Tag Archives: annihilationism

Psalm 82 – The Annihilation of Men and Angels

Psalm 82. Let’s set the scene:
God stands amidst what might be called His divine council in heaven. God is of course supreme, but his angels are also there. Using language which is elsewhere in scripture, the Psalmist describes these angels as “elohim” (gods) and “sons of the most high.”

This divine council language is also used elsewhere in scripture. Psalm 89:5-7 speaks of a council of “holy ones” in heaven–sons of God. Job likewise speaks of the sons of God (including Satan) presenting themselves before God in heaven.

In Psalm 82, these angelic beings (seemingly fallen demons) are being chastised by God for their evil influence upon the nations. This chastisement carries a warning of apocalyptic judgment:
“‘You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes.’ Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations” (Ps. 82:6-8, NASB).

Unlike in humans, death is not a natural part of the angelic life. Yet in this warning, God claims that these fallen angels will die just like men do. In the human experience, and in the Hebrew belief system, death is a cessation of life and personality. In Psalm 82, we learn that this death is the ultimate fate of those angels who mismanaged their responsibilities and rebelled against God. Since the unredeemed will share in the place of consuming fire “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mat. 25:41), it will likewise be the fate of every human being who is not found to be in Christ.

Thus, final punishment for both men and angels consists of this–cessation of existence.

Dr. James White on Annihilationism

When reformed apologist James White took a call on the topic of annihilationism on on his June 25th, 2015 webcast, he showed a surprising degree of sympathy for those who hold to an annihilationist or conditional immortality position, though he still gave reasons as to why he wouldn’t hold such a view himself.

For those who are unfamiliar, annihilationists believe that the unredeemed will not suffer eternal conscious torment but will finally be destroyed. While there is much that could be discussed in White’s comments on annihilationism, he emphasized one point in particular and has done so many times in the past when discussing this issue. As such, it seemed worthwhile to discuss this one point.

Dr. White seemed to think that the central issue in the debate is this:
“Is the punishment of the ungodly limited in its time span so that the punishment is a finite punishment, which assumes a cessation of sin? …From my perspective the only way anyone can stop sinning is through an extension of grace and divine power and a changing of their nature.” (quoted from the webcast)

In other words, how can sinners ever stop being punished for sin if they never stop sinning? So long as someone has not been redeemed by grace, they remain in a state of rebellion and are thus still deserving of the wrath of God.

There are, I think, some misapprehensions of the annihilationist position on Dr. White’s part that support his criticism. To begin with, he seems to assume that the punishment for sin is conscious torment, and is thus unintentionally begging the question. The annihilationist does not believe that punishment for sin is conscious torment, but utter destruction. As such, once this punishment has been applied, there is no sinner left to engage in rebellion against God, and thus no continuation of sin.

When Jesus died as our substitute, He died as our substitute. It was His death that was efficacious. According to Paul, this is part of the key proclamation of the gospel message:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 5:3, ESV)

If the punishment that Jesus took for us is the punishment that we would have been forced to bear ourselves, then this punishment is death and not eternal conscious torment.

White also seems to assume that the difference between the traditional view and the annihilationist view is that the latter supports a belief in finite punishment. Not at all. The annihilationist believes that the damned will be utterly destroyed, never to return to life. This punishment is therefore of infinite duration, even if it isn’t experienced by the damned consciously for all eternity.

Dr. White would probably point to other reasons why he couldn’t hold to this perspective, but his central objection simply fails to address the annihilationist position.

A Response to Brett Kunkle’s Philosophical Argument Against Annihilationism

Stand To Reason’s Brett Kunkle posted a video today with a philosophical argument against annihilationism. In short, he argued that since man is made in the image of God and is therefore intrinsically valuable, God would not destroy any human being completely.  I appreciate Kunkle’s and STR’s willingness to engage the annihilationist position, and I am therefore returning the favor.

Kunkle parallels his philosophical argument against hell with a common argument against abortion, which is that it is wrong to destroy an unborn child, made in the image of God, simply out of concern that they might have a low quality of life.

