Monday, 30 April 2012

Eternal punishment and a click of the fingers

As you know, if you look on this blog from time to time, over the last while I have been writing quite a bit on the reality of hell.  I know that for some of you who come here you are looking for a simple outline of what the Bible says about the way of salvation, and how to be brought into a right relationship with God, and there is a lot on the site that is too involved or specified for you.  Can I encourage you to look at the labels, and click on Gospel or Salvation, and you'll find there how to know your sins are forgiven.

Anyway, I have been in correspondence with a man who believes that the lost are annihilated, rather than punished eternally.  I had said that this view does not allow for degrees of punishment, but he said that it does, because God doesn't annihilate people with a click of the fingers - it is like an execution, so some will get a worse execution than others (imagine some being burnt at the stake as opposed to lethel injection).

Now there are quite a number of problems with this view, for example, if the punishment for sin is loss of conscious existence, not suffering, then why does more sin or worse sin mean that you suffer?  If the punishment is to lose existence then why does God not just click His fingers and make that happen?  Why does He introduce suffering into the equation?  If God's justice requires loss of existence then the suffering part is surely unjust.

There are other things I could say, and possibly will in a future post, but the thing I want to point out now is that what my correspondent was saying just isn't true on His view, because if annihilation is true then God is going to instantaneously put them out of existence, whether He clicks His fingers or not.  What do I mean?  Well, the execution analogy doesn't fit the scenario of the final judgment, because those who stand before God at the resurrection of damnation are souls who have been in hades - the intermediate state for the lost (see Luke 16 v 19-31; 2 Peter 2 v 9) - and have been resurrected in resurrection bodies (see Revelation 20 v 11-15). 

Now obviously they aren't in glorified bodies, but it is equally obvious they aren't in natural bodies, because they stand before the Great White Throne in a scene in which the heavens and earth have fled away.  How are these people going to be killed?  They clearly don't need food, air or anything else to survive - they are dependent entirely and directly on God for their existence.  It's not the case that they can die by loss of blood, or suffocation, or by a poison being injected into their veins, etc. and if it were the case that the Lake of Fire burned their bodies to nothing then we are back to where we started, that would be the same punishment for everyone!  The only way you could have degrees of punishment and annihilation is if God sustains them in the fire, meaning that they aren't being executed, they are being punished and then put out of existence after a period of suffering, and I find it extremely problematic to say that a time would ever come at which God would say "They have now suffered enough for their sins".

But even if we imagine that their bodies could somehow go through a process of dying in the Lake of Fire, the fact is that the Bible shows that we have an immaterial part to us that survives the death of the body, so at the point at which the body died, God would simply (and metaphorically) click the fingers and put the soul out of existence.

So I hope you can see that this execution analogy is flawed, because if there is any suffering it is because God is sustaining the sinner in that state and then there comes a moment when He instantaneously puts them out of existence, they aren't dying as a result of the suffering.

If sins deserve conscious punishment then there is no time at which God will say "That's enough" - He is infinitely holy, and thus the punishment will never end.  That's how serious sin is, and that's how great your danger is, so please take your sin seriously, God does!  Turn from it, and turn to the Saviour who died for sinners and rose again, and is willing and able to save you.