"THE EPISTLE TO TITUS" Adorning The Doctrine Of God (2:9-10) INTRODUCTION 1. Instructing Titus to "speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine" (Tit 2:1)... a. Paul described conduct becoming those of different ages and genders b. Older men and older women, young women and young men, including Titus himself 2. He also prescribed conduct becoming those who were slaves - Tit 2:9-10 a. Which we can easily apply to ourselves as workers b. Conduct which Paul said enabled them to "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior" 3. What is meant to "adorn the doctrine of God"? As expressed in other translations... a. "they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive" (NIV) b. "they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior" (NRSV) [The idea is "to show the beauty of the teaching of God" (NET). Christian workers have the opportunity to show the beauty and value of following God's doctrine. That such may true with us, let's take Paul instructions to those who were servants and apply them to us as workers...] I. CONDUCT BECOMING WORKERS A. OBEDIENT TO THOSE OVER THEM... 1. Other translations use the words "submissive" (ESV) and "subject" (NASB) 2. Such obedience is further qualified in other epistles: a. "with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ;" - Ep 6:5 b. "not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart," - Ep 6:6 c. "with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men" - Ep 6:7 d. "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men," - Col 3:23 e. "knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. - Col 3:24 -- Christian workers should offer sincere obedience to their employers out of devotion to Christ B. WELL-PLEASING IN ALL THINGS... 1. As expressed in other translations: a. "trying to please them" (NIV) b. "to give satisfaction in every respect" (NRSV) c. "to do what is wanted" (NET) 2. Assuming that what is asked is legal and morally right a. We may think it stupid or unsound business-wise b. But our task is to do what is asked of us -- Christian workers should seek to make their bosses' ideas successful C. NOT ANSWERING BACK... 1. As found in other translations: a. "not argumentative" (ESV) b. "not to talk back to them" (NIV) 2. Unless, of course, the boss or employer looks for constructive feedback -- Christian workers should avoid arguing with those in authority over them D. NOT PILFERING... 1. That is, not stealing that which belongs to the owner or company 2. Stealing, embezzling their master's substance, taking away, and making use of what is their property, keeping back part of money or goods committed to their trust: the word is used in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Ac 5:2). - Gill -- Christian workers should not take that which does not belong them E. SHOWING ALL GOOD FIDELITY... 1. "to show that they can be fully trusted" (NIV) 2. Approving themselves to be faithful servants in everything they are entrusted with - Gill -- Christian workers should be those that any boss or company can trust completely! [Whether errand boy or company president, sound doctrine calls for Christian to be the best workers a company could want. Imagine the impact on productivity and employee relations if all Christians would take such teaching to heart and life. To encourage us to do so, here are some...] II. EXAMPLES TO INSPIRE WORKERS A. JOSEPH... 1. Though a slave, a successful worker because the Lord blessed him - Gen 39:1-5 2. Blessed because of his fidelity to the Lord and his master - Gen 39:6-9 3. Even in prison blessed by Lord with success - Gen 39:21-23 4. Demonstrated humility and was honored by Pharaoh - Gen 41:28-46 -- Despite trying circumstances, Joseph adorned the doctrine of God with his example of fidelity and humility as he served those over him B. DANIEL... 1. Though a captive, and tempted by the king's delicacies, he was determined to be true to God - Dan 1:3-6,8 2. The Lord blessed his efforts to be faithful to Him - Dan 1:9 3. Daniel showed respect to those over him - Dan 1:11-13 4. In his old age, he continued to put God first though it was at great risk a. Daniel was distinguished by the quality of his work - Dan 6:1-3 b. His enemies could find no fault in him - Dan 6:4-5 c. Despite their attempts to kill him, Daniel continued to serve God - Dan 6:6-10 d. His service and fidelity resulted in the praise of God and prosperity - Dan 6:26-28 -- In youth and old age, Daniel adorned the doctrine of God with his dedication to putting God first, even over those who employed him E. MODERN DAY EXAMPLES... 1. Men and women who excel in their professions because they put God first 2. Workers who are highly valued for their service, often retained and even promoted while others are let go -- Who will God bless and businesses promote today? Any worker who dares to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior! CONCLUSION 1. Again we see that "sound doctrine" is not limited to "church issues"... a. Though certainly we need to be sound on issues related to the Lord's church b. But it goes far beyond, reaching to how we raise our families and conduct our business 2. Remember that "sound doctrine" is that which is spiritually healthy, wholesome... a. What can be more "sound" than to "adorn the doctrine of God"? b. What can be more "spiritually healthy" than to "make the teaching of God attractive"? May God's grace empower us to be the kind of men, women, and workers that will make us "ornaments" illustrating the value of serving God. As Paul wrote to the Romans... I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. - Ro 12:1-2 Are we living in such a way as to prove that God's will is good, acceptable, and perfect...?