There are a number of problems with this parallel. To begin with, in the case of the unborn child we have a person who is innocent (one’s view of original sin aside). A better parallel would be to a prisoner convicted of crimes meriting execution. Though I’m not sure if Kunkle supports the death penalty in the present day, he no doubt would acknowledge that God has executed the death penalty (both directly and indirectly through the Israelite government) in the past and was just for doing so. Therefore it is inconsistent for him to argue that it is always wrong to destroy human life since, indeed, sometimes it is just. The appeal to pro-life arguments on abortion are therefore not relevant to this discussion.

Kunkle also uses lofty phrases in order to achieve a positive emotional response from his viewers toward his contention, such as the claim that God “dignified us with human freedom” and “respects our choices.” God is therefore obligated by justice to not destroy rebellious sinners but must instead torment them eternally, consciously, and without any opportunity for saving repentance. Say what you want about the justice of eternal conscious torment, but the last thing it could be called is dignified or respectful. Kunkle seems to know this on a subconscious level, and thus argues that, in contradiction to the claims of annihilationism, “unfortunately hell is eternal conscious torment” (emphasis mine).

But why should this be unfortunate? If it’s just and provides rebel sinners with dignity, why should we not celebrate eternal conscious torment? The unstated answer is that being tortured forever sucks. So, now that we’ve stripped the argument of its fluffy, emotional language and alleged parallels to pro-life convictions, what do we have?

In short, we have the argument that if human beings are made in the image of God, this makes them inherently valuable. If they are inherently valuable, God would not destroy them. But are we then left with eternal conscious torment as our best alternative? Absolutely not, for on this account it is also not desirable to torment inherently valuable, thinking, feeling persons for all eternity. If Kunkle’s argument follows, it does not lead us to the traditional view, but something akin to universalism or apocatastasis.

My proposed counter-argument to Kunkle is to acknowledge that neither annihilation or eternal conscious torment of persons made in the image of God is desirable, but in light of the scriptural witness to final punishment, and the fact of sinful rebellion, something must be done with those who refuse to repent. In the coming eschaton, wherein we will see firsthand God’s perfect reordering of the universe, is it preferable to imagine the unending torture of men and women who refuse to repent, or to imagine God as all in all?

The Eternal Conscious Torment of the Wicked?

*Updated December 5, 2012 for clarity and style.

The everlasting conscious torment of the wicked has long been viewed as a staple of Christian orthodoxy. However, a view called annihilationism or conditional immortality (that everlasting life is granted by Jesus to the saved alone) has support in the early church and in respected evangelical scholars. From Justin Martyr to John Stott, Roger Forster, F.F. Bruce, N.T. Wright, and Edward Fudge, thoughtful Christians have understood or at least given weight to the idea that the Bible teaches the final destruction of the wicked. Of course, this means nothing if the position can’t be supported by Scripture, the gospel message, and plain reason.

Plain reason might tell us that evil that never dies is inconsistent with a good God who controls the universe. It may also suggest that a merciful, loving God cannot keep the damned in eternal, conscious tormnet. However, God is just and whatever He does is by necessity just, regardless of our ability to understand it. If that means eternal fire, then may it be so. Thus, the most important criteria for Christians on this issue is: What does the Bible say?

What Is “Eternal?”

It doesn’t take you too much time in a reading of the New Testament to come across striking Scriptures like these: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:46, ESV)

If eternal can be used of both God’s punishment for sin and for the life we have in Christ, and we know that eternal life truly is eternal, how can conditionalists distinguish between these uses of “eternal” in such a way that one means living forever and the other means being destroyed?

Jude provides us with a possible answer: “Sodom and Gomorrah… serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7, ESV). Here, Jude uses “eternal fire” to refer to what the people of Sodom and Gommorah suffered. It is clear that Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning, so Jude must mean something else by “eternal” than literally burning forever. It is exegetically acceptable, and also contextually quite warranted, to understand the consequences of the fire as “eternal.” Peter also uses Sodom and Gomorrah as an example for what happens in hell, but with quite different language:
“by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6, ESV).

