The Lost Will Be Destroyed
What do the Christian men listed here have in common? They have their theological differences, but they all hold to the doctrine of Conditional Immortality, or Annihilationism. There are much longer lists that can be found on the web, so this is just a sampling. Of course, naming men that believe a certain doctrine does not make it true, but it does go to show that not all followers of Christ hold to the mainstream view that God will judge lost sinners with eternal conscious torment. Traditional teachings are not infallible. The scriptures are infallible. When I first began reading the teachings of some of these men on this topic, I was amazed at the clarity and consistency of this teaching in the Bible. Yes, I was formerly taught that sinners will suffer eternally in conscious torment in hell, but I believe the biblical evidence weighs heavily in favor of the doctrine that the wicked will be destroyed in the lake of fire, which is the second death. Where did the teaching of eternal conscious torment being the punishment for the wicked come from? It has been said that it was brought into Christian teachings by Augustine of Hippo, who was heavily influenced by the Greek philosophers. Interestingly, Augustine is also known to have introduced the following doctrines that many consider to be heretical: Absolute predestination, the supreme authority of the Catholic Church, prayers for the dead, original sin and sinful nature by birth, and the damnation of unbaptized infants. It is always best to allow the scriptures to interpret themselves, rather than assuming that what a preacher, theologian, or denomination says is true.
Is the soul of man immortal? The Bible says that immortality belongs to God alone (1 Timothy 6:16). The scriptures tell us that God offers the gift of eternal life, or immortality, to those who repent and follow Jesus as Lord. Those who reject God’s call to repentance are not given this gift, rather, the Bible says that the wages of sin is death. Not mere physical death, for all die as a result of Adam and his posterity being barred from accessing the tree of life. Do annihilationists believe that people just die and avoid punishment? Not any that I know of. The Bible teaches that the wicked will receive eternal punishment. They will receive eternal judgment and eternal destruction the same way the saved will receive eternal life. Christians receive eternal life, now, as an inheritance, but we will not enter into that inheritance until the return of Christ. In a coming day we will receive eternal life if we continue in the faith. In the same way, the lost can be considered dead, now (proleptically speaking or figuratively speaking), and yet they will be resurrected in a coming day to face judgment, the judgment of the second death. Once the saved receive eternal life, it will be forever. They will not eternally go through the redemption process, instead they will receive their inheritance and the consequences will be eternal. They will forever be with the Lord. In the same sense, the wicked will be punished with destruction. They will not eternally go through a destruction process, but once they are destroyed, the consequences will be eternal. Their destruction will not be reversed. Their punishment is final. Hell, then, will be eternal in consequence, but not in duration.
A common reference that proponents of eternal conscious torment point to is the Lord’s words concerning the unquenchable fire and the undying worm. Many do not know this is a quotation of an Old Testament passage in Isaiah (Isaiah 66:24). This passage does not refer to an unending fire and maggots that feed on people for eternity, it refers to the certainty of judgment in that the fire will not be quenched and the worms will not die until they destroy the carcasses they are consuming. Again, the wicked will be forever destroyed, but they will not be experiencing destruction forever. The wicked will justly suffer and be punished for their sins, but the Bible does not tell us that this punishment is consciously experienced for eternity, only that it it is certain and it will be permanent.
The Old Testament has a lot to say about the end of the wicked, and it is always a threat of annihilation. God vowed to destroy his enemies time and time again, using various metaphors. Edward Fudge’s book “The Fire that Consumes” provides the many references that describe total destruction in the Bible and it is worth the read. The wicked are like the chaff that the wind will drive away, they shall be blotted out of the book of the living, they will be cut off from remembrance, and they shall be as though they had never been.
We read in the New Testament that the wicked will be consumed by fire, they will perish, they will be destroyed, both soul and body in hell. Death, losing life, being destroyed, etc., does not mean a different kind of lesser life in common language, so one would think that if God wanted something to mean the exact opposite of what it normally means, he would make it clear. Such is not the case in the Bible.
Unending conscious torment is not consistent with God’s character. We are reminded in the Book of Habakkuk that even in God’s wrath, he remembers mercy. Those who think “justice” is meting out the worst punishment possible, do not understand the biblical meaning of justice. Justice in the Bible has to do with restoration, not strict retribution. Punishment is present in the divine government, but it is delivered for the public good, and for the purpose of upholding the divine law, not for vindictive purposes. Just as in human governments, so it is in the divine government, that capital punishment is the ultimate penalty for transgressors. What would be the purpose of implementing eternal conscious torment as the punishment for the wicked? God would get nothing out of it. The wicked would not be learning anything. In the view of annihilationists, God’s wrath and mercy unite in punishing the wicked, perhaps with a time of suffering (longer for some than others – hence the Lord’s words that some will receive more stripes than others), with the Lord mercifully putting them out of existence through the second death.
Furthermore, the Bible points to a day in which everyone and everything will be in subjection to Christ. It is hard to square this with the idea that the majority of God’s human creatures will be suffering unbearable conscious torment forever and ever and ever. However, it makes sense that those who refuse to align themselves with God’s will will be forever destroyed, and those who remain will indeed be in subjection to Christ. How could we ever enjoy heaven if we knew that former loved ones were suffering indescribably for all eternity? It is sickening to hear that some theologians have written that the righteous will rejoice in seeing the lost suffering in hell.
What about the couple of passages that seem to imply that the wicked will suffer for ever and ever? (Revelation 14:10-11 and Revelation 20:10) It is understood by many, that the term forever in the Bible does not always mean time without end. There are many examples of this, where the term forever could not mean time without end, but instead shows that forever means: "as long as the factors which set the conditions exist." For example, Gehazi was told that the leprosy of Namaan would cling to him and his seed forever. Gehazi no longer has leprosy, for he is dead. But he did have leprosy for the rest of his life. Forever can obviously mean an indefinite amount of time, such as the rest of someone’s life. In another telling example, in Isaiah 34, the Bible says that the fire that would consume Edom would burn night and day and would not be quenched. Its smoke would go up forever and ever and no one would pass through this land again, forever and ever. Clearly this is symbolic language, for the fire and smoke of Edom’s judgment is not still rising today. Since this is true in the Book of Isaiah, we should be careful about reading it literally into the Book of Revelation, a highly symbolic book.
Some claim that if annihilationism is true, the fear of hell will be lessened. Annihilationists believe that the judgment that awaits the lost will be terrible. It will involve suffering and then destruction. For one thing, the idea of being consumed in a fire and existing no more is truly horrifying. For another thing, the concept of God implementing an eternal fiery Auschwitz is so contrary to the normal sense of justice that God himself has given us, that it tends to undermine the biblical teaching that God is holy, just, and good. Unbelievers must be warned that judgment is coming, and the Bible, in my opinion and many others, provides ample support for annihilationism, and little to no evidence for the idea of eternal conscious torment.
"For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out."