We know that the Holy Qur’an directly speaks of the eternal punishment to be given to the kufar. That is, it speaks about eternity.
“God has promised the hypocrites, men and women., and the kafirs, the fire of hell; therein shall they dwell; sufficient is it for them; for them is the curse of God, and an enduring punishment.” (Surah At-Tawba, 9:68).
The Qur’an also promises the believing men and the believing women gardens in Paradise forever. It speaks about eternal reward.
“God has promised to believers, men and women, gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein and beautiful mansions in gardens of everlasting bliss. But the greatest bliss is the good pleasure of God: that is the supreme felicity.” (Surah At-Tawba, 9:72).
The question then arises: How can one accept that in one’s lifetime of eighty or one hundred years, one commits evil deeds and then for eternity – millions of years – one is punished? How can this be reconciled with God’s justice?
Of course, this question does not arise about eternal reward because the ocean of God’s Mercy is very great and so, His eternal reward shows greater virtue and mercy.
Should a balance not exist between punishment and reward?
In order to reach a final answer to this question, several points need to be noted:
Punishments on the Day of Resurrection do not resemble punishments in this world. For instance, a person is found guilty of aggression and plunder and he spends some time in prison whereas the punishment on the Day of Judgment takes into consideration the efforts of one’s deeds and the particularities of a person’s acts. In clearer terms, the difficulties which one will bear in the other world will be the direct result of one’s deeds. The Holy Qur’an explains this very clearly where it says,
“Then on that Day, not a soul will be wronged in the least and you shall but be repaid the needs of your past deeds.” (Surah Ya Sin, 36: 54).
With one simple example, we can visualize this truth that a person who goes after narcotics and alcoholic drinks and no matter how much one explains that these things will ruin him, sicken his heart and destroy his nerves, he does not listen. He spends several weeks or months drowned in these killing pleasures. Gradually, he develops ulcers, heart or nerve disease and then he spends tens of years until the end of his life suffering because of this and he groans night and day.
Can one object here as to why a person who only drank or did drugs for several weeks or months have to suffer for ten of years?
It is reality stated in response that this is the result of his own actions. Even if he were to live longer than the Prophet Noah and were to live for tens of thousands of years and we were to continuously see him in pain and anguish, we would say that this is something he brought upon himself with his deeds.
Punishment on the Day of Judgment is similar. Thus, no one can object to the justice of the situation.
Some people assume that the time limit of the punishment must be the same extent as the sin. However, this is an erroneous belief because the relation between a sin and punishment is not a temporal one; it depends upon the result and quality of the sin.
For instance, it is possible that a person can kill an innocent person in one second, but according to the laws of some countries, he is given life imprisonment. Here we see that the time of the sin was one quick second whereas the punishment is for tens of years. No one considers this to be oppressive. Why? Because the question here is not one of days or weeks or months or years, it depends upon the kind of crime and the effect of the crime.
Eternity in hell and eternal punishment only belongs to those people who have closed all doors to salvation for themselves and they have drowned themselves in corruption, recklessness, kufr and hypocrisy so that the darkness of sin takes over their entire being and, as a result, that person takes on the colour of sin and kufr.
The Holy Qur’an says:
“Nay, those who seek gain in evil and are girt round by their sins- they are companions of the fire: therein shall they abide (for ever).” (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:81).
These kinds of individuals have completely cut off their connection with God and have closed all doors to their salvation and well-being.
These kinds of individuals are like birds that purposefully break their own wings and pull out their own feathers, hence, are obliged to walk forever upon the earth and are deprived of flying through the skies.
The three points given above clarifies the issue that eternal punishment which belongs to a particular group of hypocrites or kuffar does not oppose the principle of justice. This is the ominous result of their deeds themselves. The Divine Prophets had previously told them that their deeds would have these results.
It is clear that if individuals are ignorant and the invitation of the Prophets is not known to them and if they commit evil deeds out of ignorance, they will not receive such a difficult punishment.
It is also necessary to point out that the ocean of Divine Mercy is so great and extensive that a large group of transgressors are given God’s Mercy; some by means of intercession; some by means of forgiveness and some because of small, good deeds which they performed. God, by His greatness, gives great reward for those small, good deeds. And another group, after they have been punished for a time in hell and have been purified, will return to Paradise due to Divine Mercy.
The only group remaining is the one which has enmity towards the truth and commit oppression, corruption and hypocrisy so that their whole being is covered in oppression, kufr and faithlessness.