St. Hilary now unflinchingly describes the punishment of the ungodly:
Thus as there is an appointed type for happiness, so is there one for punishment. For as it is no hard task for the wind to scatter the dust, and as men who walk through the mud of the streets are hardly aware that they have been treading on it, so it is easy for the punishment of hell to destroy and disperse the ungodly, the logical result of whose sins is to melt them into mud and crush them into dust, reft of all solid substance, for dust and mud they are, and being merely mud and dust are good for nothing else than punishment.
I have very recently noted the negative impact of the “Fire and Brimstone” sermons of American Christianity, and this condemnation of the ungodly and the punishment they deserve certainly seems to fall from the same tree. There are, however, a few key differences.
First and foremost, note that St. Hilary is not speaking about fires or any brimstone. Rather, he is referring to Genesis 2:7 and about returning to the very stuff with which we are made:
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
This vision of punishment is based upon the Christian dogma of creation from nothing. This dogma is hinted at when God creates within the void described in the first chapter of Genesis and is explicitly stated in 2 Macabees 7:28:
I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not
Since creation came from nothing because of the action and will of God, without God it will return to that from whence it came — nothing. Decay, disease and death are all symptoms of this basic trajectory of the fallen world. The ungodly, having rejected God — the source of the breath which gives them life — will return to to that from whence they came — dust.
In other words, these are not words meant to scare the faint of heart into obeying God. Rather, these are facts based on Christian dogma and Scripture. It is akin to telling a child that if they let go of an egg, it will fall to the ground and break. There is an action (rejecting God and the life He freely gives; letting go of an egg) and a natural consequence (returning to the dust from whence we came; the egg dropping to the ground and breaking).
Fortunately for all of us (who have repeatedly rejected God over the course of our lives), there is a way of putting all the pieces of the egg back together again. Christ went to the Cross to do exactly that.