A recent question, How do believers in hell respond to the argument "What finite crime deserves an infinite punishment?"? leads to a more fundamental question: How do penance or punishment, as opposed to repentance or destruction, make the universe a better place?.

We know that God has a purpose for everything he does:

Exodus 9:18 But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.

Job 42:2 “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven:

Ecclesiastes 3:17 I said in my heart, “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, For there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.”

Isaiah 14:24 The LORD of hosts has sworn, saying, “Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand:

Isaiah 14:27 For the LORD of hosts has purposed, And who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, And who will turn it back?”

John 12:27 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour.

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Galatians 3:19 What purpose then does the law serve? …

Ephesians 1:11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,

Revelation 17:17 “For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, …

We know that God is a god of love and forgiveness:

Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Acts 5:31 “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Ephesians 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,

Colossians 2:13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,

1 John 4:8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

The simple view presented in the Bible is that eventually all mankind will either:

  • Repent, accept God's way of life, and receive eternal life (the vast majority).
  • Reject God and be permanently destroyed (a small number of incorrigible).

1 Timothy 2:3–4 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Revelation 20:15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

But many denominations believe that:

  • After repentance, one still needs to do penance (and Catholics believe in additional purgatory after death).
  • If one does not accept God, one will have an eternal life of perpetually experiencing punishment, with no hope of its ever ending.

The words "penalty" and "retribution" do not appear in the Bible (KJV).
In the New Testament, "vengeance" appears only once, and "justice" not at all.

But "love" appears over 500 times in the Bible.
And "forgive" appears more than 50 times in each of the Old and New Testaments.

Given that God's message is one of love and forgiveness, not of vengeance and punishment, what do those that believe in punishment say is God's purpose in choosing to make people suffer after death (i.e. what good will result from it)?


I'm not asking why God punishes sinners.
I'm not asking why God permanently destroys incorrigible unrepentant sinners.
I'm asking why, rather than extermination, some denominations teach that God will perpetually torture these sinners; what purpose do these denominations think this will serve?

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    God has given of himself in creating the soul. It cannot be uncreated. And it must exist somewhere. Righteousness demands just judgment. But none of these concepts is present in your question.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 2 at 19:21
  • @NigelJ, so you're saying that some denominations believe that God didn't realize the implications when he created immortal souls, and then for lack of anything better to do with his mistakes he decided to torture them forever? ¶ Fortunately, the Bible says nothing about immortal souls (and in fact explicitly says that souls can die), so one can only conclude that their God must be a false god. Commented May 3 at 2:01
  • I have reviewed your comment, carefully, and I feel no need to alter my own, in any regard.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 3 at 13:22
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    I think your last sentence is theologically wrong. God does not chose to make people suffer. That is not His purpose.
    – Lesley
    Commented May 3 at 15:26
  • 2
    "The simple view" according to you, I guess because it's definitely not obvious that those two points necessarily follow unambiguously from Scripture. "Wide is the path which leads to perdition"
    – eques
    Commented Jun 4 at 17:22

3 Answers 3


God is not out to "make the universe a better place" by punishing sinners. God is out to reveal his righteousness through the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that all who put faith in what Christ did to save sinners will be freely pardoned, without God's righteous judgment being violated, as said here:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed.... Romans 1:16-17 A.V.

Yet a few verses on, Paul warns those who despise God's goodness and longsuffering, who harden their hearts, who are contentious, not obeying the truth but obeying unrighteousness, that they are heaping up righteous wrath for themselves. The whole gospel of Jesus Christ has to be understood in order to answer the question raised, and that pertains to understanding the righteousness of God. All that he does shows forth his righteousness. But if we start trying to understand biblical matters of punishment and destruction from the point of view of sinful humanity, we will never understand why God does what he does.