The Killings of Numbers 31
The first five books of the Bible are full of stories of the conquest of Caanan. But one story that sometimes stands out in the minds of skeptics is the one found in Numbers 31, where God seemingly gives no reason for killing defenseless women and male children. In addition, it has been suggested that the young girls mentioned in the account were spared so that the Israelite men could rape them. Such accusations are baseless, however, as is evident when they are viewed in light of other related passages.
The most widely questioned section of Numbers 31 is verses 17-18: “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women-children, that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” To understand this passage, one must realize that Numbers 25 is the “prequel” to the events recorded in Numbers 31. Numbers 25 tells how the Midianites, specifically the women, led the Israelites astray into worshiping the Baal or Peor. The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and He struck them with a plague. The plague ended when Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, killed an Israelite man and the Midianite woman he brought into his family (Numbers 25:6-9). The relations with Midianite women were in direct violation of God’s commands in Deuteronomy 7:3-4: “[N]either shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For he will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of Jehovah be kindled against you, and he will destroy thee quickly.”
As a result of these events, God instructed the Israelites to “Vex the Midianites, and smite them; for they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the prince of Midian, their sister, who was slain on the day of the plague in the matter of Peor” (Numbers 25:17-18). When, in Numbers 31, the army brought back the women, it was in direct violation to God’s order in Numbers 25 to destroy the Midianites, who would lead the Israelites into apostasy.
But how can we explain the destruction of the young boys? Why were they not spared along with the young girls? Skeptics read of events such as the conquest of Canaan, and contend that no God could be so cruel as to call for the destruction of an entire nation. The mere idea of the God of heaven ordering the death of women and innocent children so outraged infidel Thomas Paine that he said such a scenario was sufficient evidence in and of itself to cause him to reject the divine origin of the Bible (1795, p. 90). In fact, he condemned the Bible for its alleged moral atrocities, and even went so far as to blame the Bible for virtually every moral injustice ever committed. He wrote:
Whence arose the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Bible is filled; and the bloody persecutions, and tortures unto death and religious wars, that since that time have laid Europe in blood and ashes; whence arose they, but from this impious thing called revealed religion, and this monstrous belief that God has spoken to man? (p. 185).
However, to allege that the God of the Bible is some sort of “monster” for ordering Israel to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan exhibits an ignorance of biblical teaching. Those inhabitants were destroyed because of their wickedness (Deuteronomy 9:4; 18:9-14). They were so evil that their Creator no longer could abide their corruption. That they had numerous opportunities to repent is evident from the prophetic books (Nineveh did repent, for example, and for a time stayed the day of destruction). Complaining about Jehovah’s order to destroy innocent children is a vain gesture when one realizes that the children were spared an even worse fate of being reared as slaves under the domination of sin. Instead of having to endure the scourge of a life of immorality and wickedness, these innocents were ushered early into the bliss of Paradise. If the male children had been allowed to mature, they most likely would have followed the pagan ways of their forefathers, and eventually would have taken vengeance on the Israelites. Killing the males not only prevented them from falling into the same abominable sins as their parents, but also kept Israel from having to battle them later.
Man hardly can blame God and His Word for the awful consequences of sin; rather, he has only himself to blame (Romans 3:23; 5:12). A parent who warns a child of the consequences of disobedience, threatens an appropriate punishment, and then is true to his word at the event of infraction, generally is considered to be a firm-but-loving parent by clear-thinking people. Yet, critics ask us to view God as some type of ogre for following the same course of action. The discrepancy is not with the Almighty, but with His cowering critics.
The allegation that the Israelite men spared the young girls in order to rape them is nothing but baseless supposition predicated upon a lack of biblical knowledge. In the custom of the time, marriages were conducted at a young age. Therefore, the reference to the young girls who had not “known man by lying with him” would indicate that they were very young, likely under the age of twelve. These girls were too young to be able to lead the men of Israel away from Jehovah; therefore, these girls were allowed to live. As to raping them, it is more logical to assume that they wanted these girls for servants. This would be similar to Joshua 9, where Joshua allowed the Gibeonites to live in compelled servitude to the Israelites. Moreover, it would have been sinful for the Israelite men to rape the Midianite girls because rape was (and still is) abhorrent to God (Deuteronomy 22:23-28, esp. 25).
The simple answer to the questions surrounding Numbers 31 is that God ordered the Midianites to be killed in Numbers 25:17-18. When the army did not carry out this order at the time of the Midianite defeat, it was carried out in a delayed fashion when the army returned with the captives. As to Moses allowing the young girls to remain alive, that was a judgment call from the man with God’s authority over the Israelites.
