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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Divine Punishment (Take 3)

I was pondering divine punishment and whether it was possible that both retibution and restoration could be joint reasons for it. In so doing I considered the limit case of Hell. I presumed that sin warranted eternal conscious punishment but mentioned in passing that I was not convinced that it did. Ryan asked me to comment more.

So I will.

As far as I am aware there are two different justifications given for eternal conscious torment.

Reason 1 (the Anselmian tradition). As I recall, it looks something like this.

1. God has infinite glory and honour.
2. Any sin against God (which is, in the end, all sin) is an insult to his infinite honour.
3. To insult God's infinite glory brings about an infinite de-merit.
4. An infinite de-merit deserves an infinite punishment.

So any sin against an infinite God deserves an infinite punishment.

Maybe so ... and yet ... and yet ...

The standard objection to this is simply that no sin that a finite creature could commit could warrant a never-ending punishment. And whilst debate still swirls around this neighbourhood I must confess that this simple objection seems to me to be exceptionally powerful.

One unhelpful consequence of the Anselmian view is that all sins - from stealing a pencil to torturing children - are made to be the same (i.e., infinitely bad). This seems not only massively counter-intuitive but also massively unbiblical (as the Bible seems happy to consider sins to come in differing degrees of seriousness). On top of that the suggestion that all sins deserve an infinite punishment is not an argument given in the Bible.

So whilst the Anselmian tradition might be right my theological instincts claw at me like scared cats when I start to consider it. But my post was an attempt to ask the question: if the Anselmian tradition is right is it possible for divine punishment to be both retributive and restorative? I was wondering if perhaps it was.

Reason 2: the (?) tradition.
Here sins do not incur infinite demerit and do not deserve infinite punishment. God punishes sinners in Hell because they deserve it. However, having rebellious hearts, they react to this punishment with yet more hatred and rebellion. By so doing they incur yet more punishment. This, in turn, brings about further punishment and so on ad infinitum.

This avoids the problems with the Anselmian tradition but it, in turn, raises problems of its own. The chief problem is that God is effectively maintaining ongoing sin in his creation for all eternity! Nay, not only maintaining it - provoking it! That seems ... very odd.

But let's suppose that this model is right. We can ask, Could such divine punishment be retributive and restorative? I think so. As soon as the sinner repents (because I don't see why divine punishment has to compund sin rather than reveal its true nature) the Spirit unites the sinner to Christ in his death and resurrection and they are liberated.

Of course, against the mainstream Christian tradition Hell could be conceived as annihilation. Annihilation is not compatible with restoration - it would have to be purely retributive. So if annihilation is the final destiny of some then it is not the case that all divine punishments are simultaneously intended to be retributive and restorative.

I am not certain whether all divine punishments have this double-warrant. Perhaps some are simply restorative or simply retributive. Perhaps some are both. I guess I am just wondering whether all might have such a dual-rationalle.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very clear presentation of the issue, and even more fat upon which to chew!

re the idea that "sin against the infinite God deserves infinite punishment. I've always found this attempt at logic very odd. When the Queen gave the young Prince Charles a spanking (according to this logic) the spanking was a "regal" spanking because the Queen is a "regal" person.

No it wasn't. It was just the same spanking any parent could give to a naughty child. There is no necessity that the regal status of the Queen MUST be attached to every thing she does.

I think you're right that the Bible doesn't insist on such a connection.

Robin Parry said...

Well I think that I would be prepared to go further with the Anselmian view than you would. I do think that God's status does affect the seriousness of crimes against God. Just as a crime against a human is more serious than a crime against an amoeba (because humans have more value) so too a crime against God is more serious than a crime against a human.

However, crimes against humans come in all sorts of degrees of seriousness and so too, so I think, do crimes against God. I am wary of any theory that levels all offences to the same level. I think that some sins are worse than others. The common Christian view that all sins are as bad as each other is just utterly ridiculous and is, so far as I can tell, without biblical foundation.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I take your point.

