The single-most important problem for the logical coherence of the Christian belief in God is what Christians have believed about hell — that God will punish humans endlessly for their sins. We are approaching this topic through Gregory Macdonald’s book The Evangelical Universalist
Big question: How do you account for the justice problem? How do you account for the joy problem?
There are two fundamental problems for those who believe in hell as eternal, conscious torment.
First, the justice problem: hell is understood as retributive justice meted out by God against sinful humans. The problem here is that the punishment must fit the crime in order for the punishment to be just. What possible crime could be matched by an eternal punishment?
Two responses have been given in Christian theology: Anselm’s theory is that sin against an infinite God is an infinite sin and therefore worthy of infinite punishment. [I would argue that humans cannot by nature ever commit an “infinite” sin because humans are finite.] A second theory, and he quotes DA Carson (who once told me this very theory when we were having lunch together), is that humans continue to sin and so punishment fits the crime because the sinner in hell keeps on sinning. “Macdonald” contends that this means God never really removes sin from the universe … and so he explores other options.
Second, the joy problem: “To have supremely worthwhile happiness, I must be able to know about the genuine fate of those I love and remain happy” (15). The fundamental problem here then is the capability of eternal bliss and joy and supreme happiness while knowing the fate of those we love who are in hell or knowing the fate of other Eikons of God. “Macdonald” contests the “memory-wipe” theory of Bill Craig that contends God will erase the memories of the saved of those who are in hell [and “Macdonald” contends the position is deceptive on God’s part] or that consciousness of God’s utter blessedness will render a person unaware of those in hell. “Macdonald” thinks awareness of God makes one more aware of the fate of others. The other theory is that the saved will join God’s side of satisfaction with the fate of those in hell because they will see the utter rebellion of their sin.