Friday, November 05, 2010

Would a truly just God levy an eternal punishment for a temporal sin?

As a followup to my post on whether God double predestines souls by logic or will (since I kind of rambled on and then just tapered off--but it was long enough already), and how hard it is to understand the orthodox explanations of the issues concomitant with a just and omniscient God when you assume the orthodox explanations are unreasonable, I wanted to address something that deserves more attention than I gave it.

I had said;

I'm not saying it isn't reasonable to ask why temporary actions have eternal consequences. It's just that all actions have consequences that ripple forward in time forever, on into eternity, and we only imagine that temporary consequences for our actions are the only result.

People who fixate on these alleged injustices always ask "Why should I go to hell forever if I can only commit finite sins?" One might be able to make some hay by arguing that sin has such an eternal component because it is sin against an eternal being, but it leaves an equally important question unasked:

Why should I go to heaven forever if I can only commit finite good?

If we're talking about earning a ticket to hell, we have to consider what it would mean to earn a ticket to heaven.

A woman was once concerned that her son, a student in engineering, was not on a path to make much of a contribution to the world. She prayed about it and received the message "A doctor saves one life. Your son will save many." The impression she got was of something like a critical defect being prevented or detected in a bridge.

One thing I find interesting is that this sort of thing is rather run of the mill for a decent engineer--literally, the woman's son would just be doing his proverbial job. Can I say "literal" and "proverbial" together this way? Anyway, it's a reminder that when we die, our personal judgment will include an accounting of all things in our life, not just the profound highs and lows, and the final judgment will include an accounting of all the effects our life has had, from the down on his luck man inspired by your simple act of kindness to turn his life around, to the children who never came into the world because an offhand callous remark soured a man's mood and he ended up snubbing in turn the woman who was going to be his wife.

I'm not saying we should go about scrupling our complicity in remote acts whose outcomes we don't have the time or ability to imagine, let alone plan for. I'm just saying we shouldn't be blase about what the stakes really are, or casual about the state of our souls. "I'm no worse than most people, and even maybe a bit better than average, and God's not going to raise the bar to keep most people out, is he?" is just the attitude of complacency we should avoid.

One the one hand, it can be comforting to know you're going to have an "It's a Wonderful Life" event where you learn the true value of all the good you had done and all the positive influence you had. On the other hand, how many missed opportunities and bad choices that seemed trivial, that weren't even thought about at the time, will we also have to answer for? How much will we be saying "I'm sorry, Lord, I had no idea," and how often will we wish we could say it but know that, indeed, we did have some idea, after all?

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