Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The sidebar notes for today's reading in my God's Word Bible read as follows:

Thank God that
even though you
deserved eternal
punishment, he
saved you. Thank
Jesus for taking
the punishment
that you deserved.

The phrase that I find challenging here is: "you deserved eternal punishment".

1. If the eternal punishment stated is to pay off some sort of debt, then how can little old Hypothetical Harry – alive for a mere 120 years tops – possibly run up a debt that gigantic? Surely Harry is incapable of this, unless the debt is unjust.

2. If Harry deserved eternal punishment, and Jesus took the punishment that Harry deserved, then Jesus must therefore continue to be punished forever, or he just hasn't paid off Harry's debt yet, and indeed never will succeed in doing so.

3. The purpose of punishment is, I reckon, to teach someone not to do wrong again. Therefore, if you punish someone eternally, then you continue to punish them regardless of whether or not they have learnt their lesson. So there is no benefit to either party.

Is the phrase "you deserved eternal punishment" valid? Does the word "eternal" really mean "without end"?

Labels: ,

4 comment(s):

At 4:11 am, Anonymous Rhett said...

Hey Steve.. not sure about the translation issues. But one author I really respect is John Stott. He believes in annihilation, not eternal conscious torment. I'd believe the same thing.

Wikipedia says, 'Stott wrote, "Well, emotionally, I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain." Stott supports annihilation, yet cautions, "I do not dogmatise about the position to which I have come. I hold it tentatively... I believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment."

Perhaps our "immortality" is conditional on being in the presence of God... hence if we are not in his presence (because evidently he can't stand sin) we cease to exist?

I'm not saying it's THE solution but it's one solution :-).

As for Jesus being punished forever.. well that's a mystery, but maybe the difference is down to the difference between being God and simply being jsut a man? No great answers... just some random thoughts.

At 9:01 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thanks Rhett – I really appreciate your thoughts – and Stott's!

Eternal torment certainly makes less sense to me than annihilation. I don't think I would go so far as to suppose that God can't stand sin, because he is both willing to forgive it, and I believe is intricately involved in curing it. I think I tentatively err on the side of Hell being as eternal as we choose to make it, in that we will suffer for as long as we refuse to give in and repent. In theory, Harry could choose to hold-out against God forever, but in practise, with God's eternal patience, at some point Harry would repent and choose God. I think God has the patience to do that to save everyone. Or maybe Harry could hold-out against repenting for so long that he would suffer so much that he effectively destroyed himself, against God's preferred will.

I find it hard to admit that the maths of penal substitution have never added-up for me. If one divides Jesus' recorded Earthly suffering by the huge number of people he saved, then it seems that each one of us wasn't due to suffer very much. Maybe a pinprick each. Of course, that doesn't factor in eternal suffering in Hell for everyone, but then Jesus himself said that he would be in Heaven shortly after his death. (Luke 23:43)

Likewise, I'm not offering any conclusions here either, just more random wonderings...

At 3:12 pm, Anonymous Rhett said...

Ah Stott has a great book on Substituion too.. called the Cross of Christ. "Penal" substitution I think is more to do with justification which is just one of the things the Cross accomplished.So I don't think you need to be pedantic about the word penal. (Man, the thirteen-year-old part of my brain is struggling right now!) :-)

Stott would argue (and I'd agree) that substitution (Jesus in our place) underlies everything Jesus accomplished on the Cross - redemption, restoration, reconciliation and many other things I suppose begin with "R".

...Which brings me to, what do you believe the Cross (or let's widen it to the whole incarnation of Jesus) is about?

At 4:57 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Sure, but let's keep this all hypothetical. I like the sound of Stott's 'tentative' stance, because it (hopefully) diffuses others' attempts to misrepresent him. The exploration in this post could so easily be mistaken for preaching!

I think the word 'penal' is relevant, because I'm discussing that Jesus may indeed be a substitution for us, but not necessarily as payment for past crimes.

A parent doesn't demand payment from their child for a sin, but tells them what they will suffer if they do it again, as a deterrent.

In a preceding book, God employs Ezekiel to act out the suffering that He is going to inflict upon His people, unless they repent and turn back to Him. Ezekiel does so and literally suffers the punishment for their sins, in their place. He's not paying for their sins, but he is suffering in their place, in the hope that they will repent and turn back to God.

Israel didn't repent, so God's next attempt at punishment (albeit 500 years later) has to be even tougher, so tough that he won't ask a mere man to demonstrate it. God therefore suffers it himself in the person of Jesus, again in the hope that His people will turn back to Him and not have to go through the awful punishment themselves.

As for what the wider incarnation of Jesus is about, just how much space does this internet thing have on it? :)

The strand that I do find running throughout the entire Bible is one of simply doing the right thing.

God's laws express what the right thing is. When we follow those laws, but ignore the rightness that they point to, then we've stopped following God. I think this is why Jesus got angry when no-one would tell him if it was okay to heal on the Sabbath or not. (Mark 3:4-5) They were following the law so hard that they had stopped following God. So he freed us from the law and gave us just himself (God) to follow.

I'm in no way seeking to subtract from the huge amount of other things Jesus did, or even saying that any of the above is right, just that I'm currently finding them helpful perspectives to consider. Let me add this further disclaimer: I often consider perspectives that I disagree with!



Post a Comment

<< Back to Steve's home page

** Click here for preceding post(s) **

** Click here for following post(s) **