It becomes clearer now to see how Jude means that those who will end up in hell will suffer “eternal” fire–-the effects are eternal, irrevocable, unchangeable. As Peter says, they are “condemned… to extinction.”

This use of “eternal” can be seen elsewhere in Scripture, for instance in Hebrews 9:12, where it is stated that Jesus “once for all… [secured] an eternal redemption” for us (ESV). It is not that this redemption achieved “once for all” will actually be achieved over and over again into the future (which would be a contradiction in terms), but that it was obtained once and with lasting consequences (see also Isaiah 45:16 and Mark 3:29).


The Fire That Cannot Be Quenched

Isaiah 66:24 gives us additional language that is often used to support the traditional view of eternal conscious torment:
“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (ESV).

Putting aside the language in this passage which implies destruction, such as “dead bodies,” it’s worth noting that Isaiah also described the fire which destroyed Edom as unquenchable:
“Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever” (Isaiah 34:10, ESV).

It is obvious that Edom’s fire has not burnt forever, and that Isaiah only means that the punishment is permanent. He explains this simple fact using exaggerated, apocalyptic language. Why then, are we so quick to say that Isaiah means something entirely different when he’s understood to be referring to hell? Especially when Isaiah 66:24 refers to the bodies of the damned as “corpses,” “dead bodies,” or “carcasses?”

Ezekiel 20:47-48 offers us another parallel, this time referring to Negev:
“Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree. The blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from south to north shall be scorched by it. All flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.”

Ezekiel’s meaning is clear–the fire cannot be stopped by anyone. It cannot be quenched. However, this fire will also utterly consume everything it touches. When it is said that a fire cannot be quenched, the claim being made isn’t that it lasts forever, but that it can’t be put out by human means–it will burn until it’s finished (see also Jeremiah 17:27).

What Does the Bible Tell Us About the Lake of Fire?

Revelation 20:14 tells us that, after the evil one and sinners, “death and hades [are] cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” If the purpose of the lake of fire is to torture forever, what is the point of saying metaphorically that death is thrown into it– why torment death forever? But if the purpose of the lake of fire is truly to destroy, then death is destroyed once evil has been also. This means that there is no death for those in Christ after the lake of fire burns up, though those outside of Christ have been destroyed.

Peter tells us more about the lake of fire’s destructive nature:
“But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men… The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. [Seeing] then [that] all these things shall be dissolved, what manner [of persons] ought ye to be in [all] holy conversation and godliness” (2 Peter 3:7, 9-11).

This fire that Peter speaks of is the same fire that punishes sinners. In verse 9 he tells us that those who suffer it “perish,” and after that he tells us that the universe will melt away along with its evil works and will be BURNED UP and DISSOLVED. This is the purpose of the lake of fire.

“Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left” (Isaiah 24:1, 5-6).


Eternal Destruction

It seems to me that the best way to understand eternal death compared to eternal life is to look at John 3:16, in which Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV). The word perish here is the Greek “apollumi.” The immediate meaning of the word is “to destroy fully.”

Similarly, we read in Matthew 10:28:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him [God] who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” If God will not destroy the soul, why would Jesus make this threat? It seems clear that Jesus is telling you to fear the one who can do this because He in fact will destroy those who are thrown into hell, both body and soul.

For further reading, I recommend Edward Fudge’s exhaustive study The Fire That Consumes. If you’re pressed on time, his book with hell traditionalist Robert Peterson, Two Views of Hell is much shorter and offers a dialogue between conditionalism and traditionalism.

The Image of God in Us Depends Upon Being in Relationship to God

Introduction

Many theologians have pointed out that the image of God that humans bear may be a reflection of God’s spirituality, rationality, morality and creativity. While this seems to be a reasonable deduction, all of these elements of the image of God can only be reflected in us insofar as we have a connection—a relationship— with Him.When we remove God from our moral life, our moral compass becomes dim. When we remove God from our spiritual life, we worship created things rather than the Creator. When we remove God from our intellectual life, we find that our ideas of truth and goodness become corrupted. When we remove God from our creative life, we create implements for wickedness that perverts the image of God in mankind.
 
