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Against Annihilationism, Part Two

Dec 4, 2014

As we have shown in Part One, the truth is, on biblical and exegetical grounds, the annihilationists have very little space to stand on. The Scriptures consistently and coherently support the traditional understanding of hell as eternal punishment.

Thus the revisionists usually resort to other means to make their case: they will emphasise theological or philosophical grounds much more often to argue their position. The main reasons these folks question eternal punishment is not because of Scripture – the texts are pretty clear. Their main objections centre on things like the charge of injustice. They claim it is just unfair and unjust for people to be punished forever.

As mentioned above, all these folks are doing is claiming that they are more fair, more just, and more merciful than God is. That is a very dangerous place to be in. And keep in mind just who spoke about hell more than anyone else in the entire Bible.

hell 2Jesus not only spoke about hell constantly, he spoke about it more than he did about heaven. If it were not for Jesus, we would not know very much about hell. So these people who somehow think they can be more like Jesus than Jesus was are really in a bad spot. I will run with Jesus on this any day of the week. Writes Michael Bird,

Judgement by hell was a consistent theme in Jesus’ preaching. Jesus used images, concepts, and motifs found in Scripture and known in contemporary usage – examples both historical and about the eschatological hereafter – to underscore the dire state of those who refuse God. Importantly, the judgment oracles in the Gospels about hell are not the rants of a man who looks forward to seeing sinners tormented for their sins, but they are urgent warnings calling people to repent. Let us remember that to preach a warning of judgment so that people can avoid it is really an act of mercy.

As Christopher Morgan remarks, the Scriptures “assert that God’s judgment settles all moral problems, it does not create them.” He continues:

God’s judgment is not evil or vindictive, but just, holy, righteous, necessary, and even glorious (Rom. 9:19-23). Part of God’s beauty is his just character. The biblical writers were not so concerned with how God could be just if he punished the wicked forever, but rather with how God could be just and not punish evildoers immediately. The people of God in the Scriptures (e.g., Habakkuk and Jonah) struggled regularly with the merciful patience of God, but seldom with his judgment on evildoers (unless, of course, they themselves were the evildoers).

And the truth is, those who think they know better than God about his just judgment on sin really do not at all appreciate either the great holiness and righteousness of God, or the utter depth and depravity of sin. The object of our sinning determines the justice of the punishment.

If I kick my sister in the shins in a fit of rage, that is a sinful act deserving of some punishment. But if I try to kick the Queen of England, that punishment will be worse because the offence is worse. The one whom I sinned against is greater in importance and dignity, at least in terms of office.

And to sin against an infinite and holy God is the worst sort of sin of all, calling for the worst punishment. Sin is infinitely heinous when it is committed against an infinitely righteous and good God. We tend to underestimate the enormity of our sin – especially our own – and how it impacts on Almighty God.

As Morgan rightly states, what we have here – with the annihilationists – is allowing the sinner to determine what his punishment should be. And in this case, it is nothing. These critics claim that it is not fair for a short life of sin to be punished with eternal torment. Morgan says:

It may take only a moment to pull a trigger and kill a dozen people, but the punishment will (hopefully) not be merely momentary. It is not the amount of time that determines the punishment, the crime itself does. Sin is an infinite and cosmic treason. Sin is a horrible crime because it screams, “I hate you,” to the true and living God, who deserves and demands our total love. In sin, human beings turn their back on the end for which God created them and became worthless (Rom. 3:12).

Because we minimise who God is in his deep holiness and purity, we minimise sin, and we therefore minimise the just punishment for our sin. We are judging by worldly standards in other words, and not by God’s standards. And we are in fact judging God, putting him in the dock, when we claim that we would be more fair and more just when it comes to the punishment of sin.

And the very notion of justice of course goes straight out the window when we push annihilationism. Their position offers terrific news for every sinner. They can live like hell in this life, and engage in all sorts of horrific sin and evil, and when they die, that’s it. Poof, they’re gone. That sounds like a recipe for disaster. Sin your heart out and face no consequences whatsoever for your actions. What sort of justice is that?

I for one am glad that unregenerate monsters like Hitler will face the full wrath of God, and get their just deserts, and not just evaporate into thin air without the slightest recompense. If God were to allow such things to happen, then clearly he would not be a just God. He would be just as bad as Hitler for refusing to punish sin. I could never worship a God like that.

The love of God is always to be seen in the light of the justice of God. The two go together – always. Hell does not pit justice against love, but ties them together. Robert Gundry is worth quoting at length here:

The NT doesn’t put forward eternal punishment of the wicked as a doctrine to be defended because it casts suspicion on God’s justice and love. To the contrary, the NT puts forward eternal punishment as right, even obviously right. It wouldn’t be right of God not to punish the wicked, so that the doctrine supports rather than subverts his justice and love. It shows that he keeps faith with the righteous, that he loves them enough to vindicate them, that he rules according to moral and religious standards that really count, that moral and religious behavior has consequences, that wickedness gets punished as well as righteousness rewarded, and that the eternality of punishment as well as of reward invests the moral and religious behavior of human beings with ultimate significance. We’re not playing games. In short, the doctrine of eternal punishment defends God’s justice and love and supplies an answer to the problem of moral and religious evil rather than contributing to the problem.

