infinite punishment for finite sin
8/14/2007 12:47:00 PM
One of the most purported objections to one becoming a Christian seems to be the injustice invoked by God. Some see eternal (thus infinite) punishment in hell as unjust punishment for finite sin. On the surface, this objection seems to have warrant, and would naturally lend one not to trust in a God that is suppose to be loving and just. But I think such is a view doesn't take the whole picture into account. What I want to do here is perhaps clear up or at least finish the picture as to how God is justified in sending people to hell for sin, on the basis that God judges not quantitatively, but qualitatively, and in doing is just.

First, it is probably best to define what I mean when I stay "quantitative" and "qualitative". Something that is quantitative is essentially something that is countable or comparable in some fashion. Quantitatively, 4 is greater than 2. One could also say something like quantitatively, black is darker than charcoal but charcoal is darker than gray. The quantity in question here is the amount of darkness in a color. One could also say that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all times based on statistical analysis of his records compared to all other basketball players of all times. All these examples attempt to use quantities of various attributes to define somethings.

Something that is qualitative has a certain attribute associated with it that defines it. Going back to the prior examples, 4 and 2 are are both divisible by 2, so based on that quality, we say they are even numbers. Charcoal and black are both dark colors because they have the qualities that make something dark. One could make a qualitative judgment based on qualities as such. I could say they Picasso's art is better than my art, because great art enjoys international renowned, studied in academic settings, and mimicked by aspiring artist. My art enjoys none of these things, so my art is not great art.

Going back to the original objection, many people say God is unjust for inflicting infinite punishment for finite sin. As most see it, the punishment for a given crime should be equal to the crime committed. A more serious crime should be punished more seriously than another crime. Let the below diagram represents two sins: M is for murder, and P is for theft of a peanut from a peanut stand. Obviously, murder is a much more serious offense than petty theft. The size of the circle represents the degree of the sin, comparatively speaking.

I used the disproportionate circles to represent the difference in the degree of the two crimes. In any case, nobody would expect P to spend life in prison or face capital punishment, nor would someone let of M with merely a slap on the wrist. In most cases, one would want P to be a slap on the wrist and M to be punished severely, such that the degree of punishment is equal to the degree of the crime committed, as in the diagram below.

The objection see to God sees things in a similar fashion, expect the degree of punishment for the given crime is exuberantly disproportional to the degree of crime. It would impossible to show the size of the punishment in this medium or any medium because the punishment is infinite, but for illustrative purposes, imagine that G is God's punishment for sin, which is obviously much larger than M and P, or even M and P combined, which would seem to make God unjust because the punishment is excessive.

The objection could be stated, "I can't believe a God that would allow infinite punishment for for finite sin." Considering what I have discussed so far, the objection could be rephrased, "I can't beleive in a God that would allow quantitatively infinite punishment for a quantitatively finite sin." When I am talking about a quantitatively infinite punishment, I am talking about a punishment that in same fashion is will never end, such that if it were to begin now, it would never cease for all eternity. In the same manner, integers are quantitatively infinite, in that they can be counted eternally so as long as one has all eternity to count them. Comparing God's judgment to sin would be the same as comparing infinity to 10 or even 10 million to. In either case, infinity is much larger than either number. Both numbers infinity and the numbers are quantitative values. in the same manner, God's justice and the given sin would be quantitative too. In such a frame work, it would be true that the punishment was excessive, if indeed this is how God punished sin.

I propose, however, that Gods' infinite punishment again sin is not quantitatively infinite, but qualitatively infinite. Most people would ask, "What's the difference?" The difference between the two is a categorical difference. Remember, to refer to something as quantitatively infinite, is to refer to it as being measurable in some way so long as one has an infinitely long ruler to measure the line or all eternity to count it in some. To refer to something as qualitatively infinite, we are not talking about a measurable attribute, it a categorical attribute. A categorical attribute would be something such as light and dark or hard and soft. A qualitative infinite would be an attribute that never changes, in that it is always the same.

Sin to God is as such. When I think of God, I think of him being without sin. I could use "without sin" as a working definition for "holy", and to have sin would would be not holy. It is on these grounds that God judges. An holy being does not have sin, so it is impossible for such a being to have any degree of sin. An infraction against an infinitely holy being would mean that whoever committed the infraction is infinitely unholy. To illustrate, imagine a spotless sheet. A spotless sheet by definition has no spots. The minute the spotless sheet gets a spot, it becomes spotted. It would categorically fall in the same category with a sheet with thousands of spots or just two spots, no matter how small or large the spot is. All that is sin no matter how large or small, like the spots on the sheet make the sheet spotted, make the sinner unholy. God's judgment is against directly proportional to his holiness, therefore infinite. To remove such unholiness, the punishment must be infinite. Let S represent unholiness. S would include M and P, and many other sins, but is doesn't matter what how many sins are in S or the degree of sins in S. In any case, S is always unholy so as long as God is holy, and the punishment therefore is equal.

How then, can human justice be maintained in such a view of sin? It would seem that any sin, no matter how small would make one unholy. P and M are both worthy of eternal punishment in hell. If they are as such, then it seems that we should treat all crimes the same or not treat them at all. In either case, justice doesn't exist. However, remember that God is judging based on the state of a person's holiness, not the quantity or degree of his or her sins. Human justice in such a framework can still be maintained simultaneously. It isn't concerned with individual's holiness but the degree of the crimes. Even if a person makes reprimand for a crime, he or she is still a criminal. God is essentially judging a person on that basis that he or she is a criminal, regardless of the crimes that person may have committed. To mix holiness with human justice would be a categorical error.

One question still remains: Is such a view of God's judgment biblical? I think so. In the Old Testament, we find numerous laws requiring specific reprimand for specific crimes. Some crimes are more serious than others, and therefore are punished more severely than others. Such justice is finite punishment for finite sin, and would be the first framework of justice described. However, even crimes are reprimanded, God still deals with sin according to his holiness. According to Romans, the wages of sin is death. It doesn't specify the degree of sin or the minimum requirements in order to receive the death sentence. It is a categorical statement for all sins. But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus. Jesus on the cross made an qualitatively infinite sacrifice to rectify the qualitatively infinite unholiness on our behalf. This satisfies God's justice and makes makes humans holy again, even though they have sinned.
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