Home > afterlife, interpretation, judgment, justice > >Does temporal punishment attenuate eternal punishment?

>Does temporal punishment attenuate eternal punishment?

>This is a question I have pondered but have never read about elsewhere. I tend to think that hell will have degrees of punishment. Just as believers will be rewarded for their devotion to Christ, and that reward will vary, I think it is possible that the wicked man’s punishment may be dependant on his sin. All sin is not equal and it is reasonable to think that punishment will match the crime. Of course God will take into consideration our heart, and an adulterous Christian may be more sinful than an adulterous infidel.

Jesus refers to men being hit with few or many lashes.

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12)

Jesus also mentions men can be more severely punished.

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 12)

The proposal I wish to suggest (at least for consideration) is that punishment on earth for wickedness means that punishment in eternity will be less.

I am suggesting that a murderer who is caught and imprisoned or sentenced to death receives a less nasty Hades (or possibly subsequent hell) than the man who is not caught or who is excused by a corrupt justice system (though in the later example the unjust judge may wear some of the guilt). This assumes all other things being equal such as the state of the murderer’s heart and the lack of repentance before death.

There is no direct biblical evidence for this proposal, and I do hold it or consider it tentatively, but it seems consistent with Scripture.

I am suggesting this is the case because they have already received some of their punishment.

If I am incorrect it is still possible that a man is changed by the temporal punishment such that his heart is less opposed to God. Due to the lessening of his hatred of God his eternal punishment may be less severe, not because he has received his punishment in part.

If I am correct about this it has implications in biblical exegesis and God’s expectations of government.

In terms of biblical understanding, temporal judgment will be seen as having an aspect of mercy. Those whom God judged in Sodom and those whom the Israelites destroyed in Canaan were already wicked. They had decided on a destiny without God. Their eternal dwelling place is unpleasant, yet possibly less than it may have been had God not acted decisively in the situation. Leviticus hints at this when God explains the disaster he will send if they disobey him. Progressive punishments thru to exile are promised if they persist in disobeying him. But even if progressive judgments finally result in exile, God says, on the condition of repentance,

Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 26)

Even in judgment there is the desire of God that we repent, and his actions, while just, are tempered with mercy and desire for us to return to him. Perhaps even final temporal judgments are actioned so that eternal ones will be less severe.

In terms of government, this brings an even greater responsibility to those who rule us. Failure to punish the wicked not only makes life more unpleasant for the righteous, it means that eternity may be worse for those than it could have been. Of course God’s punishment will be just and appropriate, it is just that with poor government the wicked man is able to clock up that much more wickedness and not have any of it dealt with this side of death. Letting the evil man away with his actions may not be a kindness of a despot to his unjust cronies, rather a greater evil delayed. Interesting that Satan can lead a man to curse his friends while that man thinks he is blessing them.

  1. BA
    2008 January 25 at 08:00

    A really interesting one this, never really thought about it. While it seems logical to some degree, I’ll disagree with you.
    Why does God punish people on earth at all?
    I think he disciplines the sons he loves and he punishes those that oppose him and his ways. Those he punishes have not responded to other things and does he punish them because they are more responsible (or make a big impact on others) than others who he doesn’t punish. To whom much is given, much is expected. The world before the flood really grieved God and so he watered down their sin.
    J says: what does it matter, the fact that people go to hell is the bad thing, the degree should not be our concern but the the salvation of people

  2. 2008 January 26 at 04:44

    BA, God has reasons for punishing people. That there is a why does not negate there may be a how. Nor does the fact there is a why imply that all punishment is the same.
    I am not suggesting we should punish men temporally so that eternity is less severe, rather we should do so to limit evil and to do justice. That being said, that does not mean there are no eternal consequences to our actions in the way I have described.
    I acknowledge that much of what I have written is speculative. I may be wrong. I have not seen discussions about this concept, maybe I am just inadequately read. I am very interested in people’s thoughts on this topic.

  3. 2008 January 28 at 18:37
  4. T.L.
    2008 February 4 at 08:23

    I don’t think that hell is a valid concept, but if it is;
    How could an eternity of punishment be tempered by the very short time that punishment could be given in this life.
    This entire life is not even an eye-blink compared to eternity.
    As for people receiving worse punishment in eternity if they don’t receive punishment during this life for wrong-doing during this life; that puts people at the mercy of other people for all eternity and would not seem just. This is God’s to do.

  5. 2008 February 5 at 10:08

    Of course T.L. I could be wrong.
    But eternity still needs to be experienced, and there is a difference between moderately unpleasant and severely unpleasant. You are summing up all of eternity and saying that 5 × infinity is the same as 10 × infinity, but for each moment 10 is worse than 5.
    It is also possible that over time people are less aware of themselves, it is the second death
    As to your second objection, my concept is about justice, those who haven’t received punishment get it.
    Further, if one deserves a harsh punishment because they are wicked then getting a slightly less punishment is only unjust in that it is showing some mercy.
    I do think we are at the mercy of men at times. Both in this world which is obvious given how some men treat others, and for eternity. Why the urgency to tell men about Christ? So they meet him and are saved. Eternal consequences for all are related to whether we obey God or not.

  6. 2008 February 5 at 14:28

    simply put there is no human soul that has a first day, who also can “experience eternity.”
    So trust in the Lord, all of you, who were known before the foundation of the world, and you will be known after the last day.

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