No, this article is not about the politics or religious preferences of those involved in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
I’d rather make an important point about hell that could be made from watching C-SPAN last week. (Insert joke about watching congressional television here.)
During the confirmation hearings of Ketanji Brown Jackson an interesting side discussion arose about judicial sentencing.
In making the case for outdated sentencing guidelines for distributing child pornography Brown said, “You can be doing this for 15 minutes and all of a sudden you are looking at 30, 40, 50 years in prison.”
Though this did not help make her case, it did bring up an important topic (if only for a moment) about the sentencing duration for momentary crimes.
The right answer is clear, and not disputed (not even by Brown despite her poor statement to the contrary). The length of the sentence is not determined by the time it takes to commit the crime. The length of sentence is determined by things such as the severity of the crime and who it is perpetrated against.
A terrible criminal could spend 150 hours planning a heist to steal a pack of bubble gum and spend less time in jail.
Conversely, a criminal could go on a murderous rage and kill his family in a matter of minutes and go to jail for his entire life. The severity of the crime matters.
Likewise, a vandal could break the window on my house and be cited for a misdemeanor, but if the same vandal went and broke a window at the White House, there would be more serious consequences. Who the crime is perpetrated against matters.
Though pornography is legal in our country, the Bible speaks of it as a grievous sin. This truth lurks in the consciences of many in our religious country as pornography is a subject of shame and done in secret dark places by most people (except Hollywood producers).
However, if you produce pornography of minors then suddenly you are not looking at a dirty little secret, but a grievous offense even in the eyes of our fallen world. Who the crime is against matters.
What About Hell?
What does any of this have to do with hell?
Students of the Bible have been discussing justice and punishment for centuries as it concerns heaven and hell.
How can wrong deeds done in one short life give consequence to an eternity in hell? Should the crimes committed in a moment be sentenced with eternal damnation?
“But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:” – Mark 3:29 (which the hell deniers say is translated wrong)
These days where institutional justice is not trusted, and postmodern sentiments douse the fires of hell as being too judgmental and offensive to our subjective experiences, it is in vogue once again to deny the everlasting punishment of hell (or the lake of fire).
“And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” – Matthew 25:46 (deniers of hell say this is translated wrong)
It is denied on the idea that it is unjust to sentence people to everlasting punishment for sins only done in a short temporal life. This poor logic is the same raised in Brown’s statement.
The length of the sentence is not dependent on the duration of the crime, but on its severity and victim.
In the case of our sins, the wages (punishment) is death because the worst sins in God’s creation are the ones that go punished the least. Sins such as lying, pride, envy, malice, and sowing discord are hard to prove in human court, but God sees them clearly in our hearts and hates them (Prov 6:6-19).
Our crimes are severe, and they are perpetrated against the holy God of all creation and giver of life. This idea is what makes it worst to offend your father and mother than a stranger. Your father and mother are family and gave you life.
God has determined the sentence of our crimes to be death by everlasting destruction.
“Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” – 2 Thess 2:9 (deniers of hell say this is translated wrong)
This is based on the severity of our crimes (extreme), who they are perpetrated against (a holy God), and the fact that life itself comes from the very one whom we have offended.
Choosing to serve anyone other than the Giver of Life means you will not possess the comfort, peace, and joy of life. In other words you will be in torment forever.
“And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” – Revelation 14:11 (deniers of hell say this is translated wrong)
Good News About Justice
The good news about God’s justice is that in his abundant wisdom and grace has been able to meet out justice while saving sinners from this terrible sentence in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 6:23
The momentary act of Christ on the cross can atone for the sins of the world forever, because the atoning work was extreme. He put on humanity, innocently died as a criminal, and then defeated the power of death by his resurrection. This unlocks the door of salvation for every man.
Who he was also matters. He was not just another man, but God manifest in the flesh. He was eternal. That the eternal Son of God performed this act means his atonement has eternal consequences.
The severity of our crimes are atoned for by the extreme sacrifice of Christ. The offense against a holy God is appeased in the Son of God as our Saviour and great reconciler.
Men can be saved by the God of justice that meets out the equitable sentence, because he abounds in mercy and grace and fulfills all righteousness.
Hell is not unjust, but it is terrible. It commends God’s righteousness. God’s love is commended by Christ’s death while we were yet sinners. This, too, is the righteousness of God by grace. Hell is just, but so is salvation, and that to all who will believe the gospel of God’s grace.