Does God punish sinners / unbelievers?

Continuing on from another topic:

I have been grappling with this myself just this a.m. and would value some input!

Last night I clicked on a YouTube suggestion, Tim Mackie talking about heaven and earth, the New Creation and hell :

He frames hell as synonymous with sin in the present, which feels a bit awkward, but whatevs, it’s just a word. And, he says, in the future/eternal sense, referring to Rev 22:15, that sinners will be excluded from New Creation, and this is all hell is, eternally.

Is that the kind of understanding you’re comfortable with, @Mervin_Bitikofer ?

It’s attractive to me. It means sinners suffer eternally at their own hands, not God’s.

But I thought I’d better check that for wishful thinking. I picked up Grudem, Bible Doctrine (abridgement of Systematic Theology). He lists a number of verses that talk about punishment or torment, but actually it’s not clear to me all of them indicate this is done by God’s agency. But these two would seem to:

Matthew 25:41: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels!’”

Revelation 14:9-11 speaks of drinking of God’s anger and wrath and being subject to eternal torment.

I wonder, how can these be reconciled with the position that God does not actively inflict eternal suffering on the wicked?

(Please don’t take this as argumentative! I really am still trying to find my way on this topic.)


That’s attractive to you? That God washes His hands of us?

Im the one who said. " saved from".

So Id like to hear how this goes.

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I would rather the accursed had ongoing opportunities to repent and accept Jesus. That would seem more consistent with a loving and mercifiul God. But it’s not up to us to just make stuff up that’s palatable to us.

So continue to believe horror that was made up two to four millennia ago which if it were made up today in the WEIRD world would be regarded as very weird indeed.

If Love grounds being, They are competent.

You can permanently jettison your worry there (as regarding me). This is all stuff that badly needs scriptural grappling with, and I welcome the opportunity. Please argue or push back … or whatever best works for you. I don’t easily take offense.

I don’t know that “comfortable” and “hell” ever belong in the same sentence. Nor am I some authority figure in any of this that your views are obliged to pass muster with me. I’m just a blow-hard who’s read at least some on the topic (especially the Bible) - and most recently from people (even more scripturally shaped than I am) who have taken issue with hell being seen as eternal (non-restorative) torture for nothing more than retribution. I see things that way now. To be clear - I don’t insist that I know what time scales must be involved for us to be cleansed to how long the refining fires need to work - I am persuaded that I’ll never be forced into heaven against my will. So … will I stay attached to my own sin instead for an eternity? (As G. Macdonald once wrote: “The man is not yet saved who still prefers his own sin to hell.”) So can there be eternal holdouts? Who knows? Now; since some will view that as me trying to weasel out from the label of “universalism” that makes everyone else run screaming from the room, let me just say I have serious doubts (meaning … yeah … umm, no) about evil being capable of persisting to the point of being co-eternal with God or that such a thing has any good scriptural defense (that seems compelling to me anyway). If that earns me such a label, so be it. I do believe there is a hell though - for as long as it is needed.

So … the main challenges usually thrown at this would be Jesus’ words, some of which you mention.

First, I don’t think the parables and targeted teachings (which I think parables are … with a laser focus) are meant to carry the weight of so much eschatological detail. For example if somebody wants to insist that we know heaven and hell have a literal chasm between which cannot be crossed, but people can yell across it to each other; then I think they are probably failing to understand 1st century apocalyptic discourse, and also - perhaps more seriously; they are failing to get the one sledge-hammer point of that parable entirely: that those who take their comforts in this life while others are denied even basic needs … there will be justice - and that whole system will get turned on its head. So … rich people, be warned! [Okay - so there is also the commentary about the rich man wanting those left behind to hear a personal warning … which is met with the insight that if what they already know didn’t work to change their behavior - then yet more education won’t work either. - so I do exaggerate when I say each parable can have only one point. But none of this nonsense of trying to turn every supporting detail into load-bearing eschatological doctrine.]

Or in another parable (the talents) … if someone wants to insist from that parable we should learn that God is like a jilted king who will take delight in torturing all those who opposed to him; then I will insist again, that this is a false use of parables. There is usually one - and exactly one question that is being definitively and indeed vehemently answered. And it seems to have been a style of the time to drive your points home by being “over-the-top” about consequences. E.g. probably a lot fewer people take much notice if you tell them: “If you sin … you really need to stop that!” What gets our attention is when instead you teach things like “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off … or pluck your eye out … or castrate yourself!” Actual instructions like that can be found for all of us (now enthusiastically non-literal) readers. We all understand that doing these things literally are not really going to be solutions to our sin. But what it does get across (after first arresting our attention) is how seriously we should be taking our sin if we could but see it as God does.