There is no simple view of this all-pervading matter of the righteousness of God. Simplistic views abound, of course, ideas that satisfy sinners because they don't have to face up to the utter horror of a sin-marred universe of which we are an integral part. The gospel itself is the declaration of the righteousness of God which reveals how God can forgive sins in righteousness. It is not a part of but the whole of the gospel - how can God forgive sins? How can he pass over his own revealed wrath from heaven (Romans chapter 2)? How can he pardon sinners consistent with his own nature and attributes? The gospel faces the real issue: the nature of God, whereas false gospels, partial gospels, other gospels, always begin and end with man. And they always degenerate over time. Because with man-centered false or partial gospels the appeal is always to self-interest at the expense of divine truth. But the gospel of Christ declares the righteousness of God.

Until that is understood, nothing else relating to how God judges in righteousness will be grasped. This has to be the starting-point; what God himself has told us as to his basis for judgment. Then we might see how "the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:21-22). Even before creating this universe, he had the plan of salvation ready (Genesis 3:15), awaiting the time when the Son of God would bear sin, in his body, defeating sin, death and the devil. But that plan is all about establishing the righteousness of God. To fail to see that is to fail to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The answer to the question is that only the righteousness of God can deal with sin, and sinners, in justice. And it's not our idea of justice that counts, for we have sinful ideas that keep striving to justify ourselves, and establish our own supposed righteousness, when it is God alone who is righteous. That is the only approach to the question that will reveal the answer, which is why I have answered as I have done. An entire book thrashing this out meticulously, which has 332 pages of exposition of the book of Romans, is called Justification by Faith. It will fully answer this massively complex question raised here. Details of it can be had at http://www.johnmetcalfepublishingtrust.co.uk/contact_us.htm

EDIT Due to 4 points being edited in to the original Q, I answer that the purpose of everything God does is to demonstrate to the unrighteous (all of us, plus demonic rebels) that he is utterly righteous in all his ways, in all his judgments. That is what Jesus’ account of the rich man in torments points to, and which the eternally burning lake of fire in Revelation reveals. Of course, anyone not believing that God gifts us with an eternal soul will never believe in eternal torment for those who want to live without God – they get what they want, for eternity. The biblical principle, that we reap what we sow, applies in eternity. After God justly judges everyone, they are assigned their eternal destiny. And the Day of Resurrection and Judgment proves the utter impartiality of God in judging justly, when everything hidden is revealed.

A most fundamental question we personally need to face up to is whether we will accept what God has told us in his word, or whether we will find some things so distasteful to our sensibilities that we will interpret them so as to feel comfortable with them. For all who put mankind’s viewpoint first, they might come up with such ideas as ‘penance’ as mitigation, or utter destruction of body and soul so that nothing is known or experienced. Jude’s warning of some as ‘wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever’ (vs. 13) is dismissed as metaphor for annihilation. Well, how can anyone wander if they don’t exist? How can anyone know they are in blackest darkness if they don’t exist? See Rev.14:9-11.

But I’m not here to argue for the eternal soul and the eternally burning lake of sulphuric fire. I’m here to answer the Q: The perpetual consequences of rejecting God’s provision for pardoning repentant sinners demonstrates God’s righteousness. It is by understanding the biblical gospel that we come to see this. Paul said he was not ashamed of the gospel, “for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed” Romans 1:16-17. Anyone not grasping that, will be ashamed of that gospel in some way or other, as are those who seek to water it down with regard to God’s punishment of unrepentant sinners. All sorts of interpretations, claimed to be from the Bible, will be employed. And all such interpretations, such as penance while in purgatory, or eternity only applying to the redeemed, undermine Christ’s finished work on the cross.

  • Up-voted +1. The gospel faces the real issue: the nature of God . . . . Amen.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 4 at 18:47
  • Note that I was asking about punishment, not destruction. Given an unrepentant incorrigible sinner, I claim that a loving God would simply choose to mercifully destroy them and permanently eliminate the problem. My question is for those denominations believe God would instead choose to cause that person to suffer forever: the person will never change, so what purpose would God have in inflicting perpetual pain and suffering on them? Commented Jun 4 at 18:58
  • @RayButterworth In view of you now having added 4 Notes to the Q, I have added an edit to my answer.
    – Anne
    Commented Jun 5 at 8:31
  • "Due to 4 points being edited in to the original Q". The addition said nothing that the original didn't already say. I added it because people seemed to be missing it. Commented Jun 5 at 18:09
  • I said "eventually all mankind will either: Repent, accept God's way of life, and receive eternal life (the vast majority) [or] Reject God and be permanently destroyed (a small number of incorrigible).". If the purpose of perpetual torture is "to demonstrate to the unrighteous", why does it continue after judgement day, when there are no more unrighteous people left? Commented Jun 5 at 18:13

