Does the eternity of Hell make God an unjust, vengeful tyrant? The answer is No.
Hell is not a pleasant place to be or think about. It should be something that repulses us but this repulsion shouldn’t lead us to reject God rather it should lead us to reject Hell; not to deny its existence but to do what we can to stay out of it. There are some reasons why the unending punishment of Hell is justified.
The first reason why the unending punishment of Hell is just is when we consider the gravity of an offense against time. A Jesuit philosopher wrote that “Time cannot be the standard by which punishment is to be determined” ( Natural Theology, 340; Kindle edition). The measure of punishment due to sin is the gravity of the fault. According to St. Thomas Aquinas “The measure of punishment corresponds to the measure of fault, as regards the degree of severity, so that the more grievously a person sins the more grievously is he punished” ( ST, supply.III: 99:1). In order words, it is the internal wickedness of an offense that is the measure of expiation for it.
The gravity of an offense is determined according to the dignity of the person sinned against. Since the rejection of God’s absolute right to our obedience, worship and love is a moral disorder of the highest degree. Everlasting punishment seems the appropriate way to pay for it.
The second reason why the unending punishment is just is because the alternatives are unreasonable. If the permanent punishment is rejected as not the best way to punish someone. Then the alternatives; temporal punishment and annihilation – the act by which God stops someone from existing. These two alternatives cannot be used because they go against the nature of mortal sin in relation to God. The duration of Temporal punishment is much to small relative to the reward given while annihilation doesn’t give room for any punishment or justice to be served. The sinner goes unpunished because he would stop existing. Furthermore, it would violate God’s wisdom to annihilate the soul he created in an immortal nature. Moreover, St. Aquinas argues that because God’s power is manifest in preserving things in existence, to take a soul out of being would hinder that manifestation ( Summa, 1:104:4).
The third reason is that it’s befitting to reason that an individual makes a permanent choice for or against God at death. A permanent choice for God means a permanent reward while permanent choice against God means a permanent punishment. The scripture made us to know that there is no repentance after death. “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgement” (Heb 9:27). At the moment of death when a person makes the choice against God, he chooses not to love God forever- the perversity of the will is forever determined. Therefore, the punishment for such perversion is eternal as well. This is the reason the catechism defines Hell as the “definitive self-exclusion from God” and that if a person dies in a state of mortal sin, Hell will be his lot ( CCC 1033, 1035).
In conclusion, the reason why the unending punishment in Hell is just is also the reason why unending rewards in heaven is just. St. Aquinas wrote, As reward is to merit, So is punishment to guilt. According to divine justice, an eternal reward is due to temporal merit and an everlasting punishment is due to temporal guilt ( Summa, supply. III: 99:1).
Summarised by Chioma Betina Okwara
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