This is a Q & A blog post by our Visiting Scholar in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.
I have some questions about your 12 Dec 2022 podcast, where you responded to Zhao's question, "Why doesn't God give us an infinite time to accept Jesus?"
In your response, you said, "If God gave you an infinite amount of time for people to come to faith in Christ then justice would never be done for those who refuse to believe in Christ and who reject God. They would never receive their just desert because it would go on for infinity." But according to the traditional view of the eternal punishment of the wicked, isn't this just what happens? The wicked are being punished, but they never fully receive what they deserve because the punishment never ends.
For comparison, let's suppose a criminal is sentenced to 20 years in prison. After 19 years, the criminal has surely received punishment, but justice has not yet been served, because justice demands 20 years. It seems to me that it's the same with eternal punishment -- although the wicked are surely being punished, justice is never done because the sentence is never complete.
I've heard you say that eternal torment for the wicked is just, because in hell the wicked keep on sinning and thus continue to require punishment. That seems to have the same problem: justice is never actually done, because there is always more punishment awaiting the wicked.
As you said in answer to a different question (found here: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/videos/short-videos/isnt-hell-a-double-punishment), "God has to give him [the wicked] what he deserves, because that's what justice is." However, the wicked in hell never actually receive what they deserve, because although they are being punished, the punishment is never complete and therefore justice is never served.
In another place (https://www.reasonablefaith.org/videos/short-videos/william-lane-craig-qa-what-is-hell-is-hell-compatible-with-a-loving-god), you said, "God is absolute justice. Every sin, every wrongdoing in the universe, will receive its just desert." Again, it seems God will be eternally chasing after sin, punishing one sin committed in hell after another. So although your statement is true -- every sin will receive its just desert -- will justice ever be done?
So how do you resolve the requirement for the wicked to receive their just desert with the idea that in hell, justice is never served because the punishment will never end?
William Lane Craig’s Response
It seems clear to me, Darren, that there’s a world of difference between punishment’s being indefinitely postponed, and punishment’s being indefinitely prolonged. In the first case, the wicked are never punished, whereas in the second case they are punished forever. So the two cases are not parallel but are as different as day and night!
So the only remaining question is whether the damned in hell do receive their just desert. Well, that depends on what you think their just desert is. What is the punishment to which they are sentenced by God? I should say that it is something like everlasting separation from God. If that is right, then the damned in hell do receive their just desert because their punishment goes on forever.
The problem with your analogy of a criminal sentenced to twenty years is that his sentence has a finite duration. But suppose instead that the criminal is sentenced to life imprisonment. In that case, so long as he is not paroled, he will receive his just desert, whether he lives 20 years or 50 years or 100 years. He will spend life in prison. This a better analogy both to our sin as a capital offense before God and to the punishment meted out on the damned of separation from God forever.