Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins is a modern reformulation of Christian Universalism, that is, the idea that all are saved from judgement by the works of Christ. Not a new idea, but controversial coming from a supposed evangelical.
One of the questions the problem of eternal hell brings up is, “is eternal (infinite) punishment a just recompense for temporal (finite) sins?”
To my knowledge, there are three orthodox answers. I suspect these may all have names and have been discussed by famous theologians, but alas, I have not found them yet. Let me know if you know of good representatives of each view.
1. Sinners actually do sin infinitely in hell
Since the unconverted can not love God’s holiness, but are repelled by it and actually hate it, they curse God continually, driving themselves into deeper judgement for their ongoing sins.
2. Rejecting Christ is an infinitely sinful act
Punishment can be seen as having two quantitative attributes – duration, and intensity. Accordingly, a sin can be of infinite duration, or of infinite intensity, as can our punishment.
If we as sinners sin only of finite duration, is it possible that our sin is of infinite intensity? If so, perhaps justice could be done if we either suffered a a punishment of infinite intensity or duration. And perhaps further, if we are NOT capable of suffering an infinite intensity, justice can only be done with a punishment of infinite duration.
This might also explain why Christ, who was God incarnate, was able to suffer on the cross for all the elect in a finite period – because he was able to suffer the infinite intensity of God’s wrath upon sin without being annihilated.
3. Eternal might refer to permanent, not of infinite duration
Sure, Annihilationism, as this is called, is not truly orthodox. However, many prominent Christians, including one of my favorite expositors, John Stott, have supported it’s possibility.
This position might satisfy the many people who find eternal punishment unfair or out of proportion to finite sins.