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HELL: TORMENT OR ANNIHILATION?

PART IX

The Cosmological Implications of Eternal Torment

A final objection to the traditional view of hell is that eternal torment presupposes an eternal existence of a cosmic dualism. Heaven and hell, happiness and pain, good and evil would continue to exist forever alongside each other. It is impossible to reconcile this view with the prophetic vision of the new world in which there shall be no more "mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:4). How could crying and pain be forgotten if the agony and anguish of the lost were at sight distance, as in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)?

The presence of countless millions forever suffering excruciating torment, even if it were in the camp of the unsaved, could only serve to destroy the peace and happiness of the new world. The new creation would turn out to be flawed from day one, since sinners would remain an eternal reality in Godís universe and God would never be "everything to every one" (1 Cor. 15:28). John Stott asks, "How can God in any meaningful sense be called Ďeverything to everybodyí while an unspecified number of people still continue in rebellion against Him and under His judgment. It would be easier to hold together the awful reality of hell and the universal reign of God if hell means destruction and the impenitent are no more."95

The purpose of the plan of salvation is ultimately to eradicate the presence of sin and sinners from this world. It is only if sinners, Satan, and the devils ultimately are consumed in the lake of fire and experience the extinction of the second death that we truly can say that Christís redemptive mission has been an unqualified victory. "Victory means that evil is removed, and nothing remains but light and love. The traditional theory of everlasting torment means that the shadow of darkness hangs over the new creation forever."96

To sum up, we can say that from a cosmological perspective the traditional view of hell perpetrates a cosmic dualism that contradicts the prophetic vision of the new world where the presence of sin and sinners is forever passed away (Rev 21:4).

Conclusion. In concluding this study of the various views of hell, it is important to remind ourselves that the doctrine of the final punishment is not the Gospel but the outcome of the rejection of the Gospel. It is by no means the most important doctrine of Scripture, but it certainly affects the way we understand what the Bible teaches in other vital areas such as human nature, death, salvation, Godís character, human destiny, and the world to come.

The traditional view of hell as eternal torment is either Biblical or unbiblical. We have sought the answer in Godís Word and have found no Biblical support for it. What we found is that traditionalists have tried to interpret the rich language and imageries of destruction of the wicked in the light of the Hellenistic view of human nature and of ecclesiastical dogma rather than on the basis of accepted methods of Biblical interpretation.

Today the traditional view of hell is being challenged and abandoned by respected scholars of different religious persuasions, on the basis of Biblical, moral, judicial, and cosmological considerations. Biblically, eternal torment negates the fundamental principle that the ultimate wages of sin is death, cessation of life, and not eternal torment. Furthermore, the rich imagery and language of destruction used throughout the Bible to portray the fate of the wicked clearly indicate that their final punishment results in annihilation and not eternal, conscious torment.

Morally, the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is incompatible with the Biblical revelation of divine love and justice. The moral intuition God has implanted within our consciences cannot justify the insatiable cruelty of a God who subjects sinners to unending torments. Such a God is like a bloodthirsty monster and not like the loving Father revealed to us by Jesus Christ.

Judicially, the doctrine of eternal torment is inconsistent with the Biblical vision of justice, which requires the penalty inflicted to be commensurate with the evil done. The notion of unlimited retaliation is unknown to the Bible. Justice could never demand a penalty of eternal pain for sins committed during a mere human lifetime, especially since such punishment accomplishes no reformatory purpose.

Cosmologically, the doctrine of eternal torment perpetuates a cosmic dualism that contradicts the prophetic vision of the new world, from which sin and sinners have forever passed away. If agonizing sinners were to remain an eternal reality in Godís new universe, then it hardly could be said that there shall be no more "mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:4).

The traditional view of hell as conscious torment is in trouble today. The objections to such a view are so strong and the support so weak that more and more people are abandoning it, adopting instead the notion of universal salvation in order to avoid the sadistic horror of hell. To salvage the important Biblical doctrine of the final judgment and punishment of the wicked, it is important for Biblically-minded Christians to reexamine what the Bible really teaches about the fate of the lost.

Our careful investigation of the relevant Biblical data has shown that the wicked will be resurrected for the purpose of divine judgment. This will involve a permanent expulsion from Godís presence into a place where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. After a period of conscious suffering as individually required by divine justice, the wicked will be consumed with no hope of restoration or recovery. The ultimate restoration of believers and the extinction of sinners from this world will prove that Christís redemptive mission has been an unqualified victory. Christís victory means that "the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:4), and only light, love, peace, and harmony will prevail throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity.