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My understanding is that the concept of Hell can have multiple interpretations. Some see it as a temporary purgatorial state or as a state of separation from god. My question focuses on Christian beliefs where Hell is characterized as a place of eternal conscious torment.

Do Christians holding such beliefs see the idea of infinite torment in response to finite sin as generally compatible with that of a loving, just, or benevolent creator? Is there a consensus on how to reflect on this issue?

What bothers me about the idea of eternal punishment is that it would actually be better for a person to die as soon as they are baptized, since that would drastically reduce the possibility of being sentenced to Hell. The person might end up in Heaven anyway, but getting a few comparatively fleeting conscious moments in exchange for a higher risk of infinite pain looks to be an insanely poor deal. (For the sake of argument, we may ignore the denominations which believe that damnation is pre-determined)

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    – agarza
    Oct 31, 2023 at 2:04
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    The most common answer to this that I have heard is that although the sins might seem finite, because they are against an infinite god they deserve infinite punishment to satisfy God's justice. Fortunately, I'm an annihilationist so I don't have to try and wrangle that question, and I find that particular response very problematic Oct 31, 2023 at 3:32
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    It is what God says on the matter that counts, not any human 'consensus' (not that you'll get one.) Our Creator is infinite; so is his justice, righteousness and holiness. Every sin every human commits is a sin against God. That included sins of omission as well as commission. Only when sinners get some clear idea of what sin is to God (instead of looking at it from the sinful human point of view) might it dawn on them just what the nature and extent of our offenses against our Creator amounts to. But humans seem to think that God can sweep sin under a cosmic carpet. Really? The Bible explains
    – Anne
    Oct 31, 2023 at 18:12

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The enormity of the response to sin is measured by the Person sinned against.

A life spent in sin is a wasted existence and an affront to the Creator who gave the gift of existence.

And, further, and far,far greater is the matter of unrepentance in the face of the sending of God's own Son, in humanity, as a remedy.

What more could have been done to redeem and restore a created creature ?

And what possible outcome can there be if the creature despises and rejects such an unspeakable gift ?

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  • In this case the Creator is creating a flawed creature out of nothing that has a high risk of being sentenced to eternal pain, and then chooses to be affronted when the creature he himself designed behaves in a way that he expressly included as a likely possibility. It sounds more like abuse than a gift, especially considering that god could have provided a finite punishment, or perhaps a return to unconsciousness instead, or any other change to make it less dystopian while retaining free will. That is what prompted me to ask the question.
    – Qwokker
    Oct 31, 2023 at 18:47
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    @Qwokker Personally, I am profoundly grateful for being brought into existence, as a gift, and for being convinced of my own sinfulness as a creature, and for being pardoned, through the shedding of the blood of Christ and his sufferings. I cannot understand the concepts that you express. No further comment, thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 31, 2023 at 18:54
  • God is infinite in so many ways, why is time/duration the only aspect we apply to the punishment? Nov 1, 2023 at 18:56
  • @IsaacMiddlemiss I don't know whom you mean by 'we'. I certainly do not, myself.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 1, 2023 at 19:05
  • @IsaacMiddlemiss from my interpretation, the infinity of the punishment is what makes other aspects pale into (literal) insignificance.
    – Qwokker
    Nov 6, 2023 at 14:19
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I will address this point in a partial answer:

What bothers me about the idea of eternal punishment is that it would actually be better for a person to die as soon as they are baptized, since that would drastically reduce the possibility of being sentenced to Hell. The person might end up in Heaven anyway, but getting a few comparatively fleeting conscious moments in exchange for a higher risk of infinite pain looks to be an insanely poor deal. (For the sake of argument, we may ignore the denominations which believe that damnation is pre-determined)

Some Christian denominations (such as Reformed) believe in unconditional election and the perseverance of the saints. Under such a system of eternal security, there is no benefit to be gained by dying immediately after salvation. You will not fall away.

This idea turns shows a misunderstanding of the gospel. We are to love others like ourselves. If we die, how can we share the gospel with others? How can we save our children, our cousins, our friends, even our enemies?

Philippians 1:21-26

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Though under great hardship, Paul remained on this earth as long as he could in order to bless others, confident that should he die, he would be with the Lord in Heaven. Knowing that his own eternal state was secure, he could devote himself to serving others. He could follow what Jesus said:

Matthew 10:39

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Seeking to die quickly after being saved just to be assured of heaven is one way of trying to save your life. Paul knew it was better to lose his life (suffer) for others because in the end that is what would contribute to him gaining a more blessed life. And that blessing is not a works-based righteousness. The blessing is seeing in heaven forever the people you cooperated with God in saving. Their eternity in heaven is part of your eternal treasure.

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You asked about consensus. The correct answer to that question is that there isn't consensus. There isn't even consensus as to whether humans can wind up in "hell" in the first place! (See "universalism".)

That said, I and many Christians consider universalism heretical; there is much evidence both from scripture and from observing real people that not everyone wants to spend an eternity with God, and I believe God does not force Himself on anyone. Rather, I believe that all those who desire God will find Him, and that He doesn't force Himself on those that don't.

As to what happens to those that don't desire God, opinions vary. Some believe in annihilationism; that is, those who aren't saved will (eventually) cease to exist. Others believe in perpetual torment. One rationale given is that humans are so consumed by sin that we fail to appreciate its severity. (Passages such as Matthew 5:29-30 are sometimes used to support this.)