God is the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and all-righteous “I Am” Who is over all things—so He may do whatever He wishes, so long as it is not in violation of His character. However, God does everything for a reason. Sometimes that reason may be unclear to us. In the case of the destruction of people like the Canaanites, God’s reasoning had to do with His justice. Deuteronomy 32:3-4 records: “For I will proclaim the name of Jehovah: Ascribe ye greatness unto our God. The Rock, his work is perfect; For all his ways are justice: A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, Just and right is he” (emp. added). Men may not always understand God’s justice, or His reasons for exercising it as He does. As Job 4:17 asked: “ Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?” (emp. added). The fact is, God does condone killing—in the name of justice (whether it be justice in regard to one person, or a whole nation). Even in modern times, the death penalty is an acceptable means of administering justice (Romans 13:1-7; cf. Genesis 9:6). While God is all loving, He also is a God of justice, and He will execute that justice in the most propitious manner—including by means of death.
Paine, Thomas (1795), Age of Reason (New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1924 reprint).
THE CASE FOR ETERNAL
The Goodness of God and an Eternal Hell
|by||Wayne Jackson, M.A.|
How can a “good” God condemn someone to hell forever?
The late Bertrand Russell, a renowned British agnostic, authored a small publication titled Why I Am Not A Christian. One of the reasons he cited for his unbelief was that Jesus Christ taught that there is an eternal hell for the wicked. Russell could not harmonize Christ’s doctrine about hell with the biblical concept of a just and benevolent God; hence, he rejected the teaching of Jesus and inclined toward the belief that there is no God. Russell, who lived a life of reckless abandon, echoed the sentiments of Cain: “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” On that basis, he became a determined opponent of true religion.
The problem of reconciling eternal retribution with the goodness of God has also had a significant impact on the religious world. Many religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and the World-Wide Church of God (Armstrongism), have rejected the doctrine of the eternal punishment of the wicked. Even the churches of Christ have had their advocates of this erroneous viewpoint (cf. Fudge, 1982).
SOME AD HOMINEM ARGUMENTS
An ad hominem (meaning, “to the man”) argument is a type of reasoning employed to focus upon an opponent’s inconsistency. Let us, at the outset of this discussion, utilize such in conjunction with the “no-hell” theory.
First of all, a major premise of the no-eternal-punishment dogma is the notion that such a concept is at variance with true justice. The argument might be framed like this. The Bible speaks of a “just” and “good” God; it also teaches the doctrine of eternal hell. These two positions are mutually exclusive. Therefore, the Scriptures are inconsistent, and cannot be true. We insist, however, that those who thus argue are under obligation to defend their use of the terms “just” and “good.” By whose standard are these character traits to be measured? The critics of the Bible must not be allowed to become “theological dictionaries unto themselves”! Their reasoning is based solely upon their personal ideas of how goodness and justice should be expressed. If it is true that the Scriptures teach that God has appointed eternal punishment for impenitently evil people; and if it is likewise true that the Bible affirms the justice and goodness of Jehovah, then it must follow that eternal punishment is not inconsistent with the nature of God. It is only at odds with some men’s perverted sense of goodness/justice.
Second, no one (skeptic or otherwise) is ready to concede that evil-doers are unworthy of any type of punishment. It is recognized that no society could survive in such an atmosphere. Should the rapist, the robber, and the murderer be told: “Admittedly, you have done wrong, but we (society) will not punish you for your crimes. That would be unjust.”? Is there anyone who argues that there should be no consequences resulting from criminal conduct? Absolutely not! It is conceded, therefore, that “punishment” is not inconsistent with true justice.
Third, let us take our reasoning one step further. Is it the case that genuine justice can be served even when an evil man’s punishment is extended beyond the time actually involved in the commission of his crime? Do we, for example, in our criminal justice system, ask the murderer: “Sir, how long did it take you to kill your wife?”—and then assign his incarceration accordingly? Would justice be maintained by such an approach? Of course not. Here, then, is the point—true justice, combined with genuine goodness, allows the possibility that a wrong-doer may be required to suffer a penalty that is considerably longer than the duration of his evil. The real issue, therefore, is not punishment per se, or even protracted punishment; rather, it is eternal punishment. The skeptic (or religious materialist) simply wants to tell God how long the penalty is to be! Remember, though, in a system of true justice, the offender is not allowed to set his own sentence!
THE CASE FOR ETERNAL
PUNISHMENT BY A JUST GOD
Since no one ever has returned from the dead to discuss his/her personal experiences, this issue is not one that can be settled by human speculation; rather, it must be decided by divine revelation. When the relevant biblical data are assembled, it will be seen, even from man’s jaundiced viewpoint, that the fact of eternal punishment is not inconsistent with the character of a righteous God. Our case will be set forth in a series of interrelated propositions.
