Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The current book I'm reading presenting two schools of thought in the Christian world regarding the duration of punishment in Hell has been quite engaging as I recently finished the first half of the argument, that of the Annihilationists: after death the soul ceases to exist and is reconstructed by God before the final judgment. Those that are found guilty are thrown into eternal lake of fire to suffer for a time before being burned up into nothing. Quite a seductive argument as that what most of us would want to believe. To escape the punishment into the blissful sleep of non-existence.

I'm currently well into the opening arguments presented by the Traditionalists. This side (which I'm also holding) holds the traditional view that after death the soul proceeds to a temporary place of holding, those who died in Christ proceed to heaven where they are rewarded according to the result of their works while those who died unrepentant proceed to hell where they await the final judgment and subsequent punishment in the eternal lake of fire where they will remain for all eternity. I'm well into three arguments opening for Traditionalism with specific responses from Tertullian, Agustine of Hippo, and perhaps the most sobering of all, that of Thomas Aquinas. As written in his Summa Theologiae in a section dealing with guilt this was his answer to those who claim that it is unjust for God to render everlasting punishment for sins committed during the limited time span of a person's life:

The duration of a punishment does not match the duration of the act of sin but of its stain; as long as this lasts a debt of punishment remains. The severity of the punishment matches the seriousness of the sin.
That alone would have made enough sense but he further drives his point to the follow up question: What makes sins committed in this life so serious that they deserve a never-ending penalty? Thomas' response was:

Further, the magnitude of the punishment matches the magnitude of the sin. ... Now a sin that is against God is infinite; the higher the person against whom it is committed, the graver the sin—it is more criminal to strike a head of state than a private citizen—and God is of infinite greatness. Therefore an infinite punishment is deserved for a sin committed against him.
These are sobering thoughts we should all consider and not take lightly while there is still time.

* Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 121

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