages, in their very nature, are simple. Pursuit of knowledge is important. Seeking to know his mind; to develop our God Head, so to speak, is an eternal quest that should be approached with a zeal unmatched by any other pursuit, but without a personal relationship; a relationship devoted enough to keep us humbly in-check, the pursuit of this knowledge is all in vain.

My point to you, and I was admittedly having a little fun with it, was to highlight that your argument; it's tone, your whole approach was rife with the very inanimate approach to God's word that I just described.

The author of this blog shared Edwards' words with us because she was aiming to challenge us to develop our faith and to continue to seek and know God. Which, after a brief and polite introduction, you squashed with your towering intellect. One might even say you beat it to death with a 'stupid stick'. Whatever that is.

What is the point, after all? You insulted Edwards' You, by proxy, then insulted the author, and you also insulted anyone who may have taken something positive from this posting. What have you achieved other than pomposity?

In Samuel 2:3 the Lord reminds us, "Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed."

And to Malbranche,

Thank you for sharing John Locke's quote on the limitations of human understanding. Fortunately for me and my limited human understanding, I do not take orders from John Locke, nor do I regard his work or any other philosophical work as more relevant than the Bible.

Author N.D. Wilson wrote, “Marx called religion an opiate, and all too often it is. But philosophy is an anesthetic, a shot to keep the wonder away.”

I'd tend to agree with him.

Hi Mel

Thanks for your gentle words. Allow me to apologize for my tone. I do have a lot of problems with the argument endorsed by Edwards, but I did not mean to be uncharitable to the original poster or to anyone else.

That said, I stick with my conclusions. I think that the picture of the Angry God you get from Edwards is so far removed from the Father of Jesus Christ that we have excellent reason to re-examine what we took to be the 'plain teaching of scripture'.

I hope I can do this in a charitable way, Mel, but I'd also like to suggest that there is nothing truly pious about believing things of God that run counter to everything you know about the Good because you take them to be affirmed in scripture. My deeper concerns are not so far from yours. If you are truly to know God, to be related to him as a Father, I do not understand how you can think things about him that seem Dark and Ugly to you. Furthermore, if God wants to be related to you, I cannot for the life of me understand how he could want you to believe those things either.

If God is to be known to me as my Father, do you think it unreasonable to expect him to be recognizably good to me?

Arnauld wrote: "How does tormenting such a man for all eternity serve to make the world a better place?"

According to Edwards, "making the world a better place" has nothing to do with divine punishment. This is a separate, unrelated consideration. In Edwards' quote, punishment is proportional to the value of the wronged party without any regard for prevention of future sin, or rehabilitation. Your utilitarian concern with the "terrestrial" effects of divine punishment applies generally to any consideration of eternal punishment, but is immaterial to Edwards' proposition.

Edwards' idea can be summed up rather simply: Since God is infinitely worthy of honor, failing to honor God is an offense of infinite magnitude, which incurs a punishment of infinite magnitude. The 'infinite magnitude' of the punishment is meted out eternally. Pretty clear stuff.

"Any being whose disappointment and dismay at the rebellion of his creatures can only be relieved by the inflicting of eternal conscious torment, is a Monster not a God."

You've heard of Jesus dying for people's sins? God's offense at evil can be relieved without resorting to eternal punishment because, in His mercy and love, He provided an unmerited escape for the guilty.

I should ask Arnauld, what improvements to the world deriving from eternal divine punishment would be necessary to justify it in your eyes, since you've introduced this as a functional necessity of hell?

Hi Sage

I can't for the life of me imagine any benefits to eternal punishment. Fortunately for me, I'm not committed to thinking there are any. It sounds like you might not think there are any either. Note that by claiming the the world is not improved by eternally punishing sinners I didn't mean that there are no earthly or terrestrial benefits for us. I meant that there are no benefits at all, for anyone. I take it that when I keep a promise I've thereby made the world a better place, even if my promise-keeping doesn't lead to any other good consequences. So I don't think I'm committed to thinking of it utilitarian concerns.

Maybe this will make it clearer: if we are believers in the gospel at all we don't think that God is obligated to consign sinners to an eternity in hell. He chooses to save at least some of us. If he is not obligated, then what reason might he have for consigning anyone to eternal torment? If his doing so does not 'make the world a better place' (in the broadest sense), then what other reason might he have? Is it in order to benefit those precious few who are saved (e.g. in order that they might witness the extent of the horrors they were saved from)? Is it in order to glorify Himself (e.g. to ultimately put those who dishonor him in their place)? If we cannot think of any answer, my suggestion is that we reconsider the idea of an eternal hell, because it just doesn't seem to make any sense.

You say that Edwards' reasoning is pretty clear. I've already given reasons to think it isn't so clear. The only way I can make sense of it is by conceiving God as vindictive ultimately self-centered. He is so concerned with his own honor, to the exclusion of everything else, that he repays the slightest act of dishonor with eternal torment. This is not a God who loves his creatures, but a God who loves himself. I claim that it is not the Father that Jesus came to show us.

Thanks for clarifying Arnauld.

