Themelios Article: Hell for a Single Sin

I am thankful to Themelios for publishing my friendly critique of Robert Golding’s excellent article on hell last year. The introduction is below. Please follow the link to read the full article.

“It was refreshing to read Robert Golding’s recent article in Themelios on eternal punishment. In a sea of compromise around this topic, his commitment to the doctrine of hell is commendable, and he has surely accomplished his goal of strengthening the resolve of pastors to preach on eternal damnation. In particular, his explanation of sin as privation leading to the loss of the goodness or the full humanness of the reprobate in hell is crucial to answering one of the greatest objections to the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment—that the torment of those we love will mar our everlasting felicity. As Golding points out, what we love in unbelievers now is of God and will no longer be expressed in the lake of fire. The saints will not pine eternally over the loss of their loved ones but will look in horror upon what they have become, and have chosen to be, without God.

In spite of the article’s many strengths, this response offers a friendly critique to one of its central aspects—the asymptotic nature of sin and sinners in hell. Using Jonathan Edward’s views on the eternal and progressive increase of the saints towards God in heaven, Golding argues for a correlative move away from God—a never-ending increase of sinfulness of the reprobate in hell. Moreover, the article posits that this eternal regression from God explains the merit of eternal punishment, answering possible objections regarding divine justice towards sins that are finite in duration and/or proportion.

I will respond to this theory in two ways. Firstly, it will be demonstrated that the final judgment is presented in Scripture as a monumental interposition in the lives of the wicked. I will make use of the views of Henri Blocher to argue that this fact undermines Golding’s construal of a continual, progressive, or asymptotic state of sinning by the reprobate and I will suggest a synthesis of Blocher’s and Golding’s thoughts on sin in hell. Secondly, it will be shown that Golding’s theory is unnecessary to defend the eternal punishment of the wicked, and that the logic of both Scripture and reason demand eternal retribution in hell as punishment for even a single sin. Three scriptural passages will be briefly considered in addition to Anselm’s proof in Cur Deus Homo. In conclusion, it will be argued that this more traditional ‘hell for a single sin’ view not only magnifies the grievousness and debt of sin, it also more greatly magnifies the work and atonement of our Lord Jesus.”