And that there are to be heavy and light stripes (Lk 12.47-48)for the unrepentant. Deut 25.2 in the OT gives the same principle for human justice, which I expect is also God's will for Divine justice.

Ryan said...

Robin, thanks for your post. It was infinitely (pun intended) helpful. In the evangelical circiles that I am a part of, Anselm's view of divine retribution is considered a matter of orthodoxy, but I've always felt an intuitive revulsion to the idea. Thanks for helping me clarify my thoughts.

Ryan said...

Perhaps God does not necessarily send people to hell for eternity for telling a little white lie or saying a cuss word. May be God sends people to hell for eternity because of original sin passed on to them from Adam. We all deserve eternal punishment b/c we all are responsible for the original rebellion against God. Perhaps original sin merits eternal punishment. What do you think?

Ryan said...

My gut reaction is to agree with you but the more I think about it, the more questions I have. What do you do with Mt. 25:41 which speaks of hell as an eternal fire, and Rev. 14:9-11 which speaks of eternal suffering for those who worship the beast?

Also, where in Scripture does it speak of God’s restorative justice with regard to hell?

Aionios said...

I think G Campbell Morgan was so right when he said we've got the NT word "eternal" all wrong (God's Methods with Men pp185-6).

As the adjective of aion (an age), it refers to the quality of the Age to Come, not the duration of it.

So eternal fire, eternal punishment, eternal life, eternal judgement - none of these is telling us how long it's going to last. RVG Tasker in his Tyndale Commentary on Matthew 25 makes the point very well.

As for Rev. 14.11. Isn't it strange that the phrase translated "for ever and ever" is actually unique in all the New Testament. All the other 12 occurrences in Revelation of the phrase "for ever and ever" is the common "eis tous aionas ton aionon". Only here alone is the phrase "eis aionas aionon" (without the definite articles).

I feel that surely there is some shift in nuance here. I wonder if "on into ages of ages" doesn't last as long as "on into the ages of the ages".

Unfortunately,translators traditionally just lump all these variations together under "for ever and ever". I wonder if we need to try harder than that!

Robin Parry said...

Ryan

original sin is a real zone of murkiness. Classically it has two components (although a closer look reveals several more).
1. All humans 'inherit' Adam's guilt and are thereby liable to punishment for his sin.
2. All humans inherit a damaged human nature from Adam which makes it impossible for them not to sin.

1. is what you have in mind. It does raise all sorts of questions. Chief among them is this one: How can John be held accountable and punished for the sin of a man who lived long before John was born? Some argue that Adam is the federal head of humanity and thus he (legally?) represents them before God. So his sin is (representatively) their sin. Other have argued that the guilt is passed on biologically (huh?). Others that God considers humanity as a single metaphysical unit and so the sin of Adam is the sin of all.
Suffice it to say that the issues are tricky!!!
On top of that there are very real questions about whether the idea of 'inherited' guilt is biblical at all - I am inclined to think not. Augustine got it from the Latin translation of Romans 5. If he could read Rom 5 in Gk he would arguably not have come to that conclusion (though it depends who you ask). On top of that the Bible always speaks of God punishing sinners for their own sins not for Adam's.

God would not punish someone for having a damaged human nature but such a nature leads to sin which God would punish.

I'm still not quite sure how I configure original sin. I don't feel obliged to go with Augustine - I do feel obliged to go with the Bible. As yet I have a fuzzy views (so I am not much help)

Robin Parry said...

Ryan

Good question on the Hell texts. I am not entirely sure what I make of all those texts (I'm not entirely sure what I make of most things - perhaps I should just believe 'the simple gospel', eh?).

I am dithering whether to even get into that issue as it would be a very long converation.

