Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Yes - Every Sin Deserves the Eternal Wrath of God

Mr. C Michael Patton has a rather disappointing post up in which he denies that every sin deserves an eternity in hell. He calls this idea "stupid" and declares that it "trivializes sin and makes God an overly sensitive cosmic torture monger." "Stupid" is a bit extreme for something that's a part of the doctrinal standards of most Reformed churches in the Scottish tradition. To say that it trivializes sin is absurd, and to accuse God of being an "overly sensitive cosmic torture monger[er]" is blasphemy.

First, the traditional historic Reformed position on the matter:

From the Westminster Shorter Catechism
Q. 84. What doth every sin deserve?
A. Every sin deserveth God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.[175]

[175] Matthew 25:41. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: Galatians 3:10. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. Ephesians 5:6. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. James 2:10. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

From the Westminster Larger Catechism
Q. 152. What doth every sin deserve at the hands of God?

A. Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty,[982] goodness,[983] and holiness of God,[984] and against his righteous law,[985] deserveth his wrath and curse,[986] both in this life,[987] and that which is to come;[988] and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.[989]

[982] James 2:10-11. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

[983] Exodus 20:1-2. And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

[984] Habakkuk 1:13. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? Leviticus 10:3. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. Leviticus 11:44-45. For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

[985] 1 John 3:4. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. Romans 7:12. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

[986] Ephesians 5:6. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Galatians 3:10. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

[987] Lamentations 3:39. Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Deuteronomy 28:15-18. But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store, etc.

[988] Matthew 25:41. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.

[989] Hebrews 9:22. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. 1 Peter 1:18-19. Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

Second, a response to Mr. Patton's arguments.

Mr. Patton's main argument is based on his failure properly to understand the atonement. Mr. Patton makes a comment suggesting that he holds to a view of penal substitution: "Many of us believe that Christ’s atonement was penal substitution." He then, however, goes on to outline a scheme of the atonement that is essentially merely a commercial transaction: Jesus had to suffer thus-and-such an amount to atone for thus-and-such an amount of sin. That's not the position of penal substitution. Penal substitution says that Jesus suffering was the same punishment (death) that was accepted in place of the death of the sinners. It is not the same in the person being punished nor is it the same in the precise nature and duration of the punishment (was humiliated culiminating in Christ dying on the cross, being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time - whereas sinners deserve to remain under the power of death and in suffering for eternity). Christ's death on the cross was accepted by God in place of the eternal suffering of the elect. There is a commercial aspect to the work of Christ (to be sure) but Christ's death was not a purely commercial transaction.

Mr. Patton's secondary argument seems to be based on two ideas. One idea is the faulty notion that if every sin deserves eternal punishment, then all sins are equally heinous. We may readily dispose of that idea by noting that the punishment in hell may very well have degrees of severity. Thus, while all of the denizens of hell will be punished forever, some may be punished with greater severity than others. Dante provided a colorful illustration of this concept in his work.

The second idea of Mr. Patton's secondary argument seems to be the idea that actually no sin deserves God's eternal wrath and curse, but rather that sinners in hell will commit an infinite series of sins, which will lead to an unending succession of individually finite punishments. There's nothing in Scripture to suggest this (from what I've read) and there are passages of Scripture (such as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and the comment that "all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed").

Will men in hell still hate God? Perhaps so. God does not promise to regenerate the nature of those who go to hell so that they will turn from hating God to loving God. Will they continue sinning and racking up more condemnation for themselves? Perhaps they will! But every sin is an offense to the dignity of an infinite God and demands eternal condemnation.

-TurretinFan

N.B. Mr. Patton's approach (which I've also heard from William Lane Craig) does find a way to defend hell without claiming that any one sin deserves eternal punishment. My problem with it is that it's not biblical, not that it's not helpful in arguments with atheists.

6 comments:

natamllc said...

Why believing this won't be effective, I will comment this way anyway, to Mr. Patton's dense understanding. I believe if he would spend his time pondering the Word of God, a clearer sense of Hell would appear.

Obviously Scripture details the effects of Hell on the sinner. The Word does put over the sense of degrees of suffering in Hell.

I remember something I heard years ago that won't leave my mind. A Preacher from L.A. said of hell that it's a place he doesn't want to go because he understands from Scripture that once you are there you are there for good. Why? Because there are no exits out from Hell!

I was having a conversation with my second son, now 14 soon to be 15 in October, yeah! He and I have been going over the Psalms together everyday. We are now going through the 30's.

In Psalm 32 we read:

Psa 32:1 A Maskil of David. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Psa 32:2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Psa 32:3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
Psa 32:4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Psa 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

In Psalm 33 we read:

Psa 33:1 Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.

What we have been distinguishing between the "two", being sinless and being upright is this.

Christ, Upright and Holy, Sinless, had nothing to offer God for His sins, seeing He has no sins of Himself. For Him, uprightness was offering up Himself as a sinless atonement for others.

Myself, you, my son, those called and Elected, however, our "uprightness" that befits us is as the Scripture teaches:

Psa 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,"... .

For Our Sinless God, through redemption by Our Sinless Savior through the power of the Sinless Holy Ghost, uprightness for them is the rest of the verse: "....and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah".

Indeed, when you ponder these things, you realize "why" Praise and shouts of Joy are among the upright of humanity:

Psa 33:1 Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.

After all, it is recorded about His Joy this way:::>

Heb 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
Heb 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Heb 12:3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

I would finally add that anyone who does not understand their sin, does not understand God's Holiness! And as it says there in Heb 12:3, based on it, one who cannot consider him who endured from sinners such hostility cannot understand Eternal Life in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost!

I simply don't believe this sort of argument, that minimize one's sin, will diminish but as the time grows nigh, will become even stronger and louder in the public discourse of life.

Not to worry, as Our God has a plan for the fullness of time!

His name is Jesus, the Christ. Check out Ephesians 1:7-10.

Turretinfan said...

Mr. Patton is a smart guy - but it does seem that something has obscured his spiritual senses on this particular topic.

Michael Patton said...

It would not be the first time! Thanks for interacting.

Coram Deo said...

Any and every sin is a transgression against the moral character of the infinitely thrice Holy Creator God.

Infinite transgression against an infinite Being is worthy of infinite punishment.

Infinite punishment will be expiated for all eternity in hell for the unbelieving, or else it is expiated at the cross of Christ for believers.

In Christ,
CD

Dean Dough said...

Dear Turretinfan,

Sin against an infinitely holy God deserves an infinite punishment? Why? Out of necessity? And if not out of necessity, what kind of God would purposely frame a reality so that such a barbarous claim would be true?

Yes, the Bible has many terrifying things to say about God's wrath against his enemies, as well as some very illuminating examples of how that wrath might get expressed in specific circumstances. Say, for example, the stoning of the one who picked up wood on the Sabbath, or the nice trial by ordeal of a woman accused of adultery. How about the murder of Achan's entire family? Or the (implied) butchery of the women and children of the enemies of the Jews at the end of the book of Esther? Or how about those Babylonian babies in Psalm 137? None of these even raise the issue of post-mortem punishments and they are already generally recognized as beyond the pale.

In short, the doctrine of endless punishment is one of the surest demonstrations that what passes for Christian orthodoxy in the Reformed evangelical tradition speaks falsely about God.

Turretinfan said...

Mr. Dough,

I've responded to your comments in a new post (link).

-TurretinFan