Does Sin Against An Infinite God Require Infinite Punishment?
At the end of his discussion of Gehenna, A. J. Pollock makes a statement that most Christians would read without giving a second thought. Here are the final paragraphs of that section:
At infinite cost to Himself, God has provided a way of escape, even through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ who bore all the wrath of God against sin and making full atonement for it.
The invitation to come to Christ is world-wide, emphatic and insistent. Would that all paid heed to it now, for:-
“There are no pardons in the tomb,
And brief is mercy’s day.”
There is then not the shadow of a doubt but that the Bible teaches the existence of a literal hell. We are told it is “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Sad it is that man, in his folly refusing the mercy of God, must face upon the judgment seat Him who desires that all men should be saved. Thus will they seal their own doom in the companionship of the devil and the fallen angels.
HADES and Eternal Punishment
A J Pollock
It is that first sentence that I am talking about. Does the Bible say that Christ paid an infinite price for us on the cross? The statement sounds good but is it hyperbole or is there biblical backing for it? Pastor Pollock hits this same theme pretty hard in some of the following sections and it is an important point. Once this idea is accepted then it is easily extended as follows: If Christ paid an infinite price for our salvation then those who reject the gift of salvation must also pay an infinite price. In the case of fallen humanity that “infinite price” is eternal conscious torment in the Lake of Fire.
That logic is fine if the premise is sound but is it sound? In my research on this topic I realized that a biblical case for “infinite cost” is not, and probably cannot, be made using scripture. Our Lord and Savior when he died on the cross paid the penalty for every sin that has ever been or ever will be committed by the human race. Even though the number of sins committed by the human race is large they are still finite in number and committed over a finite period of time. Of course the price He paid was a heavy one and I am eternally grateful for His sacrifice. The questions still remains: was that price infinite?
In my study of this topic I found that the argument for Christ paying an “infinite price” on the cross is a philosophical one and not theological. Rather than make a ham-handed attempt to explain the origin of this myself I am going to quote Edward William Fudge from “Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialog”:
The stones of medieval caste-consciousness. For six or seven centuries after Augustine, most Western theologians neither developed traditional teaching nor called it into question, but contented themselves with passing it on. Then came Anselm (d. 1117) and Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) in the high Middle Ages. During this period “the soul’s immortality and its adventures after the separation of body and soul came to occupy the center of attention at the expense of the heroic picture of resurrection.” Both Anselm and Aquinas assume that the soul is immortal and interpret biblical teaching concerning hell on the basis of that assumption, although Aquinas reasons from Aristotelian rather than Platonic philosophy. The primary contribution of Anselm and Aquinas to traditionalism is the notion, based on feudalistic systems of justice, that finite man can pay for his sins against an infinite God only by suffering torment for an infinite period of time.
Anselm sets out his case for the traditionalist hell in his works Cur Deus Homo (bk. 1) and Proslogion (chaps. 8-11). Rather than examining scriptural language in light of scriptural usage, Anselm reasons within the framework of his feudal society. In Anselm’s world the same crime could carry any one of a number of punishments depending on the rank of the criminal and especially of the victim. A serf might be executed for committing a particular crime, while a person of nobility who committed the same crime might only be assessed a fine. The king, of course, could commit the same deed with impunity. A serf who insulted a fellow serf might go unpunished. Upon insulting a lord, a serf might be jailed. Any serf who insulted the king would likely be beheaded. Taking his cue from such “justice,” Anselm reasons that God is worthy of infinite honor and that sin against God therefore deserves infinite punishment. Because humans are finite, Anselm argues, they cannot suffer infinite punishment in a finite period of time. Therefore they must suffer conscious torment forever (infinitely) in hell.
Not only do all civilized nations today reject such feudalistic concepts of justice, Anselm’s model actually contradicts a fundamental principle of jurisprudence presented by God in the law of Moses. God demanded that the Jews provide the same justice for every person, regardless of the person’s rank or standing in society (Ex 23:3; Lev 19:15; Deut 1:17). This principle of a single standard applicable to all classes of people found clear expression in the law known as the lex talionis—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Lev 24:19-22). It did not matter whose eye was at stake or whose tooth had been knocked out; the punishment was the same for all. Furthermore, Israel’s laws were intended to elicit praise for the justice of God himself (Deut 4:5-8). In this light it should be clear that the arbitrary and discriminatory practices of feudal society provide no reliable starting place for developing Christian theology.
Fudge, Edward William; Peterson, Robert A. (2009-08-20). Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (Spectrum Multiview Book Series) (pp. 191-192). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
What Edward William Fudge states in that last paragraph is true. The Mosaic Law, which lex talionis is part of, was meant to reveal the God of Israel to the world. If God acts in ways that are contrary to the Law He gave Israel then the Law reveals nothing of God.
[Click on this link to see the next installment in this series: Pollock on Universalism]