The Goodness of God and an Eternal Hell
by Wayne Jackson, M.A.
How can a “good” God condemn someone to hell forever?
The late Bertrand Russell, a renowned British agnostic, authored a small publication titled Why I Am Not A Christian. One of the reasons he cited for his unbelief was that Jesus Christ taught that there is an eternal hell for the wicked. Russell could not harmonize Christ’s doctrine about hell with the biblical concept of a just and benevolent God; hence, he rejected the teaching of Jesus and inclined toward the belief that there is no God. Russell, who lived a life of reckless abandon, echoed the sentiments of Cain: “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” On that basis, he became a determined opponent of true religion.
The problem of reconciling eternal retribution with the goodness of God has also had a significant impact on the religious world. Many religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and the World-Wide Church of God (Armstrongism), have rejected the doctrine of the eternal punishment of the wicked. Even the churches of Christ have had their advocates of this erroneous viewpoint (cf. Fudge, 1982).
SOME AD HOMINEM ARGUMENTS
An ad hominem (meaning, “to the man”) argument is a type of reasoning employed to focus upon an opponent’s inconsistency. Let us, at the outset of this discussion, utilize such in conjunction with the “no-hell” theory.
First of all, a major premise of the no-eternal-punishment dogma is the notion that such a concept is at variance with true justice. The argument might be framed like this. The Bible speaks of a “just” and “good” God; it also teaches the doctrine of eternal hell. These two positions are mutually exclusive. Therefore, the Scriptures are inconsistent, and cannot be true. We insist, however, that those who thus argue are under obligation to defend their use of the terms “just” and “good.” By whose standard are these character traits to be measured? The critics of the Bible must not be allowed to become “theological dictionaries unto themselves”! Their reasoning is based solely upon their personal ideas of how goodness and justice should be expressed. If it is true that the Scriptures teach that God has appointed eternal punishment for impenitently evil people; and if it is likewise true that the Bible affirms the justice and goodness of Jehovah, then it must follow that eternal punishment is not inconsistent with the nature of God. It is only at odds with some men’s perverted sense of goodness/justice.
Second, no one (skeptic or otherwise) is ready to concede that evil-doers are unworthy of any type of punishment. It is recognized that no society could survive in such an atmosphere. Should the rapist, the robber, and the murderer be told: “Admittedly, you have done wrong, but we (society) will not punish you for your crimes. That would be unjust.”? Is there anyone who argues that there should be no consequences resulting from criminal conduct? Absolutely not! It is conceded, therefore, that “punishment” is not inconsistent with true justice.
Third, let us take our reasoning one step further. Is it the case that genuine justice can be served even when an evil man’s punishment is extended beyond the time actually involved in the commission of his crime? Do we, for example, in our criminal justice system, ask the murderer: “Sir, how long did it take you to kill your wife?”—and then assign his incarceration accordingly? Would justice be maintained by such an approach? Of course not. Here, then, is the point—true justice, combined with genuine goodness, allows the possibility that a wrong-doer may be required to suffer a penalty that is considerably longer than the duration of his evil. The real issue, therefore, is not punishment per se, or even protracted punishment; rather, it is eternal punishment. The skeptic (or religious materialist) simply wants to tell God how long the penalty is to be! Remember, though, in a system of true justice, the offender is not allowed to set his own sentence…
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