What's important to note here is that many believe that punishment for sin is not a "one size fits all" matter. Again, scripture supports this, e.g. Matthew 10:15. If one imagines "hell" as a spectrum of possible outcomes, some of which may involve either some sort of cessation of existence, or at least a lessening into ennui (e.g. Lewis's The Great Divorce), the idea that perpetual torment is reserved for the likes of Hitler is far less offensive.

Then again, your premise of infinite punishment for finite sin may be flawed. We know that those redeemed will be truly free from sin, but it's unclear if all will be free from sin after Judgment.

Thus, to summarize, there are several possible responses to your objections:

  • The severity of sin is not understood / greatly underrated.
  • Sinners continue to sin in eternity; therefore, infinite punishment is not for finite actions.
  • Infinite punishment doesn't apply to all humans, and possibly to none.

It's also possible that all of the above are true.

I would also strongly recommend this video by Mike Winger, which directly addresses some of the points raised in the Question.

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    Slight correction, annihilationists do believe in eternal punishment, as the term is in the bible. We believe what is eternal about the punishment is the result, rather than the process. Thus the necessary distinction "eternal conscious torment" to denote the traditional view Oct 31, 2023 at 23:03
  • There were some great answers, but yours provided me with a great overview. Thanks
    – Qwokker
    Nov 6, 2023 at 14:21
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You first need to understand that

Hell was not created for man but for the devil and his angels who are eternal

The devils and his angels tried to commit the most abominable thing in the heavenly realm

They tried to take over the Great White Throne

Now God is a person who is capable of emotions, He can be jealous and he can also get angry. So to punish Lucifer and his angels for this grevious sin, he created hell and condemned all of them to this place for their rebellion.

The demons know this is their final place and they tremble. The reason why God created hell is to discourage any other beings from re-trying what Lucifer and company tried to do.

Now God loved men, he didn't want any man to end up in this place of torment and anguish that the devil and his company are condemned to, so

He sent his only begotten son to pay the price for their sin so that whoever believes in him, may have life eternal

You have to understand that people do not sin out of their own full ability, there is a spiritual force in a high place that is inciting their hearts to do it. This chain of wickedness that starts with a natural desire originates with the devil. He incited Eve to eat of the fruit and he continues to do the same to incite people to sin.

From God's perspective when man sins, he sees the same rebellion that started in front of his throne being extended to his creation here on earth. So he decides all, even men who join in this rebellion will suffer the same fate.

And that explains why men also share in what was originally intended for the devil and fallen angels.

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  • This is well explained but I do have a few questions. My understanding was that the traditional justification for theodicy is that to preserve free will, god permits suffering to occur. But if the devil is the source of sin in the hearts of men, why doesn't god prevent the devil from this incitement in the first place if humans aren't sinning out of their free will anyway? It seems awfully cruel to have a limited being such as man be lumped in Hell with supernatural beings when the latter are precisely the only reason that the former sinned in the first place.
    – Qwokker
    Oct 31, 2023 at 15:12
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    @Qwokker, the devil takes advantage of natural desire so that the flesh overrules the soul instead of the soul overruling the flesh. This spiritual struggle is always the soul struggling against the flesh. In the beginning the soul of Eve struggled against the flesh to eat of the fruit because the soul knew God commanded them not to but the flesh desired the fruit and the will of the flesh prevailed and she sinned. Nov 1, 2023 at 4:31
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    @Qwokker, during this struggle between the flesh and the soul, the devil comes and incites for the will of the flesh to prevail. Nov 1, 2023 at 4:32
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Any wrong we have done to God is infinitely greater than the wrong He has done to us (because His wrong to us is zero).

Therefore, an infinite response is not disproportionate.

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  • The question is, what would be God's purpose in causing, or even allowing, someone to suffer agony for all eternity? That is something a vengeful sadistic psychopath would do, not something a loving creator would do. ¶ Compare with what you would do with an uncontrollable incorrigible pet dog. Would you "destroy" it, or would you cage, starve, and kick it for the next ten years?) Nov 1, 2023 at 14:01
  • The purpose? Justice requires it. How? That depends on how you define justice. That definition is beyond the scope of comments.
    – EvilSnack
    Nov 1, 2023 at 14:05
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My understanding is this: there is no literal punishment with fire, demons, and brimstone, arranged in nine concentric circles, for unrepentant sinners (although that's a great story). But if someone doesn't stop sinning, then at some point Jesus has to invoke Occam's Razor and assume that that's his personality.

And if that's his personality, then by definition it is stable across time and situation. What more can Jesus do? If it's stable across time, then giving him a few more years, or 10,000 more years, or exp(10^120) billion years (Source) won't change it. And if it's stable across situation, then reincarnating him as a woman, a rich man, a celebrity, etc... won't fix him either. His punishment is that he has to coexist with redeemed humanity, who sees him as a vicious man with little redeeming qualities. Maybe nobody's going to judge him or hold his sins against him, but nobody's going to seek his company either. Seeing that he's a misfit, then he goes into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:42, Matthew 13:50, Matthew 22:13, Matthew 24:51, Matthew 25:30, Matthew 8:12, Luke 13:28)

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