In terms of God’s justice, it can definitely be said that there are degrees of sin and judgment. On several occasions Jesus says things like:
And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you. (Matthew 11:23-24)
And He says to Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." (John 19:11)
John says, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.” (1 John 5:16-17)
The Catholic Church differentiates sins of greater and lesser degrees in terms of “mortal sins” and “venial sins”. Mortal sins are at their base derivative from the ten commandments, whereas venial sins are derivative from lesser points of the law, both old testament and church traditions. And most Protestants tend to think along those same lines, though they don’t have a systematic theology built around it.
I think at the heart of it all; we all believe that the punishment should fit the crime: the child rapist and serial killer deserve far worse than the teenager who steals a candy bar at the grocery store, and God certainly agrees; there’s a lot of scripture that backs this position up.
Yet when it comes to the ultimate judgment, things aren’t quite so balanced. The rapist, killer, and shoplifter are all sentenced to stand side-by-side in hell, along with the guy who lived a good life except he called his brother a “fool” on occasion (Matthew 5:22). James says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10)
Where’s the disconnect? I don’t think hell has different levels like Dante Alighieri suggests in his Inferno, but it’s easy to see where he would come to the conclusion. How can God justly sentence everyone to the same punishment no matter what their sins were?
I think the answer to that question can be found in mankind’s very first sinner. Adam ate a piece of fruit and brought death into the world. Let me say that again. Adam ate a piece of fruit . . . fruit mind you . . . he ate a piece of fruit and brought death into the world.
Now you can say, “yes, but it was the disobedience part that was the sin,” and I’ll agree, but every sin great or small is disobedience. I’m looking at degrees of disobedience, and I can’t think of anything labeled “sin” in the Old or New Testament that is as minor as that first one. He ate a piece of FRUIT!
Next time you think your little white lie, your little sexual fantasy, your being slightly upset with your brother, your not being charitable to one person in need, or your whatever sin it may be isn’t so bad, remember that first sin in the garden. It only took one bite of a piece of fruit to sentence billions to hell. Do you think God isn’t miffed about your “little” sins?
Luckily, God sent His Son to pay the price for our sins—great and small. If you believe on Him, turn from your ways, and follow Jesus, He will be faithful to forgive you and empower you to be called a child of God. If you’ve never surrendered your life to Christ, fill out the Contact form, and I’ll get in touch with you about how you can.