Why is a relationship with God so important in sustaining His image? Because relationship is one of the keys to our very personhood. Dennis Kinlaw, in his book Let’s Start with Jesus, writes, “a person finds completeness only in being related to others in trusting love.” As evidence, Kinlaw looks into the very being of God. The Scriptures tells us that God is love, which is not to say that he is loving, as if it’s something He occasionally does, but that He in His essence IS love— which is to say that God is self-giving communion. Kinlaw reminds us that, “God is the original of all things, a communion of three distinct persons whose existence consists in the giving and receiving of themselves to and from each other. Self-giving constitutes their being.” If God’s personhood is communion, or relationship, and we are in His image, we are also relational. If we complete each other as human beings because of this image in us, how much more will the image of God in us become corrupt when we are not in relationship with God—the source of this image?
 
There are (for the purposes of this entry) four ways that God sustains His image in humanity, and they are all acts of revelation wherein we are not the iniators. God first sustained His image with Adam and Eve by walking with them in the Garden, secondly He sustains His image in all sinners by showing Himself to them, thirdly He sustains His image in those who are saved by entering into communion with them, and finally He will glorify us when He comes again and fully restores the image we have corrupted.
 
 
  1. God Revealed Himself in Eden
In the Garden, the image of God in humanity was sustained by God fellowshipping with Adam and Eve. Genesis teaches us that Adam and Eve walked with God and ate from the Tree of Life which God gave them. This sustained their life and their reflection of God’s image. When they sinned against God, He took away access to Himself as well as the Tree, telling them that as a consequence of sinning against Him He would remove life from them. Mankind’s disobedience and sin has snow-balled since that moment, as we remove ourselves further and further from communion with God, and His image continues to dim in us as we move toward corruption. This is an act on our part against communion with God in favor of a selfish inward-turning, that results in the perversion of God’s image and eventually our complete undoing. Whether or not the Fall in the Garden is a historical event (as is claimed by liberals and increasingly, moderates and some conservatives), its basic message that our eternal life is dependent upon God and that we remove ourselves from God (and thus life) by turning inward into selfishness is still absolutely valid.
 
The fourth century theologian Athanasius, in his work On the Incarnation, wrote:
For if, out of a former normal state of non-existence, [our first ancestors] were called into being by the Presence and loving-kindness of the Word, it followed naturally that when men were bereft of the knowledge of God and were [turned], they should, since they derive their being from God who IS, be everlastingly bereft even of being; in other words, that they should be disintegrated and abide in death and corruption. For man is by nature mortal, inasmuch as he is made out of what is not; but by reason of his likeness to Him that is (and if he still preserved this likeness by keeping Him in his knowledge) he would stay his natural corruption, and remain incorrupt.”
 
Eastern Orthodox theologian John D. Zizioulas points out that even if God weren’t judging humanity in giving them over to their sin, the consequences of humans turning away from relationship with Him and inward into themselves would be the same:
Man was not created immortal, but by having his personhood he was made capable of communion with the immortal God. Death came to him not as a punishment in a juridical sense but as an existential consequence of the break of this communion; it came at the moment that man became introverted, and limited the ekstatic movement of his personhood to the created world.” Zizioulas then explains that by man’s personhood, he is referring to the image of God. In other words, when man is separated from God, and thus God’s image is dimmed in him, man is not a full person, but an empty shell that can only be filled by being in a right relationship with God. Because we are separated from God, we have no goodness in us that makes us want to seek God. But God in His love and mercy continues to reach out to us by revealing Himself in relationship.
 
