We live in a culture which has lost sight of the goodness of retributive punishment, and the whole thing seems suspicious. But I think that we’re still aware of this truth in some way, deepy down. There’s a famous law hypothetical: a man robs and rapes a woman. In the week before he’s arrested, a wealthy uncle dies, and leaves him an estate worth more money than he’d ever need. However, he’s also in a terrible accident which renders him physically incapable of ever raping again.
The purposes of punishment, other than retribution, are:
- Rehabilitation: provide state resources to make the criminal a more law-abiding citizen; drug courts, for example, often rehabilitate those who commit crimes brought about by addiction. [This is something different than feeling sorry for what you’ve done — you can recover from an addiction and not be sorry you were addicted in the first place, or sorry that you’re addicted, but unable to escape it.]
- Individual deterrence: convince the criminal not to do this act again by penalizing it.
- Societal deterrence: convince other would-be criminals not to do the act again.
- Detention: to keep society safe from this maniac, at least during the stint of the prison sentence.
His lawyer approaches you and proposes a solution. Due to the accident and the inheritance, he’s at no risk of ever committing these crimes again (or at the very least, he’s of less risk of committing rape and robbery in the future than the average individual). Reasons #1, #2, and #4 are irrelevant here: if the mild risk of recidivism justified locking him up, you’d have to lock up everyone. Instead, the lawyer suggests, what about a sham trial? Have a public sham trial in which the defendant is harshly sentenced. All the trappings of a courtroom (the now-wealthy defendant will even pay to create this charade), but afterwards, instead of going to prison, the defendant undergoes plastic surgery, and spends the rest of his life jet-setting around the world, enjoying the high life.
Is this a moral outcome?
If not, the reason seems very much to be because it is actually morally good to punish wrongdoers. Now, apply this doctrine to God, who we know to be all-good, and I think there’s an easy answer to why God punishes the hell-bound.