Storming the four fortresses of hell – part 3

First it was freedom. Then truth. Now justice. In each case I’m looking at the connection between how we define these terms and our eschatology.

In a previous post, I described six purposes of the justice system:

1. Retribution

2. Public Protection

3. Deterrence

4. Restitution

5. Rehabilitation

6. Reconciliation

On a meta-level, you could say these purposes follow a progression from “preventive” to “curative.” That is, the first three purposes seek to prevent or deter future offenses by punishing the offender and/or removing the offender from the community for a period of time–or permanently, in the case of capital punishment. Under this rubric, protection of the community is paramount. And for the community to survive, the individual must suffer. This is important not just in a practical sense but on a psychological level as well. We all have a deep need to see the moral books balanced.

The latter three purposes seek to prevent future offenses by “curing” or transforming the offender and then restoring his or her relationship with the community. This may involve a period of incarceration. But even if it does, the primary purpose will be to provide time and space for the offender to reconsider the error of his or her ways, reflect on what led to the offending behavior and then learn new coping strategies that will prevent a relapse.

So how do we connect this to hell? It you favor preventive measures of justice, you probably fall into the eternal torment or Annihilationist camp. If you gravitate toward curative measures, you are likely a Universalist. Or a hippie.

To my way of thinking, a form of justice that comes at the expense of neither the community or the individual is the highest good imaginable. Even if we can’t always achieve this goal, we can at least conceive of it. Therefore, why would we expect anything less of God?

About Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer who has applied his craft to numerous documentaries, feature films and shorts. Recent projects include "The Chicken Manure Incident," "Hellbound?," "Drop Gun," "No Saints for Sinners," "spOILed," "Sex+Money," "With God On Our Side," "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," "After..." and the upcoming biopic "The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton." In addition to his work in film, Kevin has written, co-written and edited over 45 books. He lives in Kimberley, BC, Canada with his wife and four children.

  • KevinC

    To my way of thinking, a form of justice that comes at the expense of neither the community or the individual is the highest good imaginable. Even if we can’t always achieve this goal, we can at least conceive of it. Therefore, why would we expect anything less of God?

    Because “God” (in the “Big-G,” “One, True” Abrahamic sense) is a character in books, and those books usually portray him as quite mean and vindictive? Even when he, through his human “spokesmen” (prophets, apostles, etc.) or in narrative passages where he’s quoted directly (e.g. various places in Genesis) is calling for good things like social justice or charity or saying that we ought to be excellent to each other, he quite often backs that up with threats of plagues of locusts, brutal foreign invasion, or (in the words of tender Jesus meek and mild) weeping and gnashing of teeth in a hereafter.
    There are several examples in the Bible of human beings (Moses, Abraham, King David) having to try and talk Yahweh down from committing mass murder. So, no, I don’t see any reason to expect that Yahweh would be as nice and as just as you are.

  • http://www.written-not-with-ink.blogspot.com Barb

    Kevin, I remember when I first learned that the Greek word commonly translated as “punishment” (kolasis) was actually defined as “correction.” And furthermore, that the root word, kolazo, was “to lop or prune, as in trees.” It was an eye-opener, and gave me a taste of HOPE, that maybe God’s vision of justice involved way more than I’d been taught—that maybe his goal was to eventually correct our behavior and trim away the dead within us, rather than do away with US permanently. I had been so gullible to just accept someone else’s (literal) word in building the theology of my own personal faith. I’m so glad to have learned bigger perspectives along my journey. I believe that deep down most of us would rather be reconciled through God’s way of doing justice and not our own vision of it.

    Great post, thanks!

    • Kevin Miller

      Thanks, Barb! I also like to think of punishment as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Because if it’s an end in itself, it reflects a self-centered character, and if Jesus reflects God, I can’t see how he could ever be regarded as self-centered.

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