 
  1. God Reveals Himself to the Unsaved
To the unsaved, God sustains His image by revealing Himself in prevenient common grace. Unfortunately, for the unsaved this is a one-way relationship—God reaches out to them, but they continue to turn away from Him. Romans 1:19 tells us that sinners are all without excuse because “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (NASB). God continues to reveal Himself to sinners who have no desire for Him. Not only does He reveal Himself to them, He reveals Himself in a way that enables them to turn to Him. In John 12:32, Jesus says, “when I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all men to Myself” (NASB). Finally, Paul tells us that in Jesus, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (NASB). Sadly, many of us continue in rebellion against God despite this revelation, further sullying His image in us. Paul tells us in Romans 1:21-24, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools… Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (NASB).
 
While this type of revelation of God can often bring sinners to Him, many do no respond. But this doesn’t mean that the image of God has completely died in them. Because God works His way into the consciences of those who are against Him, they still reflect His goodness and His image. It is also important to note that without God’s reaching out, none of us would turn to Him. We are completely dependent upon His grace, and none of us deserve His favor.
 
  1. God Reveals Himself in Salvation
Some do turn to God because of this revelation of Himself, and the image of God in them becomes much brighter because they know Him. John 1:11-12 tells us that, “[Jesus] came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
 
One of the most important things for Christians to remember is that we are saved because God revealed Himself to us, and sought to bring us into relationship with Him. It is not our goodness that saves us, but God’s. Because we are now part of God’s family, we ought to be reflecting His image beautifully.
 
Paul tells us in Colossians 3:9-13: 
“You laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (NASB).
 
Not only is the image of God being renewed in how we relate to God, but our relationships with each other ought to reflect the image of God more fully as well, as we reflect Him in communion.Because God is complete in the communion of the Trinity, we are complete persons *only* in communion with God and with other believers.In Christ, the man-made distinctions that we create don’t matter. We are in communion with one another because we’re in communion with God. The relationship that you or I have with God is one we all share. We live every day to love God and love one another, and to forgive each other as God forgave us, as the image of God becomes brighter and brighter in each of us.
 
 
  1. God Reveals Himself When He Comes Again
What we await is for the image of God in us to be fully restored. 1 John 3:2 tells us that, “now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (NIV). Paul tells us in Romans 8:9 that, “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (NIV). When Christ returns, sin and death will be destroyed, and the children of God will be revealed as the holy bride of Christ. The image of God will be fully restored in us, and we’ll know God face to face.
 
Conclusion
 
The image of God in us is based on being in relationship with God. And this is based on God’s revealing Himself to us. If God would not reveal Himself to us once we had fallen out of relationship with Him and into self-centeredness, we would be lost and His image in us would become corrupt and eventually destroyed. As Athanasius says:
God has made man, and willed that he should abide in incorruption; but men, having despised and rejected the contemplation of God, and devised and contrived evil for themselves, received the condemnation of death with which they had been threatened; and from thenceforth no longer remained as they were made, but were being corrupted according to their devices; and death had the mastery over them as king. For transgression of the commandment was turning them back to their natural state, so that just as they have had their being out of nothing, so also, as might be expected, they might look for corruption into nothing in the course of time.”


If the image of God in us is to be preserved, God must bring us back into relationship with Him– we cannot do this ourselves. This is the meaning of grace. God gives us grace—His unmerited favor— by revealing Himself to us, desiring that we would turn to Him. God seeks a relationship with us, and has done everything needed to bridge the gap between us and Him. The question is, will we turn to Him in love and worship? Will we respond to His call and be received into a loving relationship with the Triune God who is love? We have been rightfully ejected from relationship with God and deserve the destruction that results from turning against Him and corrupting His image in us. But His love is so phenomenal that He took the penalty of our sin upon Himself to bring us back to Him. As the Christian band Half-Handed Cloud sang, “when we found out that you’re seeking, we didn’t have to hide anymore.” If anyone is hiding from God now, know that He’s seeking you, in order to bring you back to Him. We may have created a chasm between God and us, but God has made a bridge—the cross of Jesus Christ which has taken our sins away—so that we can know and enjoy God again in communion with Him.I hope that you will seek Him now, and that you will be blessed by a saving relationship with the God who is love.