The Nature and Fall of Man
Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), hence, he is a volitional being. He has the power to choose good or evil. Joshua challenged Israel, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15). Humanity was not programmed to rebel; rather, men have “willed” to reject Heaven’s plan for living upon this Earth (see Matthew 23:37; John 5:40). Man was made upright, but he has generally sought the way of evil (Ecclesiastes 7:29). There are, however, consequences associated with this type of activity.
Sin and the Nature of God
The Bible clearly teaches that God is an absolutely holy Being (Isaiah 6:4; Revelation 4:8), i.e., He is utterly separate from evil. His holiness is demonstrated in numerous narratives in the Scriptures. At Sinai, the chasm between God and sinful Israel was vividly underscored (Exodus 19:12-25). The tabernacle arrangement, with its holy place and most holy place (the abode of God—Exodus 25:22) certainly was designed to instruct the Hebrews relative to Jehovah’s holy nature (Exodus 26:33).
The Lord’s holiness not only suggests that He cannot personally commit sin (James 1:13), but also means that He cannot ignore rebellion as if it had never happened. The prophet Habakkuk declared to Jehovah: “Your eyes are too pure to look upon evil [i.e., favorably—WJ]; you cannot tolerate wrong” (1:13, NIV). God takes no pleasure in wickedness (Psalm 5:4), and those who indulge themselves therein will be recipients of His vengeance (Psalm 11:6,7). The Bible affirms that the outpouring of divine wrath upon the ungodly is, in fact, a “revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).
Sin Separates One from God
When humanity chose to sin, it made the decision to be separated from the holy Creator. The prophet clearly stated that, “your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you” (Isaiah 59:2). In biblical parlance, “death” generally denotes a separation of some sort. When the spirit departs the body, the body is dead (James 2:26). Similarly, when a person enters a state of sinfulness, he becomes spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) for, by that act, he has determined to separate himself from God. Remember, this initiation of estrangement was not forced upon us by our Maker; it is totally our responsibility.
Hell—The Ultimate Separation
Inspiration describes the penalty of hell as “the second death” (Revelation 20:14), which suggests that it is the ultimate separation from God. This is forcefully emphasized in several New Testament passages. In the parable of the virgins, those unprepared virgins who “slept” (i.e., died), when awakened by the coming of the Bridegroom, wanted entrance into His presence, but the door was shut, and they were denied that association (Matthew 25:1-13). Unprofitable servants will be “cast out” (Matthew 25:30), and will hear the Lord exclaim: “Depart from me...” (Matthew 25:41). Paul expressed it like this. Those who know not God and who obey not the gospel, “shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). This abiding separation from God is but a continuation of the estrangement that the rebel cultivated in this life. The Lord is not responsible for such a reckless decision!
The Dramatic Horror of Separation from God
How is it possible to describe the spiritual state of being banished from the presence of the supreme Being of the Universe? Being alienated from Jehovah is the ultimate experience of horror. It is a separation from everything that is pure and good, everything that is right and wholesome, and everything that makes for joy and tranquility. It is, however, a spiritual experience, and since the human mind operates on the plane of the material, we really are not prepared to appreciate the gravity of such a circumstance. Hence, God has employed appropriate symbolism to describe the agonies of hell.
The spiritual abode of the wicked is a state of pain, trouble, and sorrow (Psalm 116:3). It is characterized by shame and contempt (Daniel 2:2), a realm of affliction (Jonah 2:2). Hell is a place of outer darkness where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth (Matthew 23:30), indeed a sphere of eternal fire (Matthew 25:41), where the “worm” (a figure for gnawing anguish) does not die (Mark 9:48). The wicked are described as being beaten with stripes (Luke 12:47-48); they are recipients of God’s wrath and indignation; they experience tribulation and anguish (Romans 2:8-9); and they suffer punishment as a manifestation of the Lord’s vengeance (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Hell is a place of utter torment where no rest is ever known (Revelation 14:10-11). While it would not be an expression of responsible exegesis to literalize the figures of speech catalogued above, one never must forget that the symbolism is designed to emphasize the absolute terror of being abandoned by God. Moreover, the figures doubtless do not do justice to the actual reality of this eternal nightmare!
Is the Punishment Eternal in Duration?
As observed earlier, a major objection to the doctrine of hell is its everlasting nature. Must the suffering go on without end? Is it really just for one to be punished forever when he/she has only been devoted to evil for a relatively brief span in time? Consider this question for a moment. Is God just in granting eternal bliss to those who have served Him only temporarily in this world? I never have heard the Lord charged with unfairness in this instance! It must be emphasized again, the issue is not one that can be determined with the subjective reasoning of biased human emotion. The Bible must supply the answer.
