The Eternal Penalty Box

William J. Stewart | Spiritual Lessons from the World of Sports

Not all sports have a penalty box (these do: hockey, lacrosse, rugby, field hockey, roller derby, water polo, handball, ringette), but all sports have some way of penalizing a player or team for breaking the rules. It may be the loss of points, position, possession, or personnel. In more serious cases, disqualifications, suspensions , or being banned.

Society in general also has in place penalties for those who violate laws. Depending on where you live and the nature of the infraction, punishments can range from fines, community service, jail sentences or even death.

Even greater than the penalties for breaking the rules in sports or violating a law of the land; those who disregard and disobey the law of God will be punished.


All sin comes with consequences. In Genesis 2:16-17, God told Adam that eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would result death. He couldn’t have been any clearer. And yet, a chapter later, the devil convinced Eve to partake, and Adam ate with her. Immediately, things changed:

…the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD… (Genesis 3:7-8)

The text seems to infer that it was common for the LORD to visit with them in the garden, but this time, they were afraid and hid. They’d lost their innocence; they had died spiritually that day. But the consequences of sin didn’t end there; pain in childbearing, difficulties with weeds, hard labour, and eventually, they would die physically. And things get worse; these consequences were not just for Adam and Eve, but have fallen upon every mother, gardener, labourer—every human since. That one sin has affected every person who has lived.

Now, don’t misunderstand. Though the physical consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin have come upon all, the spiritual penalty did not. Paul makes sure we understand concerning spiritual death:

…through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned… (Romans 5:12)

Each one is responsible for their own sin, and because each of us have followed in the way of Adam (disobeying God’s word), spiritual death came upon all. Well, what does that mean?


If there were no hell, a discuss of spiritual death would be a moot point. Some suggest that the eternal punishment for disobeying God is non-existence. As comforting as that might be, it is not the truth. It is the Greek word Gehenna that is translated as hell in our English Bibles. It was once a place of pagan worship, which involved human sacrifices. Eventually, it became a garbage dump that was perpetually on fire. Thayer’s states:

…valley of lamentation …on the south and east of Jerusalem …so called from the cries of the little children who were thrown into the fiery arms of Moloch… The Jews so abhorred the place after these horrible sacrifices had been abolished by king Josiah, that they cast into it not only all manner of refuse, but even the dead bodies of animals and of unburied criminals who had been executed. And since fires were always needed to consume the dead bodies, that the air might not become tainted by the putrefaction, it came to pass that the place was called Geena of Fire. (Thayer’s Lexicon)

So, why should an ancient garbage dump outside of Jerusalem concern us? This is the figure Jesus used to describe eternal punishment for sin!

If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

That is a graphic description. He said it would be better for us to be dismembered than to be cast into hell! If hell is simply non-existence, I’ll keep my eyes and hands, thank you. Now understand, Jesus was not telling us to literally pluck out our eyes and cut off our hands—He was adamantly imploring us to stop sinning.

Some will argue, surely a loving God wouldn’t cast people into hell. In fact, a Barna Group Poll indicates that though 71% of Americans believe hell exists, less than 1% believe they will go to hell. Friend, texts such as Matthew 10:28 and Matthew 23:33 are not academic. They are not empty and idle threats. They are serious warnings to a dying world—hell is real, and we don’t want to go there. Thus, we need to stop disobeying God, turn to Christ for forgiveness, and obey what God has commanded.

Notice the terminology used by the apostle Paul about the time when all will appear before God in judgment:

…in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10)


Some deny that hell is real, others go to an opposite extreme, concluding that it is literally a place with eternally burning fire. Hell (Gr. Gehenna) is a vivid word picture used to describe eternal punishment to us, just as there are word pictures used to describe heaven to us. Human language fails to convey the glory of heaven. The best that can be done is to describe it with all manner of gems—gold, emeralds, sapphires, etc. It would be an amazing site to see all these, but surely we understand that heaven itself is so much grander than the picture. Equally, as bad as the pictures used to describe eternal destruction are (perpetual fire, perpetual darkness, worms & decay), we ought to understand—the experience of it will be so much worse.


May I be extremely clear here; hell was made for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). However, God will cast wicked men there also (v 46). Hell is the place where the devil, the beast and the false prophet are tormented eternally (Revelation 20:10). Death (a tool of Satan) and Hades (the realm of the dead) will be cast into the lake of fire as well (Revelation 20:14). Also, “…anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

Is your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Are you faithfully serving the Lord today? If not, then you are storing up for yourself everlasting destruction from the presence of God—not non-existence, but eternal punishment. Turn to the Lord; obey His word; trust His mercy; seek His way, and He will reward you with a home in heaven.

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