I Respond to Sam’s Comments on My View of Hell, Part 1

Oh, it’s on! Online blog debate about hell with my friend and nemesis, Sam. Here is the order of the debate, for those who might be interested in keeping up…

1. My Blog, “Is God Wrathful by Nature?”
2. Sam’s First Blog in Response

In a recent blog I posted (Is God Wrathful by Nature?) my good friend and theological nemesis Sam debated a few of the points I had made and attempted to correct what he saw as a mischaracterization of his position. I suggested that we go back on forth via blog on the subject of hell, where I would argue for a hell which is not eternal, and he would argue for one that is. He recently responded to this challenge.

He mainly went after a statement I had made in our “comment battle” on my “Is God Wrathful” post. Sam stated that because God is infinite, sin against Him must have infinite consequences, and one part of my response was stating that man is not infinite but depends on God, so eternal punishment does not necessarily follow.

He viewed my argument as being man-centered instead of centered around God, creating unbalance. He quoted me as saying, “Just because God is infinite, why would the sin against Him deserve infinite punishment? After all, it is committed by finite agents which have no immortality in and of themselves, and depend on Christ for their continued existence.” I went on to talk about how Scripture seems to argue that God’s wrath does in fact have an end. However, I think I wasn’t entirely clear about what my argument was. I wasn’t attempting to make a man-centered argument against Sam’s God-centered one, but was pointing out certain assumptions Sam was making and asking him why they were necessary. In the next paragraph, I will try to demonstrate the flow of argument that I was attempting to share with Sam:

While annihilation does satisfy eternal consequences for sin (final and eternal death is an infinite consequence), the idea that the punishment must be infinite and conscious because God is infinite does not necessarily follow. After all, man is not inherently infinite but Scripture points out that we depend on God (and more specifically Christ) for our continued existence (2 Tim 1:10, Rom 2:7). If man does not have infinity, why should he have to suffer through it’s duration? Sinful man would only be made to suffer eternally if God sustained Him. God would only sustain the damned person if Sam’s view that a sin deserves conscious eternal punishment was true. But why should we believe this? As I pointed out in our comment battle:
“Isaiah 40:2 seems to say that a person can be punished by God double for their sins, and only during one lifetime. While this is certainly a figure of speech, it points to the fact that there is an end to God’s wrath. I think it would be silly to say that God punishes on both a temporal time scale that can be satisfied and on an infinite one that cannot for the same sin. I say with Isaiah: ‘The heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever” (Isaiah 51:6).'”

Furthermore, Sam’s view has another major flaw. Jesus is clear that there are degrees of punishment for sin (Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 5:26, Matthew 18:34), and yet Sam says that sin deserves eternal conscious torment because God is infinite. However, if it takes infinity to suffer for sin, there can be no degrees of punishment. One would have to suffer infinitely all the time to accomodate God’s wrath. Thus, the traditionalist who argues this point consistently has to throw away portions of Scripture. The argument that sin must be punished infinitely and consciously is illogical in the light of Scripture.

Sam also makes two other points I would like to address.

Sam asked, “Why does God not let the wicked into heaven after they have paid for their sins, which only incurred a finite penalty? As James White pointed out, after [their] punishment for their finite sins, they have made propitiation. Why does God then annihilate them?”

I actually heard Dr. White make this point on his podcast recently on reflecting about a debate he had with Roger Forster on Unbelievable radio. He asserts that Forster was unable to satisfactorily answer this question. I haven’t heard the debate, so I can’t attest to that. However, I think the Bible does shed some light on this issue.

We read in Romans that the wages of sin is death (the same message is in the first few chapters of Genesis, although the serpent seems to argue that one can live perpetually as a god even after sin). Because the wages of sin is death, we can say that, in other words, the penalty for sin is annihilation. However, it would hardly be fair to God’s justice if both great and little sinners suffered the exact same fate, so additional punishment is tacked on, as Jesus says in Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 5:26, and Matthew 18:34. Once this additional punishment has been undergone, the final sentence of spiritual death (annihilation) can be given, where the sinner has “paid the last penny” (Mat 5:26) and paid back “all he owed” (Mat 18:34) to God. So, White’s understanding of annihilation has this flaw, but not the position itself.