The Scriptures explicitly affirm the abiding nature of divine retribution. The shame and punishment of evil people will be everlasting (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46). “Everlasting” literally means “always being.” Note its contrast with “temporal” in 2 Corinthians 4:18. The claim is made, however, that “everlasting” does not always mean that which is of an absolutely unending nature. True, but in all such cases we learn that fact, not from the nature of the word itself, but from additional information in the Scriptures. The context is always the final judge of any word’s meaning. In Matthew 25:46, the “eternal” punishment of the wicked is contrasted with the “eternal” life (i.e., communion with God) of the righteous. Here, clearly, both are unending in duration. Further, Jesus emphasized that in hell, the agony does not cease (Mark 9:48), and John notes that the smoke of the “torment” of hell’s inmates “goeth up” (the Greek present tense stresses continuous action) “for ever and ever” (Revelation 14:11). Compare the duration of the blissful worship described in Revelation 4:8-10.
Also, the nature of the soul argues for eternal punishment. Consider the following: (a) Man is not wholly mortal, as materialists allege. If such were the case, one man could murder another and completely destroy him. Christ declared, however: “And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). [NOTE: The word “destroy” does not mean annihilation. “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (Vine, 1940, p. 302).] One must conclude that the soul is immortal. (b) In one of the Lord’s discussions with the Sadducees, He said that in the resurrection men do not “die anymore: for they are equal unto the angels” (Luke 20:36). It is quite clear that there is something about man that lives forever. (c) When Peter wanted to encourage godliness in Christian women, he suggested that they should be clothed with the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4). It hardly seems appropriate that a corruptible spirit should be clothed with incorruptible apparel. The implication concerning the abiding nature of the spirit is obvious. (d) Jesus said of Judas Iscariot that it would be better for him if he had never been born (Mark 14:21). If that traitor had no existence prior to his commencement as a human being, and if he was to go out of existence at death, why would it have been better had he never been born? The Lord’s statement plainly indicates that Judas’ soul, in a state of torment, would survive the death of his body.
Finally, the nature of the resurrected body demands that punishment for the wicked is everlasting. In 1 Corinthians 15:52, Paul affirms that the dead are raised “incorruptible” (cf. 1 Timothy 1:17, where the term is used of God). Elsewhere we are told that the unjust will be raised (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15), and Christ acknowledged the punishment of both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28). All of these factors lead only to the conclusion that if there is punishment after death at all, then it must be eternal in its duration—unless it can be shown that there is some plan of salvation in that state. And for that view, there is absolutely no evidence at all! In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite. (a) After death, judgment follows—not a second chance for salvation (Hebrews 9:27). (b) Between the Hadean abode of those who die saved, and those who die lost, “there is a great gulf fixed” (the perfect tense form in the Greek Testament stresses the abiding nature of the separation), and passage from one realm into another is an impossibility (Luke 16:26). Moreover, the rich man in that place of torment acknowledged that his brothers back on Earth needed to make preparation during their earthly sojourn; he knew there was no post-death plan of redemption (see Luke 16:28-31). (c) In the parable of the virgins (Matthew 25:1ff), those who “slumbered and slept” (a figure for dying) in an unprepared condition, awoke (i.e., were raised—Daniel 12:2) in precisely that same state, hence, were forbidden to enter in with the Bridegroom (Christ). There is no opportunity for obedience after death!
Divine Justice is Demonstrated by Equitable Punishment
An added dimension to this study surely must be that of “degrees of punishment.” The Scriptures teach that eternal punishment will be proportionate to what is deserved. Jesus said that in “the day of judgment” it would be “more tolerable” for those pagan cities that had received little spiritual influence, than for those cities which rejected Him in spite of seeing His marvelous deeds (Matthew 11:22-24). In one of His vivid illustrations, the Lord told of a certain servant who behaved himself in an unseemly fashion. When his master came and found him unprepared, he assigned him to punishment. Christ then made this statement: “And that servant, who knew his lord’s will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required, and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more” (Luke 12:47-48). Christ indicated that there were varying levels of responsibility when He said to Pilate: “He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin” (John 19:11). The writer of Hebrews spoke of those who would receive “sorer punishment” (10:29), and James admonished: “Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment” (3:1). Of one thing we may be certain, even in the punishment of those who are evil, the Judge of all the Earth will do what is right (Genesis 18:25).
God’s Goodness Reflected in the Cross
No one—logically and effectively—can argue against the benevolence of Jehovah in the face of the cross. As was observed earlier, the holiness and justice of Deity demands that sin be addressed. Appropriate reward for good and evil is an evidence that “there is a God that judgeth in the earth” (see Psalm 58:10,11). The problem is—how can a just God keep from sending rebellious man to hell? The answer is—through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Paul affirmed, in Romans 3:21-26, that God has shown His righteousness in setting forth Christ to be a propitiation for sin. In this loving act, He preserves His own righteousness, yet, at the same time, He becomes the Justifier of those who, through faith, are obedient to His Son (cf. Hebrews 5:8-9).
