Eternal Punishment by J. P. Arendzen - Chapter 1


Punishment is pain justly inflicted in consequence of evil done. It is purely medicinal, if its sole purpose is to bring the evil-doer to repentance and to enable him to undo the evil wrought. It is purely vindictive or avenging, if its purpose is to vindicate and restore the glory and honour of one who has been offended by the evil deed, and thus to restore the balance of justice by placing the evil-doer in an evil plight on account of the evil done.

Punishments on earth are, or ought to be, chiefly of a mixed character, partly curative, partly vindictive. The punishment of hell is purely vindictive. It has no medicinal purpose for the sinner undergoing it, though it has also a preventive purpose, by being a deterrent to others.

The righteousness of vindictive justice is almost instinctively admitted by every reasonable person. When misdeeds entail no suffering for the offender, when crimes pass unpunished –the wicked prosper and the good succumb– there arises in every human soul the irresistible conviction that something is lacking, something wrong in the arrangement of the Universe; also that such wrong cannot last for ever, and that in the end it must go well with the just and ill with the evil-doer.

This profound conviction is based on the idea that sin and suffering are correlatives; I mean that every sin committed necessarily entails the liability to a corresponding punishment, so that the balance of justice may be maintained. It is true that repentance obtains forgiveness. But repentance itself contains the will to make satisfaction, and satisfaction is a punishment which the sinner voluntarily inflicts upon himself in consequence of his sin, in order that the Great Orderer of the Universe may not inflict punishment, which has already been voluntarily endured.

Were, however, no evil consequence to follow the disobedience of an unrepentant sinner, man might rightly accuse the Supreme Guardian of the world of failing to vindicate the law of holiness, and might conclude that no holy intelligence was directing and controlling the order of created things. In strictly technical language, God wills the order of this Universe, and must necessarily continue to will it, as long as it exists, for to maintain its existence is to will its order. Now the sinner rebels against this order. He cannot indeed infringe it objectively, for God's will is sovereign and omnipotent, but he can pervert his own will and commit an act contrary to his final end, by adhering inordinately to an object of desire and enjoyment. If the order of the Universe is to be maintained, the sinner's will must of necessity be contravened and thwarted in the same measure as he himself has contravened and thwarted the due order by God established. Now all thwarting of the will is sorrow, and if in consequence of sin, such sorrow is punishment.

Punishment, therefore, must follow sin as its shadow. Punishment is the counterpoise of sin, demanded by intrinsic necessity to restore the balance of righteousness. As water seeks its own level, so punishment succeeds sin. Sufferings may be self-inflicted, as when we do penance; or inflicted by God, and then they are called punishment.

Vindictive justice, therefore, is in itself the maintenance of order. It is properly called avenging or vindictive justice in the case of divine punishments, because God, who maintains the order of the Universe, is a personal God, not an abstract force, and all the laws of the Universe are enacted by his personal will. The sinner, therefore, not only attempts to break the objective order of the Universe in which he lives, but he offends the personal God who created him. The sinner by his deed–as far as in him lies–deprives God of the honour due to him in the obedience of all created wills and their gratitude for the benefit of their own existence. Divine punishments, therefore, vindicate God's glory and in themselves are a manifestation of God's holiness.

When thinking of an avenging God we must eliminate from our mind any idea that God desires or thirsts to be satiated with the sight of suffering. God desires or thirsts for nothing. No sin, however great, can lessen God's happiness. No sinner can hurt God. God is not injured as we are injured on earth, smarting under the pain of the insult. Hence it is not a question of God paying the sinner back in his own coin –for every hurt received a hurt inflicted. God in punishing can have only one motive: his own infinite holiness and nothing else whatever.

Eternal punishment is the everlasting separation of God from the sinner, because the sinner continues to reject him; it is the allowing creatures to torment the sinner, because he has turned to creatures instead of to God as his ultimate end. This punishment is everlasting, not because God can never be satiated with the sight of the sinner's pain, but because the sinner abides by his final choice, preferring a created good to God, and can no longer change his mind. He is eternally punished because he is eternally in the state of sin.