Romans 9:22 – Is Eternal Punishment Fair?
Many religionists who deny the biblical teaching of the eternal, conscious torment of hell do so strictly on emotional grounds. They reject everlasting punishment — not because they have carefully studied the scriptural evidence, and have arrived at their convictions on an intellectual basis — but because, in their view, eternal punishment just “doesn’t seem fair.” How could a just God punish forever someone who has only rebelled a brief period on earth?
There are several things to be said in response to this.
First, how could a just God eternally reward someone who has only served him the limited span of an earthly existence? No one seems to have a problem with that!
Second, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that our loving God has never been of the disposition to delight in the possibility of a single soul ending in hell.
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
He does not wish that anyone perish. The term “wishing” (ASV) or “willing” (KJV) reflects a present tense participle, emphasizing a sustained benevolence on the part of the Creator. Note that.
The fact is, hell was initially prepared for Satan and his angels (Mt. 25:41), not humans. The Lord has made every possible provision so that humanity might avoid eternal punishment. Who can fault the justice of God in the light of Christ’s death?
Third, eternal separation from God is a matter of human determination. Paul defends the justice of God in imposing destruction upon rebellious men in his letter to the Romans:
“What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction” (Rom. 9:22).
The apostle describes the inmates of hell as “vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction.” Albert Barnes notes that “fitted” suggests that these subjects of divine wrath are those “whose characters are such as to deserve destruction.”
Further, if “fitted” is viewed as a middle voice form (which is possible; cf. Vine), then the sense would be that these folks “prepared themselves for destruction” (Arndt & Gingrich, Greek Lexicon, 419). Note these points.
Fourth, God’s justice is evidenced in the fact that judgment of hell will be rendered proportionate to the degree of one’s guilt. Consider the following passages:
“But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt go down unto Hades: for if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in thee, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (Mt. 11:22-24).
“And that servant, who knew his lord’s will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more” (Lk. 12:47-48).
“. . .of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29).
“Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment” (Jas. 3:1).
Fifth, it appears that the fate of the wicked is justified in that even punishment seems to produce no change in their character. It is amazing that the rich man, in a state of torment (Lk. 16:23ff), though requesting relief, and soliciting a warning for his earthly brothers, never expresses a word of repentance for his disobedience, nor does he plead for the opportunity to leave his abode in order to dwell with God and his people. That speaks volumes. Make a notation to that effect.
For more on this topic, see our Related Links on the right side of the page. We would especially encourage the study of “The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment” in our “Archives”.
Scripture references: 2 Peter 3:9; Matthew 25:41; Romans 9:22; Matthew 11:22-24; Luke 12:47-48; Hebrews 10:29; James 3:1; Luke 16:23