Is Eternal Punishment Unjust?

Many atheists condemn God for the penalty of death for sin; they consider eternal punishment unjust. They and many others say that God is unjust to consign to hell eternally those who are unfaithful to Him. Their lack of understanding of death and hell result in wrongful accusations against God. 

God Himself is the Source of Life.[i] Separation from Him is death. Just as an offense in our human relationships creates a rift, so also sin, including unfaithfulness, separates us from God. Therefore, sin brings death upon us.[ii] 

This is beautifully illustrated by the account of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve first resided. In the garden grew two trees, referred to only as ‘the Tree of Life”, and “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”. God warned Adam not to eat from the latter tree. If he did, the result would absolutely be death.[iii] 

There was nothing remarkable about the trees; they possessed no special powers nor were their fruits specially seasoned to produce some unusual qualities. Rather, as long as Adam and Eve lived in the garden in accordance with God’s instruction to avoid the one tree, they enjoyed His fellowship, abundant provision, and favour, symbolically represented by the presence of the Tree of Life and their unrestricted access to it. They then knew only one another and God, Who is the sum of all goodness. They had no knowledge of evil. 

Upon rejecting His instruction, Adam rebelled against God, immediately acquiring the knowledge of evil. Thus the name given for the prohibited tree reflected the result of disobeying God’s command. 

By rebelling against God, Adam took himself out of fellowship with God, rejected God’s sovereign authority, and disdained God’s abundant provision. In effect, Adam separated himself from God, the source of Life. Adam incurred death.[iv] 

This principle applies to all men. If we rebel against God through unfaithfulness, or by committing acts that violate His word, we erect a barrier between ourselves and God. We have chosen to remove ourselves from the Source of Life. 

Every man who chooses sin has made himself subject to death – separation from God. It is man who has initiated the rift by his offense; he has chosen death. If there is no reconciliation, death is permanent – eternal. 

God has graciously offered a means of reconciling sinners to Himself through the death of Jesus Christ.[v] In going to the cross, Christ carried death on behalf of every man – the just for the unjust – so that our sentence might be justly commuted on the basis of our faith in Him.[vi] If we believe God, and place our faith in Him, and His mercy as offered by Him in Christ, we will be restored to fellowship with God on the basis of Christ dying in our place.[vii] Being restored to God is life.[viii] 

God has already judged sin.[ix] The penalty was predetermined. He has not changed His decree. When our time is through – when we die – everyone who has refused God’s offer of reconciliation will exit time condemned to eternal separation from God. This condemnation is called “Hell”. It is the righteous judgement upon all who reject God that they shall spend eternity separated from Him. 

The Bible does not clarify such details as the “location” of Hell. What we do know is that when men die, they stand before Christ in judgement.[x] They can no longer use their excuses to disbelieve or disobey. They will see at last the majesty and wonder of Him Who is all goodness, the only Source of Life and Light, from Whose presence they shall be banished for eternity. And they will weep and gnash their teeth in torment to know that there is no more hope, no joy, no peace; only darkness and despair apart from the Lord of Lords forever.[xi] 

God is not unjust. It is not He who created the rift. It is not the obligation of the one offended to offer reconciliation to the guilty. He has created abundant evidence of His presence and nature to draw men’s minds toward Him.[xii] He has set the Holy Spirit to convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgement – our “conscience”, bending us toward God.[xiii] And He has left the witnesses of His word, His church, and history to confirm the Truth and reveal His everlasting covenant of mercy to those who will hear. The evidence abounds, so that man is without excuse.If he chooses to go to his grave in rebellion against his Creator, man has only to blame himself. God’s final judgement acknowledges and affirms the sinner’s preference to live apart from God. 

[i] Acts 17:28;
[ii] Rom 6:23
[iii] Gen 2:17
[iv] Rom 5:12
[v] Col 1:20
[vi] Heb 2:9
[vii] John 3:16,18; Rom 10:9-10; Rom 3:25
[viii] John 17:17
[ix] Jn 12:31
[x] Heb 9:27
[xi] Matt 13:50
[xii] Romans 1:19-23
[xiii] John 16:8-11