not sin against a holy infinite God result in an infinite
sentence of punishment? And wouldn't limiting the duration
of hell diminish the seriousness of sin?
This doctrine was put forth primarily
by Augustine five centuries after the church
was birthed. This was not a majority view of the early church
nor a view that has held a consensus since. It is significant
to point out that Augustine was for one, by his own admission,
a poor student of Greek and preferred the Latin vulgate of
the Scriptures. He is the one who put forth the argument of
the meaning of the parallel "aeonios" in Matthew
25. We ought to be more than a little leery of one who came
up with new Biblical interpretations who also did not have
a handle on the original language of the New Testament. Also
Augustine had been heavily into Manichaeism, a type of dualism,
before his conversion. His infinite punishment theory for
all practical purposes appears to present a very close match
to dualism: So according to Augustine, our infinite God of
goodness parallels an infinite evil hell where billions of
human beings are consigned where they will keep sin, rebellion,
hatred for God, and death in existence forever like an open
wound in His universe ...never to be healed.
Also God is not only infinite in
His being and holiness and justice but He is infinite also
in His love since we are told, He IS love. This
verse is put forth by John in such a way as to denote that
love is His very nature. It would logically have to follow
that His love would parallel His being, holiness and justice
thereby making all His acts indeed loving ones. I recalled
from my childhood the catechism question, "What is God?"
I am in utter astonishment. Love is not mentioned
in the definition of God in the Westminster
Shorter Catechism. I never noticed its absence nor questioned
those who taught it to me.
From the Westminster Shorter Catechism
Q. 4. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable,
in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness,
So there you have in part why we contracted
this heresy of thinking God's love will not infinitely accompany
all His attributes.
Now as far as "diminishing the seriousness
of sin" I will put forth two thoughts about
this. First, the early church was not "blessed"
to have this perspective by Augustine and so therefore did
not have its acclaimed power to deter sin as we have been
apparently endowed with since. However, any cursory reading
of the testimony of the early church shows they ran moral
circles around us in every area: in personal holiness, care
of the poor, their reputation among the pagans, and their
ability to face horrific martyrdom. Here's just a sliver of
their testimony within the Roman Empire:
"They are in the flesh, but they do not
live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but
they are citizens of heaven. They love all men, and are
persecuted by all. They are assailed by the Jews as foreigners,
and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them
are unable to assign any reason for their hatred."
Julian "the Apostate," an anti-Christian
Roman emperor; A.D. 361-363 made the noteworthy concession,
that the heathens did not help even their own brethren in
faith; while the Jews never begged, and "the godless
Galileans," as he malignantly styled the Christians,
supplied not only their own, but even the heathen poor.
(History of the Christian Church, vol. III, p. 50)
I do not think we can make any claims that our
more enlightened understanding of our "infinite hell"
has been a motivator or catalyst for a more moral Church.
Second, I will assert that the teaching of an
infinite hell itself has brought a diminishing of the
seriousness of sin. Here's why. When there
is an infinitely big stick being held over your head coupled
with uncertainty whether you are believing the things that
make one safe from the "stick" you tend to be afraid
of ALL sticks that come your way. What I am getting at is
that fear of an infinitely severe judgement eclipses any ability
to process the warnings and real dangers posed to the Church
by Christ and His Apostles. Verses like Hebrews 10:30-31:
"For the Lord will judge HIS people. It is a fearful
thing to fall into the hands of the Living God." and
Matthew 25 where Jesus is trying to warn His people of missing
the Kingdom, the symptom being the neglect of the "least
of these". And our response is to debate the word "aionios".