When Christ died upon the cross, it was not for any sin that He personally had committed. Though He was tempted in all points like as we are, He had no sin (Hebrews 4:15). When Peter wrote that Jesus “did not sin,” he employed a verbal tense which suggests that the Lord never sinned—not even once (1 Peter 2:22)! Isaiah repeatedly emphasized the substitutionary nature of the Lord’s death when he wrote: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.... Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6). When the prophet declared that our “iniquity” was laid upon the Son of God, he employed a figure of speech known as metonymy (one thing is put for another)—in this case, the cause being put for the effect. In other words, God did not actually put our sins upon Christ, but He put the penalty of our wrongs upon His Son at Calvary. Christ bore our “hell” twenty centuries ago. In spite of the fact, therefore, that all sinners deserve to be lost, the Lord has provided a way to “escape the judgment of hell” (cf. Matthew 23:32). Again we stress—no man can argue against the love of God in light of His unspeakable gift at the cross!
When all of the data are gathered and analyzed in balance, the doctrine of eternal punishment is not at variance with the character of the Creator.
Fudge, Edward (1982), The Fire That Consumes (Houston, TX: Providential Press).
Vine, W.E. (1940), An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Westwood, NJ: Revell).
The Eternality of Hell [Part II]
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
Kyle Butt, M.Div.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Part I of this two-part series appeared in the January issue. Part II follows below, and continues, without introductory comments, where the first article ended.]
DOES DESTRUCTION IMPLY ANNIHILATION?
According to F. LaGard Smith, “The primary scriptural cornerstone for the case [for the annihilation of the wicked—EL/KB] is Matthew 10:28” (2003, p. 167). Since Jesus told His disciples, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But, rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28), His statement supposedly proves that hell is merely a picture of complete extermination of the souls of the wicked. Annihilationists, including both Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, have (mis)used Matthew 10:28 for centuries to propagate their error. In his book, After Life, Smith cites this particular verse more than any other verse from Scripture. Surely, annihilationists allege, Jesus would not have employed the word “destroy” in this verse if He did not mean extermination.
The phrase “to destroy” in Matthew 10:28 is derived from the Greek word apollumi, which is used 92 times in the New Testament. It is translated by such terms as perish, destroy, lose, and lost. While it is true that occasionally apollumi is used to mean death (Matthew 2:13; 8:25; 26:52), most often it simply signifies the idea of suffering a loss of well-being and the loss of being blessed. In Luke 15, Jesus spoke of the shepherd’s lone sheep that was “lost” (apollumi), but not annihilated (vs. 6). In that same chapter, He told of the father’s prodigal son who was “lost” (apollumi), not extinguished (vss. 24,32). The wineskins of which Christ spoke in Matthew 9:17 did not pass into nonexistence, but were “ruined” (apollumi). Jesus did not come to seek and to save those who did not exist; rather He came to save those who were alive physically, but ruined spiritually by sin [i.e., lost (apollumi)—Luke 19:10]. Paul stated that the Gospel is “veiled to those who are perishing” (apollumi) in sin, not to those who are exterminated by sin. Considering the fact that even when apollumi is used to mean “death” (Matthew 2:13; 8:25; 26:52), total annihilation of the person is not under consideration (for the soul still would be alive). Therefore, one can rightly conclude that there is not a single instance in the New Testament where apollumi means “annihilation” in the strictest sense of the word. The Scriptures clearly teach that those who, at Judgment, will be “destroyed” because of their wickedness, will be like the “beast” who will “go to perdition” (apoleia, Revelation 17:8,11) in “the lake of fire and brimstone,” where they will be, not annihilated, but “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 17:8,11; 20:10). “Destruction” does not equal “annihilation.”
Respected Greek scholars also disagree with the annihilationist’s position that the Greek term underlying our English word “destroy” in Matthew 10:28 means “annihilation.” W.E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, explained: “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (1940, 1:302). Specifically, in regard to Matthew 10:28, he stated: “of the loss of well-being in the case of the unsaved hereafter” (1:302). A.T. Robertson added: “ ‘Destroy’ here is not annihilation, but eternal punishment in Gehenna” (1930, 1:83). In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, professor Albrecht Oepke commented on the meaning of destroy, stating that it is “definitive destruction, not merely in the sense of extinction of physical existence, but rather of an eternal plunge” into Hell (1964, 1:396). Lexicographer Joseph Thayer agreed with these assessments, saying that “destroy” in Matthew 10:28 means “metaphorically, to devote or give over to eternal misery” (1962, p. 64). [NOTE: Considering that the publisher’s introduction to the fourth edition of Thayer’s lexicon indicates “Thayer was a Unitarian” who denied such things as “the eternal punishment of the wicked” (p. vii), it is logical to conclude that his definition of apollumi could only be the result of an informed knowledge of the word’s true meaning.]