My strong inclination would be to argue that such texts do not rule out salvation from Hell (despite initial appearances). But it would take a long time to argue for that. Perhaps one thought as a starting point: in Rev 21 it very much looks like the 'nations' and 'kings of the earth' that had opposed Christ and the church are defeated, thrown into the Lake of Fire and THEN washed in the blood of the Lamb and enter the New Jerusalem. You'd need to read Rev 21 in the context of the whole book but without exception the 'nations' and 'kings of the earth' are distinguished from the church (who are described as those called 'out from the nations') and are enemies of Christ. To see them entering the New Jerusalem after their assignment to Hell is, to say the least, suggestive. It might open up ways of reading Hell texts in new light.

But my focus in these posts was not supposed to be Hell - it was supposed to be whether divine punishment could be both retibutive and restorative.

Ryan said...

Thanks Robin. Those are helpful thoughts.

Edward T. Babinski said...

If any tiny spec of sin merits infinite punishment, then I guess every tiny spec of goodness is also infinite in some way since it's connected with God's infinite goodness. These "infinite" analogies get you nowhere.

There is no logic to hell, most people suffer enough in this life, and none of us is actually shown hell. It's a story invented during the intertestamental age. Read the Book of Enoch and other intertestamental books, including Daniel, a late work whose final edited composition is older than anything else in the O.T. The O.T. is more full of "sheol" and punishment in THIS life than "eternal punishment."

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hell has also been used to promote one Christian theological view point over those of "heresies and heretics," and to promote fear of being "excommunicated" if you disobey the priest or preacher.

In other words for centuries "hell" has served mainly to divide Christians throughout most of history rather than to promote general goodness and lower crime throughout society.

Universalist Christians did without hell entirely and have included some great movers and shakers who spent their lives promoting charitable work and love of their fellow human beings. Florance Nightingale and Clara Barton to name two.

Visit tentmaker.org to learn more about universalist Christians and to read the quotations there on "hell."

Have you heard of "the abominable fancy?" It's mentioned at that site as well. Catholics and Calvinists indulged it for centuries. See Trevor Johnson's book, Seeing Hell, also found online as a manuscript. Talk about hell, read Trevor's work, the work of someone who has studied that abominable fancy and who believes it because the Bible says it's so.

If you can defend eternal hell you can defend anything, including the abominable fancy, once you learn the verses and justifications for it.

Robin Parry said...

Edward

Much as I would like to believe that Hell is a pagan myth imported into Christianity I find that suggestion to be highly implausible. At very least, there are a lot of NT and early Christian texts that need some very good alternative explanations before such a suggestion would win many converts.

re: universalists. You say that "Universalist Christians did without Hell entirely". Unless I have misunderstood you I think that I am safe to say that this is simply not true. From Origen and Gregory of Nyssa onwards Christian universalists have had a place for 'Hell' in their theological systems. Obviously not (usually) Hell understood at everlasting conscious suffering. But nevertheless, most Christian universalists in history have affirmed a post-mortem divine punishment - a punishment that they think the 'Hell' texts in the NT refer to. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that some universalists such as James Relly and John Murray (both 18th C)believed that sin did indeed deserve eternal conscious suffering and it is only because Jesus paid the price on the cross that anyone is saved from this fate. Other important figures such as Charles Chauncy and Elhanan Winchester were adamant that unbelievers would suffer divine wrath after death. And whilst the 19th C universalist denomination was split over the issue my understanding is that Ballou's no-hell line lost the day. (I'm no expert on the history of the universalist denomination so I could be wrong). Even some liberal 20th C universalists such as John A T Robinson thought that the NT Hell texts spoke of an 'eternal fate' for sinners and that such texts needed to be affirmed (albeit within a certain existentialist framework which also allowed one to be a universalist!)

But perhaps by 'Hell' you mean 'a specific understanding of Hell'. In that case, you would be close to being right.

TN said...

Robin Parry said ....

Augustine got it from the Latin translation of Romans 5. If he could read Rom 5 in Gk he would arguably not have come to that conclusion (though it depends who you ask).

Dear Robin,

I'm very interested in this shift from Greek to Latin and the effect it had on Theology. But I can't find any sustained analysis or comment on it. Do you know where I could look?

