While the infinite tortures of hell have been a popular motivational device for centuries, the time has come when this doctrine is far more of a liability than a help – if it ever was a help. It is a liability because modern people, unlike their ancestors, don’t shirk at the audacity of evaluating and judging the God of the Bible, and by any reasonable evaluation, a God who subjects anyone to infinite punishment is infinitely unjust.
Justice demands equality of crime and punishment. “An eye for an eye”. “Let the punishment fit the crime”. A finite human, by very nature, cannot commit an infinite offense, therefore, infinite punishment is unjust. Let’s take an example. Imagine the worst person who ever lived. Nominations vary, but Hitler is always a popular choice, so let’s use him as an example. Because of Hitler’s evil, millions of innocent people suffered horribly and died. So, let’s suppose that after death, Hitler is thrown into a hell of unimaginable suffering and torment. Let’s leave him there a while.
We check back on Hitler after 20 million years. For 20 million years, he has been in unimaginable agony, screaming in incoherent torment day and night. Doing some calculation, we find that he has suffered more than the combined total suffering of all the people who suffered because of him. Adding up the suffering of everyone who was tortured, everyone who starved, everyone who was gassed, everyone who was shot – or everyone who died in the war… Hitler’s agony has now exceeded them. Justice is presumably satisfied. But let’s be thorough. Let’s also add up the suffering of everyone who was effected peripherally. We’ll calculate the suffering of all the people who lost loved ones. We’ll add in all the people who suffered grief, anxiety – heck, even annoyance. We come up with another suffering quotient – and we send Hitler back to the flames.
200 million years later, we come back. Once again, for all this time – for a time longer than recorded human history, Hitler has been screaming in agony. He has now suffered all the sufferings of everyone remotely affected by his evil and then some. But we want to be very sure about this. After all, it’s Hitler, and early parole will be frowned upon. So we send him back to hell, and this time we take a really long vacation.
We come back in a billion, trillion years. Hitler, all this time, has been in excruciating agony – worse than any pain anyone can imagine. He has suffered more than the combined pain of everyone who ever lived – not only on earth, but (if there is life on other worlds) every inhabitable planet. His life on earth, during which his misdeeds occurred, is less than a microscopic dot in the long, long tale of his unimaginable suffering. The whole history of human suffering is insignificant compared to the suffering of this one man.
Can ANYONE presume that at this point – justice has not been satisfied – even for Hitler? He has paid completely out of proportion to his crimes. He has suffered so horribly that all other human suffering is a drop in the bucket. And yet, the doctrine of an infinite hell suggests that at this point, his suffering hasn’t even begun. He will continue to scream in guttural anguish – on into eternity, until there is nothing to remember of his entire existence but an infinity of suffering. Is this justice? No, it is infinite injustice. I venture that there isn’t a normal human being who would not have pulled even Hitler out of this kind of torment aeons before this point. Are we more merciful than God?
The idea of infinite suffering is infinitely unjust. The God of the Bible, if he insisted on such a thing, would sink below the most bloodthirsty God of the Aztecs in his cruelty. He would be so cruel and malicious that it would be a mark of the highest possible virtue to oppose him.
Just as a pre-emptive rebuttal – it has been suggested that we ARE guilty of infinite sin, because our sins are against an infinite God. Just as I receive a worse punishment for spitting at a judge in a courtroom than for spitting at a passerby on the street (because of the more exalted status of the judge) it is said by some that ANY sin against God is an infinite sin, because God is infinite.
But the analogy leaves out an important detail. We can only commit sin to the limit of our own capacity to understand sin. A monkey wouldn’t be found in contempt of court for making faces at a judge. Neither would a small child. They don’t sufficiently understand their offense (although a child might understand enough to be at least scolded). To commit a great offense requires greater understanding. To commit an INFINITE offense requires INFINITE understanding, and no human being is capable of infinite understanding. No human being can even comprehend the nature of an infinite offense, far less commit it.