Even when we use the word “destroy” in modern times, frequently something other than annihilation is intended. Suppose a married couple involved in a violent car wreck survived the accident and returned to the scene the next day with a newspaper reporter to see the wreckage. If the couple spoke of their badly mangled car as being “destroyed,” would anyone think that the newspaper reporter would be justified in writing a story about how the couple’s car allegedly “went out of existence” during the wreck? To ask is to answer. When a sports journalist covers a high school basketball game and writes about the Clearwater Cats “destroying” the Blue Horn Bombers, will any person even slightly familiar with the English language understand “destroy” in the article literally to mean “annihilate”? Certainly not. Even in twenty-first-century English, “to destroy” frequently means something other than “to exterminate.”
In the well-known parallel text to Matthew 10:28, Luke recorded: “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5, emp. added). To be destroyed is equivalent to being cast into hell. Since the New Testament indicates that hell is the place of “everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41) “that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:43, 48), and is the future abode of the wicked where they will suffer “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46), we can know that to be destroyed in hell (Matthew 10:28) is equivalent to suffering eternal misery.
Paul used the unique phrase “eternal destruction” in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica (1:9). The Greek word translated “destruction” in this verse, however, is olethros, not apollumi. Olethros appears a total of four times in the New Testament, three of which refer to the “destruction” of those who rebel against God (1 Thessalonians 5:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:9). Like apollumi, olethros does not connote annihilation. In 1 Timothy 6:9, Paul used olethros to describe the miserable spiritual condition of those who lust after riches. These individuals were not annihilated, but were in a state of “ruin” (NASV, RSV, NIV) because they had “strayed from the faith” (vs. 10). Regarding the appearance of olethros in 1 Thessalonians 5:3, Gary Workman asked: “[I]f the fate of the ungodly is sudden annihilation at the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 5:3), how are they going to stand before his seat? (2 Cor. 5:10)” [1992, 23:32]. Furthermore, “[S]ince that destruction is ‘sudden,’ there could not be any torment at all—which is contrary to Bible teaching” (p. 32). In fact, in 2 Thessalonians 1:9
[t]he expression “everlasting destruction” is used in apposition to “suffer punishment” (literally meaning, “to experience just payment”). A part of the “deserved” aspect is that of “affliction.” Note that verse 6 says “...God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you....” “Affliction” implies conscious suffering; it stands in opposition to the concept of annihilation.... As Gerstner observed: “Extermination is not affliction; it is the prevention of affliction” (Jackson, 2003a, 39:31).
There simply is no solid evidence to justify interpreting “eternal destruction” as “annihilation.” Paul used olethros in this verse to mean “the loss of a life of blessedness after death, future misery,” not extermination (Thayer, 1962, p. 443; cf. Wuest, 1973, p. 41). The wicked face “eternal ruin
DOES DEATH IMPLY ANNIHILATION?
Throughout the New Testament, the fires of hell are depicted as being the “second death.” The picture painted in Revelation 20 tells of a burning lake of fire into which the devil and all his cohorts will be cast, including wicked humans whose names are not written in the Book of Life. Verse 14 of chapter 20 declares: “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” The inspired writer James remarked that if one of the brethren turns away from Christ, then if someone turns the wayward brother back, he will “save a soul from death” (James 5:20). James’ statement speaks directly to the fact that the sinning soul is destined for spiritual death. In John 6, Jesus described Himself as the bread that came down from heaven. Those who eat this “living” bread will “live forever” and not die (John 6:48-51,58). All who will not eat this living bread will die. Jesus’ comments here clearly refer to the second death in hell.
What Does the Word “Death” Mean?
All those involved in the debate of afterlife issues understand that hell is called the second death, and that a person’s soul is said to die in hell. But what does the word death actually mean? Those who advocate annihilationism have put forth the idea that the word death must mean “to go out of existence.” Along these lines, Smith wrote:
Those whose names are found written in the book [of life—EL/KB] will inherit life with God forever. For those whose names are missing, there is no lasting life whatsoever, tormented or otherwise. Only death. The second and final death.... As the greater weight of scriptural evidence indicates, the only option is eternal life versus eternal death. Blessed existence versus non-existence (pp. 189,190).
From statements peppered throughout his book, and especially from the final two parallel sentences in this quotation, it is obvious that Smith defines the word death as nonexistence.
