Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hump Day History: St. Augustine’s City of God

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.


Anonymous said...

Bumped into your blog by accident while reading about the movie "Blind Side", of which you once wrote a post.

Regarding hell, I believe it has little to do with finite/infinite time, but rather with Love.

If a child broke a rule, very few human mothers or fathers would ever throw their child into a basement and let them burn forever.

There would be Forgiveness.

Now, if God is infinite Love, how could He do the same if one of His children committed a sin?
How can God's Love & Forgiveness be less than Man's?

The headline of your blog states that you read a lot of books, but do not think very much. Perhaps consider doing the opposite. If you read less, perhaps it may force you to Think more - because what are books but the thoughts of others, and if we depend only on the thoughts of others, how can we ever truly learn to think for ourselves?

This is also true of the Bible. While the Bible contains many Truths, in my opinion not everything in the Bible is true. An All-Loving God would not Create a Hell of Eternal Punishment for Children who had "broken rules".

Best of luck to you

Justin said...

Thanks for your comments. Great thoughts. God's love is an important, guiding principle, but it isn't God's only attribute. He's also holy and righteous, which is where the issue of judgment comes in.

I think this is why the cross is so important. It's where love, justice, mercy, and holiness come together. Because of His love, God makes a way to restore relationship with Him. Not just an escape from hell, but an actual relationship with God.

Again, thanks for your comment and I pray the best for you as well.