According to JD Walters:
“The New Testament is unanimous in affirming that there are only two final destinies for all people: either the enjoyment of eternal life with God in a new heavens and a new earth, or the 'eternal destruction' of the lake of fire. For theological paradigms in which God's retributive justice is ultimate, this separation is entirely on the basis of one's works, in accordance with the principle of 'just desserts': everyone gets what's coming to them. Those who did well are granted eternal life, while those who did evil are sent into the lake of fire.”
In classic Protestant theology, while the damned get their just desserts, the saints do not. Rather, the saints get Jesus’ just desserts. The saints get far better than they deserve. Indeed, the saints deserve the same fate as the damned. God’s retributive justice is exacted on the Redeemer on behalf of the redeemed.
(JD will revisit this issue below.)
“The immediate problem is that the notion of just desserts seems incompatible with there being just two ultimate destinies, because in this scenario the penalty for doing evil completely annuls any reward a person might receive for doing good.”
This assumes that someone ought to be rewarded for doing his duty. But there’s no moral obligation to reward someone for doing what he was morally obligated to do.
Of course, he could still be rewarded. Rewards can serve more than one function. But it’s not as if that’s his due.
“On some accounts, even the smallest sin, the most seemingly innocuous white lie is enough to condemn a person to eternity in hell…”
Of course, many Christian ethicists think it’s permissible or even obligatory to lie under certain circumstances.
“…while nothing good that a person does can counter-balance that sentence.”
i) If a serial killer donates to an orphanage each time he murders the parents, does his donation counterbalance the crime?
ii) JD is also confusing the general punishment of the damned with the specific punishment of the damned. It’s like claiming if all convicts are incarcerated, then there’s no distinction in their level of punishment. But there’s a difference between incarceration as a general punishment which all prisoners endure, and the specific punishment which individual prisoners may endure in prison.
“To answer this question we must first think about what it really means for God to once and for all intervene to put the world right, to do away once and for all with injustice and evil. In the eschatological kingdom there is no space whatsoever for anything destructive, anything the least bit devious or out of harmony with God's perfect justice, which in its broadest sense means the world functioning exactly as it was meant to function in the beginning. God's restorative justice takes many forms at the end of history, some benefits of which are felt in the here and now: the forgiveness of sins, the healing of diseases and illnesses, the annulment of the 'sting' of death, etc. But it also means, of course, the complete annihilation of anything that stands in the way of God's justice, as Revelation affirms of the beast, the false prophet, and even death and hell themselves. Since God means to completely do away with the old order of sin and death, no vestige can remain of that old order. Now this is truly an either/or scenario: either you are entirely on the side of God's restorative justice, passionately longing for God's will to be done on earth as it is heaven, or you are still clinging to the old order, which is destined to perish.”
Far from being an “either/or” scenario, that’s a false dichotomy. Scripture indicates in numerous places that the damned are quarantined. There is “space” for the enemies of God. There’s one “space” for the damned, and another “space” for the saints.
“There is no middle ground here, no 'neutral' island to stand on which is 'safe' from God's cleansing justice, which in addition to being a mighty stream is also a 'consuming fire'.”
i) That’s an assertion in lieu of an argument.
ii) Moreover, it equivocates. To say that God’s judgment is inescapable is not to say that God’s judgment leaves no room for how or where the damned spend eternity.
“In light of this conception I would suggest that the final judgment is based, not on people receiving 'just desserts' for the actions committed in this life, but on whether people get on board with God's program of restorative justice initiated in Jesus Christ or not. The condemnation of the damned is not that they had done evil things, but that they did not accept God's gracious offer of reconciliation and forgiveness of sins and did not participate in bringing about God's sovereign rule.”
The damned aren’t damned for disbelieving the gospel. Many of the damned never hear the gospel. They are damned as sinners whose sins go unatoned.
“Though he certainly meant to turn sinners away from their evil ways, he never approached sinners with a message of condemnation. Who did he actually condemn? Not those who merely did evil things (which is everyone), but those who refused to admit their culpability and insisted that they were blameless, and therefore did not feel that they needed God's forgiveness and mercy…”
That’s deeply confused. Unless culpability is inherently condemnable, why would the refusal to acknowledge one’s culpability be condemnable?
“This also makes sense of Jesus' pronouncements that certain towns which rejected his message would have a harder time at the judgment than even Sodom and Gomorrah! The basis of the greater condemnation was not that the inhabitants of one town had sinned more than the other, but that one town had been confronted with the gospel and had rejected it, whereas the other had not heard the gospel. There is greater accountability for those who hear the gospel and reject it, but one's final destiny is determined ultimately by one's response to the gospel.”
i) Rejecting the gospel is an aggravated sin. In that respect, the Jews who reject the mission of Jesus are guilty of a graver sin.
ii) The fate of the Sodomites isn’t predicated on their rejection of the gospel.
“But what of Paul's reference to God punishing those who do not know and obey the Gospel with eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)? But notice here again the basis of the condemnation: it is not simply that these people have done evil things, but that they reacted to the gospel with arrogance and hostility instead of with humility and repentance.”
That’s because, in context, Paul is referring to opponents of the gospel. He’s not addressing the case of OT idolaters (to take one example).
“The only eschatological scenario consistent with retributive justice would be one with an infinitely fine gradation of eternal destinies, pleasant and unpleasant in accordance with the balance of good and evil in a person's life. But this would imply that God's eschatological kingdom would feature varying degrees of evil and suffering which would persist in accordance with a person's deeds, which makes a mockery of God's promise that nothing would hurt or destroy in all His holy mountain, and that the new heavens and the new earth would be one without pain, suffering and death…”
i) The damned don’t inhabit God’s holy mountain. They don’t even take day trips to God’s holy mountain.
ii) Reference to the absence of pain and suffering has reference to the saints, not the damned.
iii) Both the saints and the damned share immortality-–but the damned are cursed with immortality, whereas the saints are blessed with immortality.
“Conversely, having just two ultimate destinies would make a mockery of retributive justice because it is impossible to imagine a person being meaningfully compensated for good deeds in the context of eternal punishment and separation from God.”
Should a serial killer be compensated for donating to an orphanage after he orphans the young children of his murder victims? Sounds like a swell racket.