Thursday, 19 April 2012

No rest for the wicked

I have been thinking quite a bit recently about the subject of hell.  One of the most straightforward and serious passages of the Bible on the subject is found in Revelation 14 v 10-11:

He himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation.  He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night...

In this passage the intention is to close the door on any thought that the unbeliever will ever be annihilated or put out of conscious existence.  John says the unbeliever will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, and will be tormented - this is not God roasting a corpse.  This is a description of conscious punishment.

Again, the passage shows that there will be no release from the judgment - he says the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever.  And there will be no relief in the judgment - they have no rest day or night.

Some have tried to dismiss this passage by saying that Revelation is a book of symbols and can't be taken literally.  But this is not explaining the passage, it is only explaining it away.  There are many things that everyone takes literally in the book of Revelation, and the things that are symbolic correspond to the reality they are intended to symbolise, e.g. when Christ is called the Lamb it is not literal, but conveys the reality that He died a sacrificial death; when He is called the Lion it is intended to convey His royalty and majestic power.  Also, we can see the literal and symbolic in the same verses, and distinguish between them without any difficulty, for instance, in Revelation 5 v 13 it talks about glory going to the Lamb forever and ever, just because the title "Lamb" is symbolic we don't make the "forever and ever" symbolic.

So think about the passage we're dealing with, what could the words symbolise?  I don't think the wine of the wrath of God is a phrase that is literal, but I think it is pretty clear that it is conveying the experience of enduring bitter suffering.  When it speaks about fire and brimstone I think it is clearly conveying God's fierce anger against their sins.  When it speaks about the smoke of their torment it seems clear that it showing that the torment is ongoing, (notice in 19 v 3 when it is talking about God's judgment on Babylon it talks about smoke ascending forever and ever, but not the smoke of its torment, because it is not a person).  When it speaks about them having no rest day or night I think it is a clear symbol for the reality that the torment is unremitting and unrelieved.

But, do you honestly think these statements are adequate to convey the thought of going out of existence?  I could never make myself believe that, no matter how good my imagination, and I don't think you should take a chance on it either - it is just imagination.