In part one of this series I attempted to explain how Jesus Christ could experience the eternal wrath of God in just several hours of suffering on the cross.
I proposed that Jesus Christ could accomplish the eternal result of redemption in a short temporal period of time because he is ontologically (relating to the study of being) an eternal personal being. The theological point is that an eternal personal being (Christ being God Incarnate) can offer an eternal sacrifice by the very nature of his being without consideration to time factors.
This article will address a related question:
Why must nonbelievers suffer eternal judgment for a mere temporal period of sin?
In other words, if a person sins for seventy years here on Earth, what is the justice in God punishing the sinner for all eternity? Why an eternal punishment for a temporal period of infraction?
My answer to this question is very similar to the answer that I gave to the earlier question in part one. I propose that the answer to this perplexing question is found in the historic Christian view of God.
God is an eternal personal being of complete justice and holiness.
According to Christian orthodox theology, God is an infinite, eternal, tri-personal spiritual being—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This God is also a morally perfect being (reflecting complete holiness, justice, and goodness). Paul describes God thusly:
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen (1 Timothy 1:17).
The Book of Revelation describes God in these ominous words:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come (Revelation 4:8).
So how does all this impact the original question?
Why must nonbelievers suffer eternal judgment for a temporal period of sin?
The answer is that God is an infinite and eternal holy being. Therefore to sin against this God is to commit an eternal offense.
The substantive theological issue here is not how long the person sinned while living temporally on the Earth. Rather the crux of the matter rests upon whom the sin was committed against.
To commit sin against an eternal God is to commit an eternal sin. Temporal sins against an eternal God bear eternal consequences. Eternal punishment is the cost of offending an eternally perfect moral being.
Part three of this series will address another difficult question concerning God’s justice in punishing sinners eternally.
For more on the study of Christ’s person, nature, and work, see chapters 9 and 11 of my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions and chapter 8 of my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.