Perhaps one of the weakest arguments that’s advanced against the hope that all mankind will eventually be saved from evil and enjoy the blessings of God’s love is the argument that this belief encourages sinners to sin.
Without the doctrine of eternal punishment, some people say, people will sin with impunity, unafraid of the consequences.
What an odd thing to say!
Suppose I tell my son, “If you do such-and-such, you get no more screen time for a week.” And he really wants to do such-and-such so he says, “OK, no more screen time for a week.”
Am I then left with no choice but to say, “Fine. No more screen time FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER”?
Or can I say, “No more screen time for a month, then” or perhaps, “for the forseeable future, until I can see that you’ve come to your senses and won’t do such-and-such anymore”?
In short, even if we see the threat of Hell or afterlife punishment of some kind as a deterrent to evil, Why shouldn’t the threat of say, 1,000 years of punishment be sufficient for some sinners and 1,000,000 years for others? Is anyone really going to argue that people will feel free to sin if they only have to face a measly million years in the torment of unkilling flame?
I’m not saying that God is threatening us with any amount of time in unkilling flame in order to control us and keep us from doing acts of evil. I think there’s a different, progressive, and inner meaning to such teachings that we are meant to grasp as soon as we are capable of it. Only the most brutal souls, if any, would find such teachings helpful. And let’s face it, some of the currently most brutal souls in our world (ISIS, anyone?) actually use and believe in the doctrine of eternal punishment.
My own observation is that punishment (and its threat) actually causes an accretion of evil rather than purifying it. Used in limitation it can suppress certain expressions of evil. But after a while, you get diminishing returns.
Instead of defending our “positions” (my previously learned way of dealing with religious questions – what an arrogant way to follow Christ!) why don’t we patiently penetrate this mystery to the extent we are able?
Why did St. Porphyrios say that Christ doesn’t hold Hell in his hands and doesn’t threaten us with it?