“Should guilty people be punished?” is too abstract a question.
If someone asked me such a question, I will need more information. What was the nature of the crime? Did the person do it ignorantly? Was he malicious? What damage did his actions do to other people? Has the person owned up to the crime? Is he sorry? All these and more “ramifications” will help me answer the “should guilty people be punished?” question more fairly. These clarifying questions will also help me, as a judge, determine the punishment. Whether it will be a jail term, a cash fine or a rebuke, there will definitely be punishment for the crime.
Because that’s how real life works. Context counts. Life is not just a series of abstract principles with no relation to reality. It is more nuanced than science and philosophy often presents it.
“Should a rapist be punished?” sounds more concrete.
Let’s say the rapist admits to the crime and says he is proud of what he did. Let’s say the rapist insists that the victim deserved it and life is not fair and he is not going to change. Let’s say that the rapist is certifiably sane and after all that, the judge says he will show mercy to the rapist because he is a “good” judge. Would you have a problem with him? Why?
Then why do people have a problem with a God who punishes evil in the world? Why do people have a problem with a God who sends people to hell for their sins?
One thing we can all agree on is that people do not have a problem with a God who punishes sin. They would do the same if they were on the judgement seat. What people have a problem with is the “nature” of hell. People have a problem with how long hell will last (forever) and how painful the punishment will be (conscious torment). No wonder many have come up with different interpretations and speculations of what hell will look like.
Some have argued that hell will not be forever. It will be like purgatory, a temporary holding place where people will be punished until the punishment fits the crime. Others, repulsed by the idea of eternal torment, have argued that the people in hell will be annihilated after being punished for some time.
Whether people are extinguished or revived after “going through hell”, one thing is clear, no one is saying that there shouldn’t be a hell. The Bible is too explicit about such a matter, and the fact that we are innately hard-wired for justice makes hell necessary.
So, do you have a problem with a God who sends people to hell or do you have a problem with the type of hell He is sending people to? Is your understanding (or misunderstanding) of hell causing you to be squeamish about worshipping a God who sends people there?
In our attempts to provide “reasonable” answers to the questions surrounding hell, we often overlook a more indicting reality: the Bible teaches that there are people who will not go to hell at all (whatever notion of hell you have). There are people who will not get “any”, let alone their deserved, punishment. The bible teaches that there are rapists and murderers who will go scot free. Those who confess their sin and believe that Jesus took the punishment for them.
Do you have a problem with this? Does the idea of guilty people going unpunished make you squeamish? Do you have a problem with God’s “mercy”? His goodness? You should. Hell (whichever version), makes sense. Heaven doesn’t. “Unpunished criminals” doesn’t make sense.
I find it ironic that many people have walked away from God because they could not worship a God who sends people to hell, they could not worship a judge who punishes criminals — even if the argument for most is that this God gives ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment.
It is ironic because such people don’t seem to have a problem with a God who “loves” and “accepts” and “forgives” all criminals. They walk way from a reasonable God (judge) because his judgement does not work to their advantage. But they don’t mind embracing an unreasonable God (merciful) because His mercy works to their advantage.
Few are willing to admit that there is much more going on in this “merciful judge” kind of God than pure reason or pure science can ever explain. They miss the point because they miss The Gospel.
Do you have a problem with God’s goodness? Maybe you should.
For the fame of His name.