First on your thoughts about hell (not about Edwards' ideas of hell). God does not do anything expressly "for humanity's sake" - the creatures serve the Creator, not the converse. Everything God does is entirely consistent with His own attributes, including His glory. When thinking of God's glory it's important to remember Aquinas's point that none of God's attributes exist in isolation. God is a simple whole rather than a unified diversity of parts. What He does for glory He does also for love, holiness, goodness, justice, mercy, beauty, truth, etc. His attributes are never in tension; it is impossible for Him to be internally inconsistent, which would mark a lack in his virtues. Because of this, I take it on faith that God's prosecution of eternal punishment must be consistent with His goodness, justice, love, glory, and mercy because it would be illogically inconsistent to think otherwise.

I think the fact of the matter is that hell is a necessity, otherwise it would not exist. Whether or not it benefits humanity is really beside the point. Is the universe better for the existence of a place of eternal punishment? Well, yes. By default, simply because God created it, the answer must be yes - it was the unfortunate but necessary result of humanity's free choice to sin. And what are the terms of this punishment: it stands for everyone who willfully rejects God's gracious offer of forgiveness in this life. So at least the terms for those who end up in hell seem fair.

None of us deserves heaven, Arnauld, as hard as that may be to accept. God's goodness, love, and mercy do not obligate Him to save anyone from the punishment our own free actions incur. Furthermore, our Judge does not take into account what we think a just sentence ought to be. If it came down to choosing between man's finite, imperfect, self-interested idea of just punishments, or an infinitely holy, perfectly wise, all-knowing and loving God, we do not err to trust His judgment.

I think you're missing Edwards' point entirely (likely because of the false premise that for eternal hell to be justified, it must have some direct, patent benefit to humanity - see the rest of this post for why that's off base). God is not unduly "concerned with his own honor" - actually He is the only one who properly values His own glory. More to the point though, all His attributes are infinite and perfect - morality, righteousness, holiness. There are no "slight offenses" against infinite perfection - only infinite offenses. So when God requires infinite punishment for infinite offenses, I have to concur the sentence is proper, reasonable, and just.

I should follow by saying the benefit to humanity of the existence of eternal hell is the existence of a just, perfect, trustworthy, praiseworthy, glorious God enforcing this eternal punishment as one part of His overall addressing of the problem of evil - including, of course, the gospel of gracious salvation for those who repent and put their faith in Christ to save them from the punishment they have earned while allowing them entrance into the eternal heaven they do not deserve.

Very well put, Sage S.

Perhaps it would place things into perspective if we better understood what the cause and nature of the suffering in hell actually is. Rebellious humans who will end up in hell, insisted to be separated from God in this life. However, they were not entirely granted that during their sojourn on earth. They continued to benefit from God's grace and availability, without which they would continually suffer during this life. By casting them into hell, God is simply granting them that which they made clear over a lifetime of rebellion is what they wanted, a complete separation from God and any of his grace, which is the source of any comfort that we might have enjoyed in this life. Remove that, and you have constant suffering. While it is true that hell is a punishment and indeed that punishment is a just one, it is also a justice dispensed in accordance to the expressed wishes of the one being punished. Which gives a whole new level of meaning to the saying "Be careful what you wish for..."

Ron,
you have confused numbers having a beginning with where you happen to begin counting them. The number line goes in both directions as well as infinite numbers between the whole numbers and so on ad infinitum. Hell at least as far as we are concerned has a beginning it may not end ( who knows? ) but it does start.

Arnauld,

Just a few last things I would like to mention and we can rest on this debate.

Your comment, "...there is nothing truly pious about believing things of God that run counter to everything you know about the Good because you take them to be affirmed in scripture."

What you've said here is important because it demonstrates an all-too-common misconception of God that exists among many Christians. There is a rampant sort of hesitancy to explore the wrath of God when we are seeking to understand God's personality. We only want to see beauty and not the terror. This is where it is important to understand divine justice and immutability. God changes not. He is perfect and infinitely just.

Taking scripture verbatim, maybe for some, is a gesture of piety, but I assure you that a thinking man's brain can do the very same without any sort of concern for holy appearances. There are certainly Christians out there who have a sort of, "It is because God says so" sort of attitude and that's always going to be the end of the discussion, but that's because they don't really know God beyond a one-dimensional image of his word manifested as ink on paper. You have just cause to be annoyed with that sort of preachy indolence. These are the Christians marching up the highway wearing sandwich boards, yelling through megaphones, warning us all of the rapture, or whatever they fell up to yelling about -- EXACTLY what Jesus tells us not to do in Matthew 6:1-7.

You really should read a book that the author of this blog recommended in a previous post, "Knowing God" by J.I. Packer. Each and every argument you have made, he answers and he does it in such an ingenious and convicting way. It revealed some hypocrisy in my faith that I was previously unaware of. It's quite convicting. I'd be interested to see you revisit and rexamine your arguments after reading it.

http://www.amazon.com/Knowing-God-J-I-Packer/dp/083081650X

Respectfully, Melissa S.

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