Eternal Punishment for Temporary Crimes?
by Jason Wisdom
As the saying goes: “The punishment should fit the crime.” We all agree that it would be unjust for a judge to sentence someone to the death penalty for a speeding ticket. But what about God sentencing people to eternal punishment for sins committed in a finite span of time? Isn’t that overkill? Christians often argue that suffering we face in this life is very temporary, almost nothing, when compared to eternity in Heaven. “It is just a drop in an infinite ocean,” they say. But doesn’t that same idea work in reverse? Aren’t the sins that a person commits in his or her short lifetime rather insignificant when compared to punishment that lasts for eternity?
These are all excellent questions arising from highly emotionally charged concerns. The problem is that they are somewhat misdirected. We should be considering the nature of the offense and punishment rather than their respective durations. It is a bit like saying “the death of one man can’t pay for the sins of millions of men.” But what if that one man was also God? Obviously, that changes things. You see, no good judge would get hung up on
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quantity at the expense of judging quality. Suppose a defense attorney said, “It is unfair for my client to be sentenced to 80 years in prison for a crime that took him less than a minute to commit.” The severity of the punishment is primarily based upon the quality of the crime, not merely how long it lasted. The nature of the offense is what matters the most. What would we think of a judge who sentenced a man who stole 3 candy bars more harshly than a man who stole a car? We wouldn’t be distracted by the fact that there were 3 candy bars and only 1 car. We would immediately think about the value of what was stolen. Why then should we assume that God would be more concerned with how long a person lived or how many sins they committed (quantity) rather than the nature of sin (quality)?
When we conclude that a human judge has acted unjustly, we are appealing to a higher standard of justice. The trouble is that when the judge is God, there is no higher court to which we can appeal…