Thoughts to Ponder

Eternal Punishment - is it fair?

I have had many people tell me that God is not fair if He punishes people for all eternity when all they did was sin in this life. Their point is that even if a person lives to be 80 years old and sins repeatedly everyday, punishment for eternity is too much and is not fair.

My first response to people like this is that they just don't understand the gravity of our sins. We judge things as humans and we don't truly understand what sin is in God's sight. I believe that and I know that in the end God will be fair and just and in the end we will all agree. Even those who are sentenced to an eternity in torment will agree, that they have been judged and punished justly. But I still understand why people feel this way and why some people have even left the faith because of this supposed problem.

In this article I want to give another possible explanation. My reason for doing so, isn't to defend God, He doesn't need me to defend Him. Nor is it to give a new revelation, because I don't have a new revelation to give. My purpose is to show how easily we as humans try to judge God by our own standards and how miserably we fall short when we do so. As I said this is not some new revelation I have obtained from God, but a thought that I had that might explain eternal punishment. I hope to make you think, and in the process, realize that God is not bound by our logic or our sense of justice.

I think most of us think of eternity in the terms of years. We think about a million years and then think that another million years is waiting after that and another million after that and so on. It is normal for us to think like that because our whole life is determined by time; seconds, minutes, hours, days and years. We think of time like we think of the earth, it is a constant, something that never really changes. This is not the truth, it is just our feeble minds trying to comprehend something that we can't really get our minds around.

One of the greatest minds came up with a theory that addresses time. His name of course was Albert Einstein and his theory was the Theory of Relativity. I will be honest and tell you that most of his theory is way over my head, but I can comprehend little bits and pieces of it and want to quote a little about it here:

Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity predicted that time does not flow at a fixed rate: moving clocks appear to tick more slowly relative to their stationary counterparts. But this effect only becomes really significant at very high velocities that approach the speed of light.

When "generalized" to include gravitation, the equations of relativity predict that gravity, or the curvature of spacetime by matter, not only stretches or shrinks distances (depending on their direction with respect to the gravitational field) but also will appear to slow down or "dilate" the flow of time.

In most circumstances in the universe, such time dilation is miniscule, but it can become very significant when spacetime is curved by a massive object such as a black hole. For example, an observer far from a black hole would observe time passing extremely slowly for an astronaut falling through the hole's boundary. In fact, the distant observer would never see the hapless victim actually fall in. His or her time, as measured by the observer, would appear to stand still. The slowing of time near a very simple black hole has been simulated on supercomputers at NCSA and visualized in a computer-generated animation.

Now the reason I wanted to quote that was to show that even time is not what we often think. We assume that it is something that is unchanging, that has been around forever and will remain the same for all eternity. In fact we think of eternity in the terms of time. What Einstein showed was that our concept of time is flawed. Why is it flawed? Because we forget where it came from. Time is not God and God is not time, God created time as part of this creation. It (time) did not exist before God created it, just as this earth did not exist before He created it.

God is not bound by time. When we say that He has always existed, we are not saying that He has existed for some infinite period of time. In fact if you had to put a time on how long God has existed you would be limiting Him by His own creation, since time is only as old as creation then God could only exist after time was created. See how hard this is to get your mind around? The point is this, God has always existed, outside of time because there is no time to God, it is a thing, a created thing that is part of His creation, it does not bind Him, it does not affect Him, yet He works in time for our sake.

This is an important point in our discussion. Because I believe that the only truth that we can be sure of is what God has told us, let me go to His word to show you what I mean:

Genesis 1:14-19 And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, [15] and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. [16] God made two great lights--the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. [17] God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, [18] to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. [19] And there was evening, and there was morning--the fourth day. [NIV]

Notice that when God created the sun and moon and stars He did so for our benefit, so that we would have day and night, so we would have seasons and days and years. But this was not when God created time, this was just when He created a way for us to understand and tell time. I want to make that point clear because if you believe that on the fourth day God created time, you open yourself up to the error of the gap theory, where you no longer have 6 literal days of creation. So let me quote once more from God's word:

Genesis 1:1-5 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. [2] Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
[3] And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. [4] God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. [5] God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day. [NIV]

See God created light on the first day, before He created the sun and moon and stars. Then there was evening and morning… Evening and morning show time, even if there was no sun to set or rise. So don't be fooled by the gap theory, creation took 6 literal days- evenings and mornings. It is just that it wasn't until the fourth day that there was a sun and moon so that we could tell time, seasons, days and years.

Now to continue in our biblical proof that God is not limited by or bound by time:

Joshua 10:12-14 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: "O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon." [13] So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. [14] There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! [NIV]

Isaiah 38:7-8 "'This is the Lord's sign to you that the Lord will do what he has promised: [8] I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.'" So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down. [NIV]

God made time stand still one day and on another day He made time go backwards. He can do this because He is the creator of time. Until we understand that we can't truly understand much about God. If we try to trap Him inside of His own creation we lose sight of who He is.

Now that we understand that God created time and that He is not bound by it or dependant on it in anyway, why would we believe that time will exist in eternity to come? Stop and think for a moment about what I am saying. Once God has raised us imperishable in our new resurrected bodies, why would we need time? Remember that time was instituted in a way we could comprehend when God created the sun and moon and stars. With that in mind look at the following passages:

Isaiah 60:19-20 The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. [20] Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. [NIV]

Rev. 21:23-24 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. [24] The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. [NIV]

Rev. 22:5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. [NIV]

The sun and moon will be gone, there will be no night. If there is no night then there will be no day and night, so time, as we understand it at least, will cease to exist. All there will be is now, no before, no after, just now. We see this idea when God says His name is "I AM" in response to Moses. Before time was created God is. Not was, because that requires time, but is.

What does this have to do with eternal punishment? Well after God judges all mankind and the people whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life are welcomed into the Kingdom and those whose names are not in the Lamb's Book of Life are sent to hell and hell in thrown into the lake of fire, if there is no longer time, then all you are left with is now. The present, no past, no future, just now.

So there won't be anyone who is in hell being punished for even one day much less a million years. They will just be punished - now. You might still say that this seems unfair because they will continue to be punished, but again continue requires time. Without time, there will never be a punished, as in past tense, only present tense punish.

How could Jesus pay for our sins while on the cross? Again we must be careful not to try to bind God with time. To us Jesus was on the cross for a short period of time, while God the Father poured out His wrath for our sins on Him. But since God is not inside of or bound by time, that period was now. I won't claim to be able to explain this any better than I can explain Einstein's Theory of Relativity, but I think we can get a glimpse into the idea of a world without time. If there is no time with us because we are with God, then there would be no time without His presence in the lake of fire either.

Again I am not trying to give some special revelation I have had, just my thoughts as a way to show you that we know so little about the creation we live in that when we judge God and He comes up short in our eyes, the problem isn't with God, it is with us. When people walk away from God because they just can't believe in a God who would punish someone for all eternity, again the problem isn't with God, it is with us and our feeble intellect that can't even understand time, much less the boundless wonders of God. This is where faith comes in, faith that God is who He says He is, and that is a loving, merciful and just God.

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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April 2005