Sin and Justice

Some people seem to have a problem with a Just God sending people to Hell for any and every little infraction. This essay explores the nature of Justice in that context. It was prompted by the uninformed musings of Cary Cook, but the scope here is broader than his myopia allows for. Although my terminology here differs somewhat from my source text, I believe it accurately reflects classical Christian theology. Any deviation from the canon or sound logic is unintentional, and upon notice will be immediately corrected.

Justice is about giving people what they deserve. If they have done nothing wrong, then they deserve the good God created for their enjoyment. That's not a logical necessity, but let's stipulate it as a given for now. If people do harm to other people, then they deserve harm in return. Most people have no trouble believing that. It is the nature of justice, and it's not hard to understand.

The problem people have is in the quantity or size of punishment to be given for a particular -- let's say small -- sin or harm to another person. Is it Just to condemn a person to everlasting torment for one small sin? It's a good question.


First we must understand the true nature of sin. Sin can be defined as any voluntary act that directly or indirectly brings harm or damage to innocent people. I suppose there may be sins identified as such in the Bible that are merely prohibited, but have no actual victims, but I know of none. Fornication and especially homosexual behavior are often cited as victimless sins, but in fact they burden the public health system, forcing people who do not engage in such harmful behavior to bear the cost of those who do. This is inherently unjust. The same can also be said of smoking and obesity, and society is beginning to recognize these practices as harmful, putting penalties (or at least public disapproval) on them.

Sin is by nature a voluntary choice. What you cannot avoid is nature, not sin. The homosexuals sometimes argue that they are genetically predisposed to their particular attraction. The scientific evidence seems to suggest otherwise at this time, but even if it has a genetic component, the decision to endulge the lust is every bit as voluntary as the decision to endulge in heterosexual fornication, or overeating or smoking.

Self-denial is a virtue. Self-denial for the benefit of another person, who would otherwise be harmed by your voluntary indulgence is merely justice.


There are two aspects of justice in dealing with sin.

First and most obvious is the punishment of the evildoer. We all understand that.

Second, and often overlooked, is recompense of the victim. Modern American jurisprudence has long ignored this issue, focussing instead on punishment and/or rehabilitation of the criminal. But putting the criminal back on the streets -- even if he never commits another crime (which 2/3 of them do within the first year) -- is hardly justice for the victim. We have tort laws that allow the victim to sue for damages, but no murderer can ever restore the life of of his victim, and few are ever able to repay monetary damages even for harm to physical property. How is justice served when people experience harm without recompense?

The perfectly just system prevents and does not allow any sin that harms any person. A perfectly Just God would also not allow any sin to continue unabated in His Heaven. Does that mean only robots are allowed in Heaven? I don't think so.

God gave us the ability to choose. Therefore God can safely allow into His Heaven of perfection, all people who consistently choose not to harm other people, directly or indirectly. These people are not robots, they choose to do good and not evil. All the time. And they can be rewarded for their good choices by being allowed to live in the wonderful society of other people who also choose to do only good and not evil.

But a perfectly Just God cannot allow into His Heaven any person who ever chooses to do harm. That would be unjust to the people who only choose to do good, by rewarding them evil (harm, as victims) for their good behavior.

Therefore, justice requires that God exclude from Heaven all persons unwilling to forswear all evil of any kind.

If you do evil of any kind at any time and to any -- even the slightest -- degree, you have thus identified yourself as willing to harm other people, and thus you must be excluded from God's perfectly Just Heaven. Your life here on this fallen planet gives you the opportunity to declare your allegiance, either for good or for evil.

Every person I know on this earth today has screwed up at one time or another. We all do. Therefore a Just God cannot permit any of us into Heaven -- certainly not so long as we continue to sin and bring harm on other people. That would be unjust.


God has provided a way out of this trap. We can choose, starting today, to do only good. God calls this choice "repentance". It means turning around and going the other direction, away from the path of self-indulgence and indifference to other people, and towards the direction where every choice does only good and no harm.

That's a tough turn to make, and most of us (I know no exceptions) cannot make it on our own. Once we taste the forbidden fruit, it is too delicious to refrain from future opportunities to gratify our own lusts. But God is gracious, and has given to every repentant person a "new heart" that is able to choose good. It's a package deal, which also erases the karma of our past evil choices. It makes us fit for Heaven.

Is God Just in erasing the past karma? Not if it were merely closing His eyes to sin. We deserve to be excluded from Heaven for showing ourselves to prefer evil over good, but God's eternal Justice is not impugned by His Grace. The payment is made by a voluntary act of self-denial. Self-denial for the good of another person is good, not evil. Justice is served.

And because God is Just, the one person who paid that voluntary price will also be rewarded for it. He becomes King of the universe. As King, he gets to tell us what is good and what is evil, and if we want to live in God's Heaven, we will choose to obey. It's that simple. That person is Jesus Christ. Oh, by the way, he is also the Creator, so his determination and declaration of what constitutes Good is not arbitrary, but an accurate reflection of how things truly are.


What about those people who choose not to repent, who want to continue sinning and bringing harm on other people? God cannot allow them into His Heaven, nor into the New Earth promised to the repentant (now good) people saved by God's Grace, for that would be unjust.

God has prepared a special place for all persons who reject God's Goodness, a kind of quarantine to keep them from infecting the rest of us. This place was originally intended only for the Devil and his angels, but if you don't want Jesus Christ to reign over you, you are welcome to go there, the one place where Jesus Christ does not reign.

Of course, because Jesus and God are not reigning there, nothing good ever happens to anybody. People are free to indulge all their harmful lusts, to the detriment of everybody, and there is no desire nor compulsion to do good. Hell is a place of eternal torment, not because God has willed it, but because its residents have chosen and continue to choose evil and harm over good.

And that also is just.

Tom Pittman
rev. 2007 December 29

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