Objection 3 Why Are People Punished Infinitely for Finite Crimes

How can any wrongs we've committed in this life merit eternal punishment? Isn't it unfair to say that a finite life of sin warrants infinite punishment? Where's the justice in that?

"Wouldn't a loving God make the punishment fit the crime by not making hell last forever?" I asked as I sat back down on the edge of the couch. "How can we do anything in this life that would warrant eternal torture?"

"Remember, it's not torture," Moreland pointed out. "The wording is critical. It's not eternal conscious torture; it's eternal conscious suffering due to being sentenced away from God."

"Okay," I said, "but that doesn't answer the question."

"No, it doesn't. But let me try. First, we all know that the degree to which a person warrants punishment is not a function of the length of time it took to commit a crime. For example, a murder can take ten seconds to commit; stealing somebody's Encyclopaedia Britannica could take half a day if it took a long time to break into the house. My point is that the degree of someone's just punishment is not a function of how long it took to commit the deed; rather, it's a function of how severe the deed itself was.

"And that leads to the second point. What is the most heinous thing a person can do in this life? Most people, because they don't think much about God, will say it's harming animals or destroying the environment or hurting another person. And, no question, all of those are horrible. But they pale in light of the worst thing a person can do, which is to mock and dishonor and refuse to love the person that we owe absolutely everything to, which is our Creator, God himself.

"You have to understand that God is infinitely greater in his goodness, holiness, kindness, and justice than anyone else. To think that a person could go through their whole life constantly ignoring him, constantly mocking him by the way they choose to live without him, saying, 'I couldn't care less about what you put me here to do. I couldn't care less about your values or your Son's death for me. I'm going to ignore all of that'-that's the ultimate sin. And the only punishment worthy of that is the ultimate punishment, which is everlasting separation from God.

"As Alan Gomes has pointed out, the nature of the object against which the sin is committed, as well as the nature of the sin itself, must be taken into account when determining the degree of heinousness.7

Moreland's answer made me think of the incident where a lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest law is. Jesus told him: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and, love your neighbor as yourself."8

In the United States, the most serious crime-murder-is punishable by its most severe sanction, which is being separated from society for life in prison. And there did seem to be a certain logic in saying that defiantly violating God's ultimate law should bring the ultimate sanction, which is being separated from God and his people for eternity.

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