Eternal Punishment?

I was thinking today about the idea of eternal 'punishment' or 'judgment'.  A lot of people have a hard time thinking of a loving God who would 'punish' people 'eternally' for not believing in him or some other qualifier.  This got me thinking of the judgment that was forced upon creation because of treason from Adam and Eve.  We know that Adam and Eve were removed from the presence of God (Genesis 3).  What if that removal was not just limited to Adam and Eve?  It seems that the presence of God was also removed from creation.  Before the rebellion, Life permeated all of creation, not just Adam and Eve and not just the garden.  But when they committed treason, that life-giving, life-sustaining presence was removed.  God removed himself from our realm of existence and all of creation spun out of control in a 'cursed' state.

Paul wrote in Romans 8, '...all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse.  But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.'

So, what if judgment is not actually an active punishment by God?  I agree that God actively punishing people seems to run contrary to the truth that 'God is Love' and that God is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.  But what if God was not actively involved in the 'punishment'?  What if 'punishment' or 'judgment' was actually the removal of the presence of God?  This, to me, seems more likely the case.

The same can be said of 'eternal punishment'.  People are not sentenced to 'hell' for 'eternity' as punishment.  God, in his love, is giving them what they want.  They don't want to be with him.  So, lovingly, he gives them what the do want -- an existence without God's presence.  What if that is what 'hell' really is -- the removal of God's presence from people 'for ever'?  What if 'hell' or 'eternal damnation' is God giving some people exactly what they want?  That, to me, lines up more with the character and nature of God.  That, to me, would explain a lot of the 'problem passages' in the Bible.  That, to me, would explain a lot of the life of Jesus and his teaching.  Think about his lament while going to Jerusalem, 'How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.  But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.'  The historical context is that the people of Israel wanted a war with Rome.  And war was what they got.

I am beginning to think that this might be a better way of understanding 'punishment' or 'judgment'.  What are your thoughts?

Peace be with you.

+ OD

Comments

J.W.M. said…
I strongly disagree.

I cannot think of anywhere in Scripture where God's presence is said to be removed. On the contrary, I read a lot of places in Scripture where God is said to be "actually not far from each one of us", and "in him we live and move and have our being". In Christ "all things hold together". "The eyes of the Lord are in every place". Christ "upholds the universe by the word of his power". And so on...

Moreover, the nature of eternal punishment reflects the nature of God's position toward sin. God is not simply withdrawn from sin, he is wrathful against it (Rom. 1). And John's Gospel tells us the wrath of God is "on" unbelievers (Jn. 3:36). That this wrath is something active is backed up by the propitiatory nature of the atonement - propitiation being something which turns away God's looming wrath. If God's wrath were simply a removal, what would there be to turn away?

God is love. But God is also just. Justice requires that sin be punished. Love puts forward a substitute. But those who reject the substitute have no covering. The wrath of God abides on them. You're a friend, Jack, but I suggest that in this line of thinking you are wrong.
Odysseus said…
Good points. In fact, very good points. I will have to shelve this for a while. Perhaps even pull this post in the future.

I still think that there is a removal of some sort of God's presence from our realm, but not to the degree that I was meaning. Maybe it is a little bit of both? I'm not sure.

I am not denying that 'all things are held together' in Christ or that in God we 'live and move and have our being' but that goes for all of the evil in the world, too. Doesn't it?

Perhaps I posted this too soon. That is one of things I do a lot of -- post too soon. I need to let my blogs ruminate for a spell before I publish them.

Also, I think that, maybe, those things are true since the advent of Jesus? Again, I'm not sure. And maybe that was what I should have opened with. 'These are just some thoughts that popped into my head that I haven't thought out yet.' Yeah, that might have been better. Maybe I should go back and edit the blog...

Thanks for the input, Jeremiah.

Peace be with you.

+ OD
J.W.M. said…
I think hell will consistent partially in a removal of every last bit of God's grace - which would effectively include his presence as well. My only point was that wrath is an active force, too.

