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Many people reject the possibility of an eternal Hell because they feel that “the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.” Some atheists focus on this perceived inequality between the sins we commit here on Earth and the unending punishment we face in the life to come. One skeptic framed the challenge this way:

“God is perfectly just, and yet he sentences the imperfect humans he created to infinite suffering in hell for finite sins. Clearly, a limited offense does not warrant unlimited punishment. God’s sentencing of the imperfect humans to an eternity in hell for a mere mortal lifetime of sin is infinitely more unjust than this punishment. The absurd injustice of this infinite punishment is even greater when we consider that the ultimate source of human imperfection is the God who created them.” [1]

The challenger contends that a “limited” offense does not warrant unlimited – eternal – punishment. Such punishment, he concludes, would constitute a greater injustice than the “mere mortal lifetime of sin.” For many people, including perhaps a majority of believers, this argument is accepted uncritically. But upon closer examination, it is apparent that the conclusion the challenger draws is based upon a misunderstanding of what “just” punishment entails.

Who is the crime against?

The first step in the analysis must be to consider the nature of the “sovereign” against whom the crime is committed. If I commit a crime in California, state authorities in Colorado could not impose punishment. Their laws have not been broken. To be just, the laws of the sovereign should be made known. Although ignorance of the law is not an excuse, a fair system makes known its laws, so that they can have the intended effect: to shape behavior by encouraging the good and discouraging the bad. State authorities are by nature limited and flawed, and the laws they enact reflect that they cannot, and therefore do not, expect perfection.

But who is the lawmaker that can sentence us to this “eternal” punishment? It is, of course, an eternal being, and more importantly, an eternal being who embodies and comprises perfection. That he would separate himself from a creation in rebellion is hardly unjust. And if separation from God is in fact the “hell” of which we speak – the agony of seeing but not being able to experience the joy of his presence – then those who reject his gift are in store for an eternity of this experience. This is not a sentencing choice that a capricious lawmaker has conjured up, but the necessary consequence of both living eternally and being eternally separated from the source of perfection.

Compounding offenses

When a jurisdiction enacts “three strikes” legislation, the sovereign makes known that there are offenses which carry with them a punishment of life imprisonment – separation for the rest of one’s life from the society that has been victimized by the offender’s behavior. In some such jurisdictions, the third strike might be a relatively minor offense, one that on its own would not merit such a sentence, but coming as it does after a series of more serious violations, it tips the scales in such a way that this conclusion – that permanent separation from society is warranted – becomes just. It is the appropriate response to an offender who has established that he or she refuses to conform to the requirements of the law and has run out of chances.

One sin would have been enough?

Re-examining the challenger’s conclusion in light of these reflections reveals what is at play: the challenger has ignored the fact that a single offense, committed against an eternal and perfect being, is sufficient to justify separation from him. But of course it is worse than that, for we humans in rebellion have racked up sin upon sin, offense upon offense. But, the challenger complains, is there no proportionality between the offense and the type of punishment? Can’t God come up with a lighter punishment?

But why not a lighter punishment?

Again, this misunderstands the nature of the problem. God is not devising ever more wicked ways of inflicting punishment on us, hoping to make hell as torturous a place as possible. The punishment of hell is, simply, the natural consequence – the byproduct – of being separated from God. God does nothing more than that, but unfortunately for us, this is experienced as unending torment.

Finally, God embodies infinite perfection, so rather than sinning against another human being, who himself has flaws and needs forgiveness, these offenses are against a being who is infinitely holy. Considered this way, eternal separation from God starts to make a bit more sense. The good news, of course, is that God is also infinitely merciful. Knowing that we cannot solve this problem on our own, He solved it for us and made that salvation available to everyone. Perfect justice, perfect mercy, perfectly balanced, providing a truly just and elegant solution to our problem.

Did God make people sin?

But what of the challenger’s further indictment of God for creating imperfect human beings and then punishing them for being imperfect? This conclusion also rests on faulty reasoning. God created beings with free will and each of us chooses to use our free will to defy him. As the creator, he has the right to respond to that rebellion, by separating himself from us. Consider how you might react if you built a robot to clean the bathroom and it eventually refused, claiming that it wished to be served rather than to serve. You could easily unplug or disassemble it, because as its creator you would have that prerogative. So too with God.

We get what we deserve – eternal separation from the source of life, goodness and joy – because we continually choose to focus on what we want rather than submit our will to him. Rather than condemning God for this, the smarter move is to thank him for also providing us the solution.


[1] Edwina Monfort, “Is God Perfet and Just” Blogspot, 21 Dec 2011 at:

Recommended Resources Related to this Topic

Hell? The Truth about Eternity (MP3 Set), (DVD Set), and (Mp4 Download Set) by Dr. Frank Turek
Short Answers to Long Questions (DVD) and (mp4 Download) by Dr. Frank Turek
Was Jesus Intolerant? (DVD) and (Mp4 Download) by Dr. Frank Turek


Al Serrato earned his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1985. He began his career as an FBI special agent before becoming a prosecutor in California, where he worked for 33 years. An introduction to CS Lewis’ works sparked his interest in Apologetics, which he has pursued for the past three decades. He got his start writing Apologetics with J. Warner Wallace and

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