Thanks.

TN

Robin Parry said...

TN

here's what I just picked up from Peter Kirk's blof "Gentle Wisdom"

+++++++++++++++++++++++

"Doug Chaplin has recently explained how in Romans 5:12Augustine took Paul’s phrase “ἐφ᾽ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον” following the Vulgate “in quo omnes peccaverunt” to be “in whom [Adam] all sinned”.

(The Greek can be transliterated ef’ ho pantes hemarton.) Well, Augustine didn’t actually use the Vulgate, which was being translated during his lifetime, but the sometimes not very accurate Old Latin translations. But his Latin version seems to have been similar to the Vulgate here. Doug continues:

the Augustinian interpretation of Paul’s “ἐφ᾽ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον” as meaning “in whom all sinned” makes it the most disastrous preposition in history. All modern translations agree that its proper meaning is “because.”

More precisely, “the most disastrous preposition” is ἐφ᾽ ef’, a contracted form of epi meaning “on”. The Greek phrase ἐφ᾽ ᾧ ef’ ho literally means “on which”, or possibly “on whom”, but is commonly used to mean “because”, or perhaps “in that”. The problem is that the Latin rendering of ἐφ᾽ ᾧ, in quo, is ambiguous between “in which” and “in whom” (I’m not sure if it can also mean simply “because” or “in that”), and Augustine understood it as meaning “in whom”, i.e. “in Adam”.

So, according to Augustine all sinned “in Adam”, which he understood as meaning that because Adam sinned every other human being, each of his descendants, is counted as a sinner. This is his doctrine of “original sin”, that every human is born a sinner and deserves death because of it. He may have taken up this idea because it agreed with his former Manichaean theology. This teaching is fundamental to most Protestant as well as Roman Catholic teaching today. For example, it underlies the Protestant (not just Calvinist) teaching of total depravity, that the unsaved person can do nothing good, a teaching for which there is little biblical basis apart from Augustine’s misunderstanding which was followed by Calvin.

Augustine was indeed right to oppose the teaching (or alleged teaching) of the British or Irish teacher Pelagius, that humans are intrinsically good and can make themselves acceptable to God by good works. But Augustine’s view of the matter takes things too far in the opposite direction, further than can be justified by the biblical text.

For the far more likely meaning of the Greek text of Romans 5:12 is that all are counted as sinners because each person individually has sinned. On this view there is perhaps some kind of tendency to sin passed down from Adam to others, but there is no actual guilt."

Is that any help?

TN said...

OH YES (as the dog in the insurance advert says)that is very helpful.

I'll be chewing this over for the next few days. Too late to work it into tomorrow's sermon!

But thank you for taking the time to copy all that information in response to my question.

TN

Edward T. Babinski said...

I said INTERTESTAMENTAL TEXTS not N.T. texts. Hell and Satan both rose to prominence during the INTERTESTAMENTAL period.

Heck, "satan" just meant adversary, and was used in the O.T. to refer to human adversaries as well as to an "angel of the Lord" in the story of Balaam, the angel of the Lord was a "satan."

And "Satan" in the book of Job simply walks into God's heavenly chamber. Walks in. He apparently was viewed as God's heavenly prosecuting attorney.

It's during the Intertestamental period that Satan gains in prominence and becomes the prince of the power of the air and Lord of this world.

Robin Parry said...

Edward

OK ... but what conclusion are you inviting us to draw from this? That we should go with the purer OT theology rather than NT theology? Can you clarify?

Robin

Anonymous said...

The Divine Conscious Light that IS Reality never punishes anything.

However the entire manifest universe operates in an entirely lawful way. And is thus a system of perfect justice.

Whatever you sow, thus you will inevitably sooner or later reap. Either immediately or somewhere down the line. Even in a future lifetime.

For every action there is always and equal and opposite reaction/response.

What the Eastern traditions call the immutable law of karma.