C S Lewis in “Mere Christianity” and “Great Divorce” echoes George Macdonald on a proposal that is quite orthodox, but fits this too. I presented it at my Sunday School, and a friend said, “That’s orthodox, and it works. But it may not work to preach it.” :slight_smile: Have you read that? It’s at the end of M. C, and much of the theory is in G. D.

However, here’s a summary of some of George Macdonald’s notes.
Experimental Theology: George MacDonald: Justice, Hell and Atonement

I have read Mere Christianity (a fantastic book that gave me reassurance I was not descending into insanity or stupidity), and have been thinking it might be time to re-read it! Will do, thanks. The Great Divorce sounds interesting.

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I really enjoy it, too. I am sorry–I’m trying to find the passage relevant, but I can’t on line. I can probably do that at home, with the hard copy.

I like your description of how it helped to reassure us…me, too.

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… a term I had to Google. Ah, much opportunity for further reading. Thanks.

But, I don’t think Matthew 25:41 is a parable. Isn’t Jesus directly addressing the eschaton, in 25:31-46?

I happen to have it as an e-book, easy to search. Is it this passage?

Again, Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever. Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse—so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be.

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Thanks. That is part of the overall picture, but I think he has a chapter at the end that is a bit more in detail. I appreciate that, and it is part of his description of Hell, which fits into the overall picture, though

MacDonald and Lewis seemed to believe that God never gives up on us, and that we still have opportunity to repent after death. If we repent, Hell is actually purgatory–where were can be closer to God because He winnows ourselves out of us by letting us stew in our own juice.

He does a lot better job of explaining that, though, than I do. MacDonald was the one whose books brought him to Christ, though Tolkien and a friend also helped.

The DVD we used in Sunday School (in 2019; I miss SS!) was this

Discussing Mere Christianity DVD: Eric Metaxas: 9780310699859 -

They even had Alister McGrath critiquing some of MC, to put it in perspective. He pointed out that the “Lawgiver” premise is not a strong proof for God, but fits into what we would expect if there was a God.

I appreciated that it was fairly well balanced, and enjoyed the scenes from England and Lewis’ home, as well as the biographical elements.

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Parables don’t always come with a neat prelabel as such. I’m pretty sure it isn’t a story about actual sheep and goats, but about something much deeper. Whether or not it’s technically a parable, the observations seem to apply well here too.

Surely the use of a simile doesn’t mean the whole lot is a parable?

Just to say I think the prospect that God as Christians conceive Him would want to torture anyone forever bothers those who believe in Him a heck of a lot more than it does any of us who do not think He is at all, let alone what the fans of eternal torture think He is. I would really like @Randy in particular to relax, you’re too nice a guy to be tortured psychologically in this life over a thing like that. Lets just carpe what diem we may while we’re vertical and let any extra innings take care of themselves.


The Abrahamic God gets more psychopathically righteous as He evolves. In Islam atheism is unforgivable even if you repent of it.

Well, go visit a “Healing Market” or whatever happens in your neck of the woods, and see how people fare when they just make it up as they go. I only have peripheral experience with that scene but it’s not encouraging.


Christians make up healing all the time. I never go there. Apart from in the transcendent, aspirational.

I make up rational faith. If Love is the ground of being, what is Their morality? It’s pretty obvious from what They do rather than what is made up by Their archaic, ignorant, savage apologists.

Whether or not something fits into “the parable category” isn’t the point. I was simply using obvious parables to illustrate the real point: that teachers back then often used symbols and stories rich with figures of speech in order to answer questions. When Jesus tells his disciples to “beware of the yeast of the pharisees” - that warning was not itself labeled, “now here is a parable” - but that doesn’t mean that figures of speech are not in play. The Bible doesn’t divide into “parables” (all symbolic) and “everything else” (that must all then be literal). Whatever the discourse is, one has to pay attention to who the audience was and what situation or question it is a response to. That context will provide the best indicator about what is the point being taught. Trying to wrest it out of that context to address modern concerns almost always leads to eisegetical mischief.


True, but, it seems to me Mat 25:31 starts a new address. It starts with “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory”. Is there some other way to understand that other than Jesus referring to his own second coming? That sets the context, which to me says, what Jesus about to say is what will literally happen, at least, as best as it can be explained to 1st Century audience on the Mount of Olives (or summarised by a 1st century witness). The parables that preceded it it also had eschatological themes, and there was more literal end-times talk before too. So, I don’t think this is taking the text beyond its purpose.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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