We’re still working through some highlights of Book XXI. There isn’t necessarily an outstanding quote here, but there’s an important objection he addresses. I’m not sure I like his answer, but it’s close to how I think through it.
The objection to hell is that it is unfair that a punishment should last longer than the time it took to perpetrate a crime. Augustine rightly notes that one may murder in an instant, but that doesn’t mean the punishment should last a moment. It can go on for a long time – and justly so. That’s the extent of Augustine’s point (pp. 781-782).
I get it and it makes sense. Another way I’ve heard it framed is, “How can a finite crime be worthy of an infinite punishment?” I think I read this in one of John Piper’s books years ago. If I remembered which it was I would cite it. (And if it wasn’t him, my apologies to Dr. Piper if I’ve misrepresented him.)
The key to this concern is not that the offense is so great, but that the One offended is so great. Infinite, in fact. The nature of the offense isn’t the defining issue. It is the violation of the infinite holiness of the One sinned against – God. This makes sense on a human plane. For instance, if I were to threaten an ordinary citizen, I would/should be punished. But, if I were to threaten the President, I would/should be punished more severely. The offense is the same, but the one offended makes the difference.
The infinite holiness of God makes my transgressions infinitely punishable. And yet, hope is offered in the infinitely valuable sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.