As I was formulating my next question, I rose from the couch and wandered toward the front window, pausing in a pool of sunlight that was dancing on the carpet. The Massachusetts case involving Judge Mathers was lurking in the back of my mind.
"Our sense of justice demands that evil people be held accountable for the way they've harmed others," I said. "And in that sense, hell might be an appropriate sanction for some. However, it violates our sense of fairness that Adolf Hitler would bear the same eternal punishment as someone who lived a pretty good life by our standards, but who made the decision not to follow God."
Moreland was listening intently. "It seems unjust that everyone is subjected to the same consequences," he said. "Is that what you're saying?"
"Yes, that's right. Doesn't that bother you?"
Moreland turned in his Bible to the New Testament. "Actually," he said, "everyone doesn't experience hell in the same way. The Bible teaches that there are different degrees of suffering and punishment."
He came to Matthew 11 and his index finger searched until it settled on verses 20-24, which he read aloud:
Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."
Moreland closed the book. "Jesus is saying that people will be sentenced in accordance with their deeds," he said.
"No one-size-fits-all?" I asked. "Justice will be adjusted according to each individual?"
"Exactly. There will be degrees of separation, isolation, and emptiness in hell. I think this is significant because it emphasizes that God's justice is proportional. There is not exactly the same justice for everyone who refuses the mercy of God.
"Remember, if God really does let people shape their own character by the thousands of choices they make, he is also going to allow them to suffer the natural consequences of the character that they've chosen to have. And those who are in worse shape personally will experience a greater degree of isolation and emptiness."
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