When it comes to hell, I’ve heard people ask, “How can a loving, just God insist that a finite sin would require an infinite punishment?” I’ve wondered about that myself through out the years.
Until I remembered: The Bible teaches that sin has a terrifying ripple effect.
Remember the first sin? It was nibbling at a forbidden fruit. Such a tiny thing, we think, and yet a chapter later it had already unleashed conflict, division, and murder on the first family. Since then, that single sin has spread like a chain reaction and brought death to all humanity, to all of creation, with unfathomable consequences. Who would have thought that a single bite from a pretty little fruit would lead to a world of war, rape, exploitation, and darkness?
The thing is, it’s still happening today, through you and me.
Let’s say I humiliated someone named Bob over lunch hour in fourth grade. Can I pay for that sin? Sure, maybe, probably. Sorry, Bob.
But here’s the thing; the shame I inflicted on Bob also damaged his self confidence. Can I pay for that, too? Maybe not, right?
And that lack of confidence led to a passivity on the playground that prevented Bob from stopping a bully from beating up his friend during recess. Can I pay for that? Probably not.
Passive Bob goes through life never stepping up, never quite engaging or taking risks. Can I pay for all those missed opportunities? That’s beyond calculation already.
And what if the beating that bullied kid received became the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading him to withdraw from meaningful relationships from then on. Can I pay for that? Not a chance.
And maybe his ongoing isolation leads to loneliness, then depression, which eventually factors into his suicide. Now I’m hopelessly behind, but it’s just getting started.
What if, in the wake of the kid’s suicide, his dad lost his faith and walked away from God? What if this put just a little too much strain on the marriage, which, combined with other struggles, led to a messy divorce? And what if that dead kid’s sister shut down because of his suicide, which contributed to her becoming an alcoholic later in life? And what if that alcoholism got passed down for generations to come, ruining families and careers and dreams for longer than we would care to consider?
To be clear, I would not be the sole cause of this hypothetical chain reaction. People at every junction of the story clearly have their own choices to make and they will be held accountable for those choices. That said, the repercussions of my sin could still be traced through the entire story. My single sinful, broken choice spun an intricate web of sinful, broken choices until that one finite sin had multiplied over and over, wreaking incomprehensible earthly and eternal consequences down the line.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I sin every day, and I’ve been sinning prolifically since I knew right from wrong. What if even half of those numberless sin ripples are still active, traveling outward, ruining lives as they go? Each one is like a snowball rolling downhill, gaining size and momentum, until incalculable avalanches of pain and suffering are perpetually in motion everywhere I’ve been.
The simple truth is, I will never know the damage I’ve helped cause.
So back to the big question: “How can a loving, just God insist that a finite sin would require an infinite punishment?”
Whoever said sin was finite? It’s anything but. Don’t get me wrong, I hate the idea of hell. Hate it, hate it, hate it. But I can’t deny the truth. The truth is this: nothing but the infinitely powerful self-sacrifice of an infinitely valuable, eternal God could ever pay the price for sin my and stop the ripples from spreading. When sin is understood in all it’s rampant horror, the matchless grace of Jesus Christ to forgive all my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness through the shedding of his own blood becomes even more ridiculously fantastic and beautiful. Glory!
And seen in this light, Christ’s parable of the unmerciful servant makes so much more sense. In the story, after being forgiven a mind-boggling debt, a thankful dude refuses to forgive somebody else twenty bucks. That worthless servant is taken behind the spiritual woodshed in a big way, Jesus says. But why is denying someone forgiveness such a serious offence to God? Because, in a world full of compounding sin avalanches, we refused to inject gospel power into the equation, the only power in the universe that can stop sin in it’s tracks and resurrect lives and tragedies. We denied the world (and the soul who offended us) what they needed most of all. We refused to ‘pay it forward.’
Question for you: Have you ever seen sin in this light before? Comment below!