This has always been the traditional Christian understanding of hell. It entails eternal, conscious torment of the wicked. And it is fully consistent with the love and justice of God. Let me conclude with a few quotes from the great Charles Spurgeon on this important subject:

“Some say, ‘I could not rest comfortably if I believed the orthodox doctrine of hell.’ Most true. But what right have we to rest comfortably?”

“No preacher was ever so loving as Christ, but no man ever spoke so horribly about hell.”

“It is a very remarkable fact that no inspired preacher of whom we have any record ever uttered such terrible words concerning the destiny of the lost as our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“When you speak of heaven, let your face light up; let it be irradiated by a heavenly gleam; let your eyes shine with reflected glory. But when you speak of hell, your ordinary expression will do.”

“Think lightly of hell, and you will think lightly of the cross. Think little of the sufferings of lost souls, and you will soon think little of the Saviour who delivers them.”

“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”

Part One of this article is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/12/04/against-annihilationism-part-one/

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9 Responses to Against Annihilationism, Part Two

  • These articles are timely for me, as I’ve just been listening to a debate between a Christian and a former Christian-turned-atheist, in which I was dismayed to hear the Christian expressing annihilationist views.

    However, there are a couple of small points that I would dispute.

    As mentioned above, all these folks are doing is claiming that they are more fair, more just, and more merciful than God is.

    I seriously doubt that that’s what they are claiming. Rather, they would be claiming that they have a more accurate understanding of how fair, just, and merciful God is than do those who believe in eternal torment.

    … what we have here – with the annihilationists – is allowing the sinner to determine what his punishment should be. And in this case, it is nothing.

    Having one’s life taken away—rather than being allowed to live (for eternity, in this case)—has never been seen as a non-punishment.

  • Thanks Philip. Whether they claim it or not does not matter at all. The reality is, they think they have a better take on these matters than God does, therefore they are acting as if they are morally superior to God, as they reject the clear teachings of Scripture. It is called idolatry, and they need to repent of it.

    And of course the idea that you can live like hell and get away with it, and pay nothing for it, is a non-punishment in their eyes. It is a great bargain.

  • As the Lord and Master of all mankind who holds the key of death and hell, Jesus who is the truth meant what he said. Truly when he walked the earth, he spoke more about hell than heaven because he warned people not to choose to go there. That is why we have to heed his solemn words at any cost. If there were no hell, the great commission has no meaning at all and we don’t need to preach the gospel to the lost.

    However, because hell is real, hell is a reality and those people who have no fear of God, hate God, and don’t repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who shed his blood and died for them on the cross, will surely perish facing everlasting destruction. That is why, instead of sitting idly and unmoved by the lostness of the lost, we need Christ’s passion and compassion to carry out his great commission preaching the gospel and witnessing to the lost around us in the power of the Holy Spirit to win them to Christ in order that they may be saved and brought into the kingdom of God! People of God, the Lord God has given us a charge to carry through our lives as his ambassador—urging all people on Christ’s behalf to become reconciled to the Creator God as Jude said, “save others by snatching them from the fire.”

  • If you had died suddenly whilst you were an unrepentant drug-taking hippy in your younger years, would you have gone to hell for eternity?

  • Thanks James. Yes of course. And I would have fully deserved it. What I did not deserve is his mercy, grace and forgiveness in Christ.

  • Hi all.
    If you can find it W.G.T.Shedd wrote a little book in the 19th C called “The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment”. Well worth the read as he answers most of the objections of the annihilationists, et al. Mick Koster

  • Give me hell any day. At least the company will be better. An eternity spent in the presence of a bunch of self-righteous Christians is my idea of hell.

  • Thanks Eric. But as atheist Jean-Paul Sartre observed, “Hell is other people”. The essence of sin is selfishness and total self-obsession. So hell will be populated not by pals and buddies enjoying each other’s company, but by angry, self-centred people who will hate each other. Not a good place to be.

    And of course you misunderstand heaven as well. It is filled with sinners who knew full well that they had no righteousness of their own, and cast themselves on God’s great mercy, receiving the righteousness of Christ in the transaction. So there will not be one self-righteous person in heaven. They will all be in hell.

  • Hi Bill

    Those of us who have been touched by the Holy Spirit know the absolute truth of The Lord’s words regarding hell. This of course was what prompted William Booth to say:’Don’t tell someone they are going to hell without tears in your eyes.”
    Vic Tudeau

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