Eternal hell is inconsistent with justice.
For a penalty to be just, it must be proportional to the crime. If the punishment exceeds the crime or is cruel and unusual, then the punishment itself becomes an act of injustice. We do not condemn petty thieves to death, nor do we torture liars and fraudsters. These punishments exceed the crimes and are therefore unjust.
Now consider the threat of eternal hell: eternal torment for a single lifetime of sin. Does this sound proportional?
Consider the worst offenders in history, our Hitlers and Pol Pots and Stalins, who are responsible for the deaths of millions. Even they would have a finite and proportional penitence to pay – perhaps one lifetime in hell for every lifetime destroyed on earth. Or perhaps a hundred lifetimes per life lost. In any case, the law of proportionality dictates that damnation be finite.
Not only is hell disproportionate, it is solely punitive rather than rehabilitative. Its purpose is to punish through torment. Again, torture is hardly consistent with justice. For hell to be just, it must be finite and serve to prepare the soul for redemption.
Because the concept of hell is so obviously unjust, but we believe God is supremely just, we have to justify. We tell ourselves that hell is “supreme justice” or “final justice” or “God’s justice.” These euphemisms warp our understanding of both God and justice.
We are forced to understand God as one who condones eternal torture. I would argue that we must understand God as all-loving to understand hell. If God is just, hell must be different than we believe it to be. If hell exists as popularly understood, God is unjust. I choose to believe that God is just. Thus my concept of hell must change to accommodate my belief in God – not my understanding of God to accommodate my concept of hell.
So what is hell? Hell is the experience of separation from God. The reality is that we are never separate from God, “for in Him we live and move and have our being.” He is fully present in all things at all times, including us. When we deny the God within us and seek out worldly vices, we fall into sin and embrace the illusion of separation: Hell. We can leave or return to Hell at any time.
Hell is a very real experience, but not a real place. “For I am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This leaves no room for a Hell. Only our choices and their consequences, and a God that offers us grace until we accept it.
This strikes me as supremely just.
A supporter of everlasting hell may point out that people are quick to condemn the unfairness of eternal hell, but no one ever condemns eternal heaven as too great a reward. This is a good point – for rewards to be just they should also be proportional. Eternal heaven and hell stand or fall together.
I am happy to concede everlasting heaven to avoid the absurdity of everlasting hell. The freedom of Heaven includes the freedom to leave it if one desires. It seems absurd to think that one would turn their back on Heaven and embrace Hell, but we see people make this choice every day. Many people destroy the heavenly circumstances they had or could have created, and they have the right to do this as piteous as it is. Every time we sin we turn our back on God and Heaven, not because we are evil, but because we buy into the illusion that sin and not God make us happy.
Just think of Lucifer’s fall from grace as a perfect example from Scripture.
One is always free to choose to align himself with God and remain in Heaven, or to turn from God and experience Hell. God will not impose a Heaven or Hell on anyone. The ability to choose is eternal; the consequences are not.
Read next – “Renounce the God of Blood Sacrifice”