Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

GOD is Just

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Many question how God could send someone to be tortured in hell for eternity. Even the worst people on earth, do they really deserve an eternal punishment, especially considering that it is described as extremely painful? It is not the notion of punishment for sins without repentance that are questioned. What these people do not understand is why it is an eternal punishment. It seems very extreme to punish one for all eternity. "Just trust in God" sounds like a non-answer to some. Surely, God is not a God of confusion. Even if people cannot fully comprehend heaven or hell, they struggle to make reasonable sense of these matters. Some propose that limited punishment would be more rational. Even if a man spent his whole life of eighty, ninety, one hundred or more years resisting God, does he deserve eternal punishment in hell? Humans designed a justice system where criminals are punished, but not unreasonably or in an unusually cruel way. Most people would be against punishing criminals to death by setting them on fire even for a few minutes. Thus, they cannot comprehend that God would allow someone to spend all eternity burning in hell or the idea of being in a place that is excruciatingly painful. Some are convinced that because of this, God is unjust. They cannot comprehend how God would allow someone to spend eternity in hell.

God is merciful and just. He is good, patient, compassionate, and merciful, always seeking the return of sinners even to their last breath, for He calls all to salvation. Thus, the Church never turns her back on a penitent, regardless of the vile sin, for all sin is abhorrent before the Lord, but He is merciful and willing to forgive. "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2). There are consequences to our deeds, whether they be good or bad. Those who have shown kindness and mercy and lived in righteousness and in the fear of God have their reward with Him. Those who chose to torture the weak and vulnerable while here on earth, rejected God's commandments, and indulged in sin, punishment awaits them. Just as we do not know the reality of the ecstasy that will be in heaven, no one can fully comprehend the torment in hell. Perhaps the righteous and penitents will experience multiplied exceeding joy that they shared with others in the world, while the wicked, thieves, murderers, sexually immoral, and the like of these, will be tormented in the form of the gross pain that they inflicted on others while they lived in the world. St. Paul tells us, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7).

Those who separated themselves from God while on earth, will be separated from Him for eternity. When Judgment Day is upon us, we will have no excuse. Any sin, however horrible, is not what will stop anyone from entering heaven. Persistently refusing to repent is the only matter that will prevent anyone from entering heaven to be with God, forever, where sin does not exist. Pride is the sin that ejected Satan from heaven and pride is the sin that prevents him from ever returning to heaven. "How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!" (Isaiah 14:12). Those who choose not to repent will be grouped with others like them and Satan is their leader. Repentance is a choice. Thus, the Prophet David lamented over his sins and acknowledged that God is not to blame: "Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight-That You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge" (Psalm 51:4).

It is not for us to question God's wisdom, mercy, love, or justice, but we must trust Him completely. We are His creation and no one can love us more than Him. He suffered and died for each of us by name, one by one: "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:11). The Lord Jesus Christ suffered for us to make us heirs of His kingdom. If people do not love Him now and do not enjoy His company now, why would they want to spend eternity with Him? Would they want to spend eternity in the company of Him whom they do not love?

We pray in the Divine Liturgy: "He taught us the ways of salvation." Hell is the punishment for rejecting the ways of salvation and God's grace and mercy. Hell is the destination for the one who clings to his sinful nature and rejects God's saving grace. Without sincere repentance, one's dominant sinful nature that gravitates toward iniquities demands separation from God, who is All-Holy. God's immense love and willingness to forgive provides opportunities to be transformed through faith, repentance, and the Holy Mysteries. Thus, hell is not mere punishment based on a scorecard of sins, but a deeper judgment for those prideful souls that failed to recognize their tainted nature, indulged in sin, and persisted to reject God's grace and mercy. No one is worthy to be with God in heaven for eternity. Therefore, the real torment is separation from God for eternity, and this is each individual's personal choice.

If you accept the Lord Jesus Christ, you will live with Him eternally, and those who accept Satan to be their lord, they will live eternally with him. It is like a marriage for life. If you accept a good person to be your spouse, you will live happily together for the rest of your life. On the other hand, if you accept an abusive spouse, "Satan," you will be miserable for the rest of your life. It is a choice that we make about our eternal spouse. By our earthly understanding, we know that the punishment ought to fit the crime. However, consequences often relate to who was assaulted or violated. Stealing from a grocery store is different than stealing from the federal government. Stealing is stealing. However, the magnitude of the crime changes in the status of the one against whom the crime was committed. Thus, stealing from the grocery story may be considered a misdemeanor and the punishment might be community service, while stealing, such as hacking the federal government, or on taxes, etc., will likely result in felony charges and prison time. The justice system, not geared by any religious affiliation, sentences some criminals to life without parole depending on the crime. In the secular world, this life sentence is earthly, and there is no chance to appeal to an earthly judge. Thus, we must know that every sin that each of us commits is against God, directly. He is the eternal God. Therefore, the punishment is also eternal.

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

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