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In my last post I mentioned some philosophical, logical, moral, and rational reasons why the concept of eternal torment in hell for the sins of a temporary life is absurd. However, philosophy, logic, moral imperatives, and rationality are all subject to God's revealed word. In other words, something can be philosophically, logically, and rationally absurd and still be true if God says its true. So the question is, Does the Bible teach an eternal conscious torment in hell? I am going to approach the answer to this question by means of implications. In doing so I will ask two questions: What are the theological implications of an eternally burning hell? For which I will share eight implications and in my next post, What are the theological implications of a non-eternally burning hell? As I answer these two questions I invite you to determine for yourself with the guide of the Holy Spirit which is more biblically consistent.
Question 1: What are the theological implications of an eternally burning hell?
The first theological implication of an eternally burning hell is that it necessitates that man be inherently immortal. The only two ways that man can be immortal is if 1) God created him immortal so that he would never die or if 2) God gives man eternal life. Let's deal with option one first. This option makes the eternal life of man an inherent quality that does not depend on God at all. In other words, man doesn't need God in order to live eternally, he already is eternal apart from God. However, Acts 17:28 says that, "in him we live and move and have our being." So apart from God we cannot live, or move, or have our being. All of this is possible only "in him." This removes the possibility of option one. In addition, the Bible is clear that only God is inherently immortal. Check out 1 Timothy 6:15-16, which speaking of God says, "God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen" (emphasis added). Notice Paul says that God alone is immortal. However, there is not a single passage that refers to man as being immortal. Now what about option 2 (God gives eternal life to man)? We will deal with this one in our second implication. So in summary, the first implication of an eternally burning hell is that it necessitates that man be inherently immortal which the Bible never claims.
The second implication (which we already mentioned above) is that God gives eternal life to the wicked so that they can burn forever without end. This option is also unbiblical because the Bible never says that God will give eternal life to the wicked so they can burn forever, instead it says that He will give it to the righteous so they can live forever with Him. This is why eternal life is a gift. The idea of God giving eternal life to the wicked so that they can suffer for all eternity not only paints a grotesque picture of God but it is also unbiblical. In John 3:16 Jesus says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son so that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Notice, Jesus didn't compare eternal life in heaven with eternal life in hell. He compared eternal life in heaven with death. In other words, Jesus did not contrast a pleasant eternity with an unpleasant one. He contrasted eternal life with perishing, which is death. Thus the second implication is that God gives eternal life to the wicked so that they can burn forever without end.
The third implication of an eternally burning hell is that it is absolutely unjust. Such a concept makes God, who is a loving and just God, into a sadist and a tyrant. Think for a moment about this following scenario. Say my son is 7 years old and he steals a cookie from a cookie jar, curses at his teacher in school, and punches one of his classmates in the face. You and I would agree that such behavior is unacceptable and must be punished. Now suppose I punish my son by grounding him to his room. He can't play on the computer, watch TV, or talk on the phone. You would probably pat me on the back and say, "you're a good dad." However, what would you say if 30 years later my son was still grounded in his room for what he did when he was seven? You would immediately think something was wrong with me because the punishment doesn't fit the crime! No psychologically healthy human in his sinful, wicked condition would even think of doing such a thing and yet we say God who is pure, holy, just, and good will do that very thing to all those who reject Him. Not only that but people who died and went to hell during the first century since the fall of man will have suffered thousands of years more than those who die at the end of time without salvation (ie. Cain and Hitler) Again, the third implication of an eternally burning hell is that it is absolutely unjust.
The fourth implication of an eternally burning hell is that it portrays God as the greatest torture master of all time. However, in Ezekiel 33:11 God says, "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked..." Some might argue that God doesn't send anyone to hell but that those who are there are there by their own choice, but this only serves to bring up implications 1 and 2. In addition, it fails to exonerate God because He is the creator of all and would have, by necessity, created hell. Therefore, whether God sends you there or not, the fourth implication still stands for it portrays God as the greatest torture master of all time
The fourth implication of an eternally burning hell is that it makes sin and its consequences eternal thus making God impotent due to His inability to put an end to the problem of sin. Suppose you have a PC that you created. It is the most amazing PC of all time and puts other brands to shame. Your PC quickly hits the market and receives awards for being the most fine tuned and effective computer of all time. It even takes Apples place in the market! Everyone is in love with it. You would feel on top of the world wouldn't you? Now suppose after a year of good business a virus is created by a jealous rival and it begins to attack all of your computers wherever they are in the world. No one seems to be able to fix the virus problem so they turn to you and to their surprise you cant fix it either! You didn't create your computer to have a virus but now it does and you can't get rid of it no matter what you do. The best you are able to do is quarantine the virus to some corner in the hard drive but at the end of the day everyone knows you cannot eliminate the virus. Your company suffers financial loss and eventually collapses because no one wants to buy a computer with an incurable virus. Two implications would result from this. Number one, you would be remembered as the guy who couldn't fix his own creation. And number two, your jealous rival will be remembered as the guy who created something so powerful and effective that even you, the creator, could not get rid of it. In other words, you would be impotent. Likewise, an eternally burning hell makes sin and its consequences eternal thus making God impotent due to His inability to put an end to the problem of sin.
The fifth implication of an eternally burning hell is that it makes God a liar and Satan a truth teller. How so? When Satan tempted Eve in the garden he told her that if she ate the fruit of the tree she would not die (Genesis 3:4). However, God told them that if they did they would die (Gen 2:27). However, the doctrine of eternal torment in hell suggests that it is Satan who told the truth because you will, in fact, live forever thus making God a liar because you did not, in fact, die as He said.
The sixth implication of eternal hell fire is that it opens the door for Satan to deceive people. By teaching that the dead are not really dead we uphold the possibility of contacting the dead because they are in fact alive - just somewhere else. In the same way that Satan appeared to Jesus as an angel of light in the desert he can appear to us as our deceased loved ones. How many people will be led astray by a visit from a loved one claiming to have a message directly from God that is anti-biblical? The teaching of eternal torment necessitates the teaching of the immortal soul which opens the door for Satan to deceive people.
The seventh implication is in the form of a question. How would heaven be a place of joy and peace and happiness when we know our loved ones who didn't go to heaven are in a pit somewhere being fried forever and ever by the same God you worship day after day? Not only that but the Bible says that in the end God will make all things new (Revelation 21:5). How can he make all things new if there sin and sinners still exist? Again I ask, How would heaven be a place of joy and peace and happiness when we know there are people enduring the horrors of eternal never ending torment?
The eighth implication is that the authority and consistency of the Bible is not upheld because many texts which teach the opposite of eternal torment must be ignored in place of a few obscure ones that seem to suggest it. If a picket fence with 50 posts has one post out of lines with the others, you don't move the 49 to match the one, you move the one to match the 49. In the same way, if there are hundreds of verses saying one thing and three or four that seem to say the opposite you don't reinterpret the hundreds to match those three or four. Doing this undermines the authority and consistency of the Bible. An example of consistency is this: The Bible affirms the omnipresence of God. Eternal death is meant to be eternal separation from God. But how can you be eternally separated from God if you are still alive? Unless hell is a strange realm where Gods omnipresence doesn't work then it is impossible to be eternally separated from God who is omnipresent if you are still alive. This view is not biblically consistent. However, if eternal separation from God is eternal death (annihilation) then it makes perfect sense because you no longer exist.
These are eight implications of the eternal torment doctrine. In my next post we are going to look at the implications of a non-eternal torment doctrine. God bless!