Sam also accuses me of equivocation, and I believe that he isn’t doing so unfairly, though I would like to explain what I mean by the term “eternal” which the Scripture uses. Here is what Sam had to say:
“Verses that speak of eternal life in Cody’s view refer to eternal life. Those same terms that refer to eternal punishment means a cessation of existence that lasts an eternity. He must add additional premises to account for this, and thus violates Occam’s razor.”

The Scripture which parallels the terms “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” is Matthew 25:46–
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (ESV).

The fact that I can get two opposites from the terms “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” appears to be an equivocation (using one term to mean two different things). However, I would like to explain why I do so.

First of all, Matthew 25 is not in a vacuum. The whole of Scripture is inspired, and carries the same message throughout. Sometimes a verse might seem to support one thing, but a clearer Scripture can help to clarify its meaning. I cite numerous passages in my main argument for conditional immortality (click here to read) and feel that the main thrust of the Bible supports my view. This would be one of the few verses that appear at first look to be a “problem verse” for my position.

Second of all, the language Matthew is written in is Greek, not English. So it is important to examine the Greek words used and their range of meaning. For instance, the Greek word for “eternal” is used in Jude verse 7 to say that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered an “eternal fire.” It is obvious that Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning, so we can see a clear example where “eternal” refers to the consequences of the fire, and not the fire itself (see also Isaiah 34:9-10). On the contrary, 2 Peter 2:6 clarifies for us exactly what Jude is saying:
“by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…”

So eternal can refer to the consequences of a thing as opposed to the thing itself. Thus, the punishment can have eternal consequences (or for that matter, be eternal itself if the punishment is death) and still support my position. I acknowledge that this verse can be tricky for my position, but I can throw out countless others which would be tricky for Sam’s. The question is, what does the entirety of Scripture say? I believe that the entirety of Scripture points to the destruction of sinners and the salvation and redemption of the elect.

Is God Wrathful by Nature?

I recently had a discussion with my friend Sam about hell and my view of annihilationism (click here to read a summation and points in favor of this view). One of the points he brought up was that if sinners could be totally destroyed, that would seem to stop God from ever being wrathful again, which would make Him “mutable” or able to be affected and changed by outside forces. The problem with this is that God by definition is unchanging and “immutable.”

This reminds me of a lecture I heard from a Sufi Muslim on the Fall of Adam (which can be found at Islamfrominside.com). In this lecture, it is said that Allah desired for Adam to fall, because then Adam could know the names of Allah as it relates to his wrath (Adam had experienced Allah’s mercy in the Garden, but he could not fully know Allah until he knew his wrath).

I think the difficulty with both of these perspectives is that they assume that God is by necessity wrathful. It seems to me that God is not. After all, in the beginning when there was no evil, God had no need to display His wrath and nothing to display it against. It was when satan and mankind fell that God began to show this. Does it make God mutable that He responded to mankind’s sin with His wrath?

Certainly not, because wrath is not a central characteristic of God. If it were, then it’s appearance after sin would be dependent upon man’s actions, making God mutable (as would it subsiding if sinners could be finally destroyed). As Sam and I continued to talk, we agreed that it is holiness and perfection (not wrath) that are central to who God is. God’s holiness is always central to who He is, and wrath is only a manifestation of this attribute when God’s creation acts against Him and His goodness. If God has to be wrathful, that would indicate that there has to be evil, which is contrary to what Christians believe about God, because He existed before all things and is completely good, with no evil in Him.

Now that I have established that God is necessarily holy, but not necessarily wrathful, I ask this question:
Eternal wrath requires that there be something to always punish. However, God is not eternally wrathful, though He is eternally holy and perfect.

So, does eternal holiness and perfection require that sin continue to exist forever so that it can be punished, or does holiness destroy sin from its presence? Be sure to ask Nadab and Abihu the next time you see them.