Would God punish someone for eternity in hell because of a bunch of sins committed in a few short years of life? That is a popular question being raised today. The question behind this question is, “Would a good God be fair or good to punish someone for eternity for that which was done in a finite life?” Seems like a good question. Let’s look at Genesis 3, just after Adam and Eve ate of the apple.
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
Was it fair for God to curse the ground for the rest of this age because of one sin, one instance of disobedience by Adam and Eve, something as simple as eating an apple? This question, just like the first one, is shortsighted and misses the point. It confuses and misunderstands the entire doctrine of sin.
Let us first remember that God is the Creator of heaven and earth, the sun and moon, the stars, the seas and land, plants and animals, and man! When he created Adam and Eve, he blessed them and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 2:28) He commanded them, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) The Lord gave them dominion over all the earth with only one restriction: not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But they did the only thing God commanded them not to do, and sin and death entered the world in that instant through Adam’s disobedience. (Romans 5:12)
It must be known that sin is terrible because God is holy. He is love. He is good. He is just. All of these, and more, are attributes of God. We cannot separate God’s goodness or His love from His justice or holiness. The punishment for sin is infinite because our God is infinitely holy. “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8
So, yes, it is fair and just and good that God would curse the ground and make work toilsome for all of this life because of Adam’s first sin. And yes, it is fair and just and good that hell (the second death) is eternal. Why? Not because of the little sins we commit, or the big ones, day in and day out our entire lives, but because the big picture, the truth, is that these little and big sins are the result of a much more serious condition in each one of us. Sin separates us from a holy God. We fall short of God’s glory. We are under condemnation. (Romans 5:18) We are dead in our trespasses.
But God is good! He did not leave Adam and Eve locked out of the Garden naked. He clothed them in animal skins. And God is love! He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Through His death on the cross, Christ paid sin’s penalty for all who put their faith in Him. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Yes. Hell is real. And it is eternal. But God provides for our reconciliation to Him through Jesus Christ. And eternal life in heaven awaits those who trust in Christ and His shed blood on the cross. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)