Clark Pinnock: Is God Really Just In Hell?

Derek Ouellette —  May 6, 2011 — 6 Comments

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.

Big difference.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://Exouthenemenos.wordpress.com Exouthenemenos

    The best argument for hell comes from Frantz Fannon in his Wretched of the Earth. Why should the oppressed be forced to spend eternity with their oppressors just because it offends our sensibilities for them not to? Certainly the crucified Christ is the only one who can ask Lazarus to accept the rich man but isn’t it uncompassionate & injust of God to force the oppressed to share eternity?

  • http://thearminian.net/ William Birch

    . . . it raises questions about God’s character and offends our sense of natural justice.

    That caught my eye as well at first glance. I agree with your conclusions entirely, and your final paragraph is compelling, especially, “But for the biblical writers, the doctrine of Hell answers the question of the Justice of God.”

    If I were to oversimplify and caricature some views I’ve read on this matter, I would state the following: The not-so-just view of hell’s reality (to some sensibilities) has a God who created hell, has always known the final and eternal inhabitants of hell, provided a way for those people to avoid hell, but then changes His mind once people actually arrive in hell. We have scriptures which warn people about not going to hell — as a viable threat — but when people actually arrive in hell, the Creator just can’t take it, so He either annihilates them, or “saves” them.

    For me, the caricature(s) is not nearly as offensive to my sensibilities as is the errant views I’ve read on the subject :)

  • http://ryankcollins.wordpress.com Ryan Collins

    As much as I absolutely love, admire, and miss Clark Pinnock and his work, I have always disagreed with his stance on hell. Just like your own statements, his view of hell is just as difficult to justify. I think maybe Pinnock is arguing from the sense that since hell is apparently a reality, the option that is less likely to look immoral for Yhwh is annihilationism. Of course I am not Pinnock and do not know this, but that is often how I think about it.

  • Josh

    “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?”

    I think there are plenty of instances where parents know that their children’s punishment (whether it be incarceration or even capital punishment) is just for the crime they committed (rape or murder). And I think most of us would affirm that these finite punishments are fitting. But, I can understand why people often time would object to the endless punishment that the traditional view threatens with… Most parents (all loving parents?!) would never desire that for their children…

  • Brian MacArevey

    “But for the biblical writers, the doctrine of Hell answers the question of the Justice of God”.

    Actually, it seems to me that, for the biblical writers, the cross answers the question of God’s justice. Turning the other cheek and enemy love override an eye for an eye, or any other supposed conception justice proposed by fallen humanity. If we act in these ways, then, and only then, do we live in accordance with the will of the Father. Of course, then we just take the doctrine of ECT mold God into the form of a creature, like us, who operates in a manner no different from that of fallen humanity. True justice, then, is re-defined in light of the cross; and it involves laying down your own life instead of demanding the lives of others. It appears to me that the doctrine of ECT contradicts a biblical understanding of justice, and it is actually the cross that offends our natural human conceptions of justice; ECT actually fits perfectly within the bounds of our sinful human sensibilities. Anyways, my point is that ECT is closer to the natural understanding of justice, but the cross of Christ transcends it, and it must, or it is meaningless and in-offensive. This is the scandal of the cross.

  • http://LiveIntentionally.org Paul Steinbrueck

    My view of hell was completely changed thanks to a brilliant perspective N.D. Wilson included in his book Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. While hell certainly is a place where justice and punishment are realized, hell is a voluntary “refuge” for those who want nothing to do with God. I explained this further in a blog post:

    How can a loving God send people to Hell?
    http://www.liveintentionally.org/2009/09/01/how-can-a-loving-god-send-people-to-hell/