God’s retributive justice has no obvious benefits for the person punished other than satisfying justice. Grace has no conditions of works in its full rehabilitation and no limit to its undeserved benefits. Law and Grace are not mixed and infinitely separate. Those perishing outside of grace have no reasonable expectations of any remote benefits or happy purposes of God, centric around them. There is nothing about eternal punishment that contradicts eternal grace or eternal justice or any other attribute of God, rather eternal punishment is most consistent with them. Sin is an infinite crime. If we saw sin as sinful as it is we would never feel it deserves less than infinite punishment.

God‘s mercy and grace are infinite. God did not save man by punishing his son with an infinite punishment simply because his poor heart could not withstand to see his infinite justice vindicated. He saved man because of infinite goodness and love and would never allow his infinite justice to go unanswered no matter how severe and extreme the punishment appears to human reason. Human reason can’t really understand infinity.

What do the scriptures say simply?:

They say it punishment is eternal. Both heaven and the lake of fire are eternal:

Matthew 25:46 (ESV):

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Revelation 20:10 (ESV):

10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

They say that the destruction in fire is not something that removes the existence of a person but causes pain and that eternally:

Luke 16:24 (ESV):

24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

2 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV):

9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

Mark 9:48 (ESV):

48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

They say that the saints will more appreciate the grace they have received and better understand the excellencies of God’s goodness freely offered to men by witnessing how horrible his wrath is upon those that would not receive it and therefore took the penalty upon themselves rather than that offered by the penalty bore on Christ:

Romans 9:22–25 (ESV):

22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

So the punishment is justly eternal, the mercy of God offering to punish His Son instead whereby offering eternal grace is also eternal. The benefits of God punishing those who do not receive His Son to atone for their sins, is the most eternal-of-eternal crimes. To expect mercy when rejecting mercy is contrary to reason. There are many ways that the saints and the angels benefit from all and every expression of God’s glory. God is glorified in many ways by the eternal punishment of the wicked just as he is glorified in the temporal punishments on earth of evil men and woman.

To reject the eternal punishment of the wicked is simply to think less of God’s glory and have less understanding of the sinfulness of sin.

One could wrangle about each verse and say ‘it’s not really eternal, those are allegories’, ‘it’s not really “tormented forever” that’s just hyperbole!’ but even if some of the verses are in the context of Christ’s parables and even if hell is probably as difficult for us to comprehend as is heaven, the scriptures clearly do not mind un thinking about them as everlasting.

The rich man in hell wanting a drop of water from Abraham was alive not burnt into nothing and in torment and his cries for mercy were not heard (to satisfy justice):

Luke 16:22-24 ESV

22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

The main benefit of the duration of punishment is probably the satisfaction of justice. Satisfaction of justice also may benefit all those that witness it, whether other humans, angels, or possibly even the punished themselves. It’s not impossible that even the devil being eternally punished, not only glorifies God’s justice and contrasts the glorification of His mercy on the cross gloriously, but even is ‘best for the devil’, otherwise he may be subjected to an even more crooked state of mind, if he were running free to continue being the god of this world. Although these benefits for the damned may be true, we need not expect any benefit for those outside Christ and are just theory. No man can fully understand the mystery of God’s love and Justice working together.

To imagine that God can satisfy His justice with mercy is false. Someone must satisfy the Law and the Law has zero percent mercy. Men can ignore justice, from empathy, God can’t. Sometimes that is corruption and sometimes that is actually a good Christian thing to do, depending on the circumstances. God is not man. Both his love and his justice are infinite and do not find compromises with each other. Mercy means either postponing the eternal judgement, to give a person a chance to believe in Christ and thereby have the eternal penalty of the Law transferred put on Christ, or mercy is simply the gospel itself being offered.