Believe me, I wish hell could be softened - I love some people who are right now bound for it.
Pinball said…
Yay! Hooray! Something we completely agree on!

(Actually, I thought we had talked about this before.)

I've often said in Bible studies that our views on Heaven and Hell are far more influenced by Dante's Inferno than by the Bible. All the jokes we know and love and the cartoons we've all seen about the punishments in Hell contain imagery from Inferno.

I teach that the worst thing about Hell will be eternal separation from God. That he provided a way, made it clear, and we are responsible for the consequences. The greatest consequence is that we will be separated from God with no hope of reconciliation. And what makes it worse is that we'll KNOW it. That is, it's possible to be completely separated from God on earth and be largely ignorant of our condition. In Hell, there is a constant awareness of and a longing for communion with God. It's a thirst that cannot be quenched.

Conversely, the best part of Heaven is not some materialistic vision of mansions and whatnot. The best part of Heaven is uninterrupted -- and uninterruptable -- communion with the Living God! May His Glory reign!
Pinball said…
Oh, crud.

I had this page open for a long time, and I replied before JWM's comments were visible on my screen.

I guess I need to moderate my statements as well.

First, Jack, I don't think you should a) withdraw this post, b) edit it in any way or c) think about stuff before you publish it any more than you already do. One of the fun things about a blog is that they allow us to "converse" without being in the same physical location. I sure as Hell (so to speak) hope that your views change over time. Mine, too. So a good topical blog is one that serves as a community journal. We can all look back at it and chuckle about where we were wrong and marvel at where we were right.

Second, I don't think JWM's comments are as diametrically opposed to your post as they may initially appear to be. My thought about "the worst part of Hell" is sort of the link that holds the two thoughts together. The torment that JWM reminds of is the key. So the question becomes, what exactly IS the Wrath of God? We can't fully answer that, but it's worth talking about.

The biblical elements that ARE present in our Western vision of Hell include the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah and the story of the rich man and Lazarus. These both contain fire, and the former contains brimstone. Jesus also frequently referred to the afterlife of the lost with the word Gehenna. Literally, Gehenna was the trash dump outside of Jerusalem where fire burned 24/7.

And of course, there's the lake of fire in Revelation -- which, although it could be figurative and not literal, is still indicative of SOMETHING that ain't fun.

Now I'm going to speculate: What if this fire -- the Wrath of God -- is having to live with the knowledge of your sins forever? Of having to live with other sinful people in all their ignoble behavior forever? Of having NO HOPE of redemption? Is that not a fire that burns you without ever consuming you? Is that not torment? Yet it's not a direct act of God's punitivity. It's more like a "giving them up" as described in Romans 1.

I don't think this diminishes God's justice at all. In other words, I don't think God needs literal flames and torture to pour out his wrath on people.

I could be wrong, but I don't mind posting this.
Ted Gossard said…
OD, I think regardless of what the truth is on this matter (and this sounds strange and I could be wrong goes without saying) what you say is true here. Or at least an aspect is certainly true. God gives over people to what they want, and the results are not pretty nor are they good for the people, in reality. And the fire of hell, in some way describing a reality that only the fire here can hint at, is probably a consuming kind of endlessness in an existence in need of God but not wanting God and certainly completely bereft of him.

Hell seems to be the fulfillment of a life without God and his love.

I have kind of wondered if hell isn't in some way an expression of God in his jealous love. Certainly God does have anger against the wicked. And his name is Jealous. And fire goes out before him in judgment.

Whatever hell is, the Biblical description of it is horrific and surely beyond what we know of horrific. And in a true way, hell, like you say is God letting humanity have its way in a way that is a living death. Whereas we as Christian can die to that death in Christ and have consequently a dying life, here.

Thanks so much for this stimulating post! Great thoughts and sad but true and so vitally important things to ponder.
Ted Gossard said…
We miss you, OD.
lew said…
It seems for the punishment to fit the crime, one would have to examine how heinous the crime is. What if, with the finite mind we have , it would be impossible to comprehend the degree of offense perpetrated against the The Holy One?

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