In The Four Views on Hell, Clark Pinnock writes:
“The principles of justice also pose a serious problem for the traditional doctrine of the nature of hell because it depicts God acting unjustly. Like morality, it raises questions about God’s character and offends our sense of natural justice. Hell as annihilation, on the other hand, does not.” – p.151
This is a principle argument for annihilationists. As Pinnock said only moments before the above quote, “any doctrine of Hell needs to pass the moral test, and the version I am advancing can do so”. The problem though is that the argument does not make the case, it assumes it.
Clark Pinnock assumes that his understanding of natural justice is our understanding of natural justice, and in fact he assumes it is the universal understanding of natural justice. But by these standards I know at least one Universalist who would beg to differ.
How can God create a human being, love on them, call them his children then – for whatever reason – send some off into oblivion while rewarding others with heaven? How is that justice? What parent would murder their child just because the child was disobedient? How is that justice?
For a Univeralist, Clarks understanding of justice no more passes the “moral test” than the traditional doctrine of Hell. The annihilationist argument from morality against the traditional view turns back on itself because the very same argument can be used against them by Universalists.
Clarks argument is based on a relative view of justice in which he assumes that his view is the objective one, a point to which most individuals in the history of the Christian Church would object. The only way for an Evangelical to make an objective claim on justice is to base it squarely on scriptural claims of justice, not on “our sense of natural justice”. I think Clark would agree. Pushed by the Universalist, he would turn his argument toward the scriptures to defend his view of justice. And that is precisely what those in the traditional view do.
That is why I do not find Pinnock’s argument from morality very convincing.
But Clark is right that the biblical doctrine of Hell is offensive. It does offend our (is in “our societies”) moral sensibilities. For the world, as for more and more Evangelicals, the doctrine of Hell calls into question the justice of God. But for the biblical writers, the doctrine of Hell answers the question of the Justice of God.