Note: Although I added my own thoughts and some verses, the essence of my argument is more-or-less copied by a good sermon on the topic by Jonathan Edwards (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2 Edwards, Jonathan SERMON XI the eternity of hell torments). He is the person I usually like to compare thoughts with on the topic of hell.

  • — "If we saw sin as sinful as it is we would never feel it deserves less than infinite punishment." But why would forgiving and loving Christians want another human being to suffer punishment of any kind, much less torture that lasts forever? — "into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" I.e. dead forever as opposed to alive forever. — "Luke 16:24" is a parable, not to be taken literally. — "eternal destruction", exactly. — "their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" I.e. they will be consumed completely and no longer exist. Commented May 4 at 0:17
  • None of this answers the question as to why a loving and forgiving God would cause people to suffer forever rather than simply destroying them. I.e. what purpose does continued suffering serve? Commented May 4 at 0:21
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    @RayButterworth - you seem to have a problem with punishment to satisfy justice when it is opposed to mercy (which was offered but refused) You think mercy should be forced on them or at least partially forced. I have thought similar thoughts before. But if God could ignore his justice for the sake of his mercy like men can, why destroy them? Why even send Christ to be punished for them? It’s just a matter of degree. Why not just remove our sinful nature and take us all to heaven? In this logic he could, so God is cruel as he doesn’t even need to destroy them. Scripture paints the apposite.
    – Mike
    Commented May 4 at 1:18
  • @RayButterworth - added last para to address more the topic
    – Mike
    Commented May 4 at 1:24
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    @RayButterworth - I also added the rich man 'alive' in his eternal death and very much in torment 'pleading for mercy' that he did not receive. This is a good parable for you in particular, as in the parable you propose the water would be given in mercy and goodness because there would be 'no reason' to keep 'torturing the poor man' - that rejected mercy through faith prior to entering into hell and now he has no chance and no mercy because the Law has no mercy and only grace can confer mercy. Someone must satisfy the law.
    – Mike
    Commented May 4 at 1:42

God prevents the punishment of the wicked from making the universe a better place. His purpose is not to use their suffering to make a point; His purpose is to silence them.

This is made clearest in the Scripture quoted by @mike, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. If the Rich man were permitted to warn his brothers and they heeded his warnings, then his warning would have contributed to their salvation, but this would not be a salvation based on faith, for they would have been granted a special sight of the world to come. Nothing may be added to the Gospel. As @anne says in her answer, the gospel of the righteousness that is by faith is everything.

When a man possessed by an unclean spirit tried to shout that Jesus was the Holy One of God as in Mark 1 or a slave girl with a spirit of divination tried in Acts 16 to call Paul and Silas servants of the Most high God, God silenced those spirits. On the occasion of the demons sent into the pigs, the dismissal of the spirits interrupted their words about the timing and reality of the judgment to come. God does not want His message to be polluted by the deceitful words of demons or fallen people.

The "making better" part of God's activities is Grace. This judgment upon the wicked is to prevent them from any more polluting God's world with their sinfulness. Silence, darkness, and distance is their fate.

The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” - Revelation 11:18

When all further possibility of destroying is destroyed, then Grace can complete its work of building the New Jerusalem and growing the new Eden.


The eternal punishment of the unrepentant wicked is part of God vindicating the truthfulness of His words, such as Jude 7 which tells us that the punishment is eternal.

By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” - Romans 3:4

Eternal punishment is only eternal if it lasts forever.

  • "His purpose is to silence them." — Exactly. That's what a loving and merciful God would do. The question though is for those that believe these sinners will be perpetually tortured: what purpose does it serve to make them suffer rather than exterminating them? Commented Jun 4 at 19:02
  • "Eternal punishment is only eternal if it lasts forever." — True. But extermination is forever, and so much more merciful, so why do the torture thing? That is my fundamental question. Commented Jun 5 at 19:59

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