Eternal damnation is good, because God is good.
For Christians like John Piper, God alone defines goodness, such that something is not good and so God does it. Rather God does a thing, and so it is good. Thus integral to questions about Hell is deciding (and how we decide) who God is, and deciding (and how we decide) what constitutes goodness.
Some Christians describe Piper’s perspective as a ‘high view’ of both Scripture and God’s sovereignty. This high view amounts to prioritizing Scripture as the exclusive informer on this issue and, typically, identifying God exclusively as a sovereign or king.
Interestingly, for many Christians the “exclusivity” here is neither an option nor even a conscious choice, but is simply what is: their culture offers no other options, or excludes other options as (nearly) heretical.
Piper’s position (and the ‘high view’ of scripture that undergirds it) is thus handy because it intellectually “solves” any apparent contradictions with how God acts (or fails to act) and our understanding of God as infinitely good. For Piper “it’s all good” with God, including Hell.
The problem is that intellectual solutions do not necessarily equate with either personal solutions or actual, real solutions.
More pointedly, Piper and others would insist that we take ourselves ‘out of our skin’ (or else harden our skin to rock) so that we do not feel loss as loss or hurt as hurt, and so do not perceive the notion of eternal punishment for finite actions as sadistic injustice.
The problem is that Piper is playing on one register while ignoring the other, and this in two ways.
On the one hand, he is taking a thoroughly modernist approach in prioritizing reason above the emotions, senses and other faculties. For our emotions and senses clearly offer valuable information in everyday life (both to supplement and, at times, correct our reason) and are depicted in the Bible as essential to understanding God—humans are called to “taste” and “see” God’s goodness!
Thus true human understanding requires the use all our faculties that, for Christians, are God-given.
On the other hand, the exegetical basis on which Piper stands is remarkably one-sided. By depicting God as primarily sovereign he ignores great swathes of the Bible that portray God as father and parent. Re-stating Colin Gunton’s point, Piper is prioritizing the will to love.
Ironically then, by viewing God primarily as sovereign (with the goal, perhaps, of defending God’s ‘full divinity’) Piper denigrates our God-given humanity through falsely reducing us to rational beings who act according to our wills. Even more ironically, this also strips God of so much of God’s own character, for God is love. Piper’s position at best ignores this crucial point, at worst it imperils it.
For example, many people have abandoned Christianity because the goodness of God is contradicted by eternal, unending suffering just as it is when God doesn’t “show up” in the face of the hurt, loss, or evil in human existence.
Yet Piper’s view only compounds the issue because, according to his ‘high view’ of Scripture, God doesn’t need to “show up.” To insist on such would reduce God to a puppet, not a king. And on the injustice of eternal punishment, Piper and crew would likely side with St. Anselm: humans merit infinite, eternal punishment because they have transgressed an infinite majesty.
No, not so.
What I want is not a God who (purportedly) makes sense as a construct, but who loves me in ways that make sense in (and through) my lived existence—a God before whom I can sing and dance, and that I can adore as my children adore me: with joy. Because no matter how powerful, clearly understandable, and awe-inspiring this God may be, I won’t bow to a tyrant—I won’t worship a beast.
We need a God who answers not with words, but with God-self; who answers not just our cries (or criteria or critiques) but ourselves. Nothing less will do.