In truth, however, the concept of death as used in the Bible does not mean non-existence, but rather “separation.” In regard to physical death, it refers to the separation of the soul from the physical body. In regard to spiritual death, in connotes separation of the soul from God.
The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon gives the following primary definition of the Greek word that is translated “death” (thanatos): “(1) the death of the body (1a) that separation (whether natural or violent) of the soul and the body by which life on earth is ended” (see “Thanatos,” 1999). The fact that physical death is viewed in the Bible as separation is evident from several Scriptures. The inspired writer James offered a clear picture of this idea of death when he wrote: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). According to James, faith separated from works is a dead faith, in the same way that a body which is separated from the soul is a dead body. Notice that a body separated from a soul is not a nonexistent body. On the contrary, the body still exists and lies lifeless, but is separated from the soul and thus presumed to be dead.
The narrative describing Rachel’s death in Genesis provides further evidence that the Bible depicts physical death as the separation of the soul from the body. As Rachel was giving birth to Benjamin, her labor became so intense that her life was in danger. The text reads: “Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear; you will have this son also.’ And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)” [Genesis 35:17-19, emp. added]. Rachel’s death occurred when her soul departed (i.e., leaving her physical body). Her body continued to exist for some time and was buried, but it was recognized as a dead body as soon as it was separated from Rachel’s soul, not when the body eventually decayed in the tomb. Here again, the biblical picture of death revolves around the concept of separation, not nonexistence.
Luke 8 contains additional evidence that separation of the soul and physical body is the actual meaning of physical death. Jairus came to Jesus pleading for the life of his sick daughter. While en route to the house, someone came from Jairus’ house, explaining that the girl had already died. Jesus encouraged Jairus not to doubt, and continued toward the house. Arriving at the ruler’s house, Jesus sent everyone out except Peter, James, John, and the parents of the child. He approached the child’s dead body, took her hand and said, “Little girl, arise.” Immediately after this comment, the text states: “Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately” (Luke 8:40-55). Note that both the girl’s body and her spirit existed at the time Jesus entered the room. Her body, however, was dead because her spirit had departed from it. When her spirit returned to her body, it was made alive again. Once more, the biblical text presents the idea that the concept of death is not one of nonexistence, but of separation.
John 19:30 offers another example that establishes physical death as separation of the soul and body. In the final moments of Christ’s life during the crucifixion, after all of the prophecies had been fulfilled, Christ cried, “It is finished.” Immediately following this last cry, the Lord bowed His head, and “He gave up His Spirit.” At this point, when His soul departed from His body, He was dead. Joseph and Nicodemus buried the dead (still existent) body of Christ in a new tomb, while the soul of Christ had departed.
Even after looking at these several biblical examples, some annihilationists might continue to argue that physical death still means “nonexistence,” because those who die no longer exist in the physical world. But notice what the Bible describes as dead—the body. James stated that “the body without the spirit is dead.” The body continues to exist for some time, but is said to be dead immediately when the soul leaves it. And the spirit is not said to be “dead.”
While the idea that physical death is defined by separation and not nonexistence is clear from the Bible, the idea that spiritual death is defined by a soul’s separation from God and not by a soul’s nonexistence is even more clearly set forth in Scripture. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he wrote: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world.... But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ...” (Ephesians 2:1-2,4-5). When the Ephesians committed sins in their unsaved condition, they were described as “dead.” Obviously, however, they were not nonexistent. Instead, they were separated from God by those sins. In fact, verse twelve of the same chapter says that during their time of sinfulness, they were “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” The Ephesians were spiritually dead in their sins. This spiritual death was a separation from God, Christ, and hope, yet it was not a state of nonexistence. In chapter 4 of the same epistle, Paul told the brethren that they should “no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:17-18). The sinful Gentiles described here were in the same state of spiritual death the Ephesians were in prior to their becoming Christians. That death was an alienation (or separation) from the life of God, yet, here again, it was not a state of nonexistence.
The inspired apostle Paul also wrote to Christians in Colossae, declaring, “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13). Paul obviously did not mean that the Colossians had been physically dead in their sins. Neither did he intend to assert the nonsensical idea that at one time, while they were sinning, their souls were in a state of nonexistence. On the contrary, their souls existed, but were separated from God because of their sins, and thus they were labeled as dead. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah explained this principle clearly when he wrote: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear, but your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2, emp. added).
Paul presents very clearly in 1 Timothy 5:6 the concept that spiritual death is separation from God, not nonexistence. In this chapter, Paul instructed the young Timothy about which widows should receive assistance from the church treasury. In his discussion, Paul mentioned widows who trusted in God and continued in prayer. He contrasted those widows with one who “lives in pleasure” or indulgence of the flesh. Concerning such a widow, he wrote: “But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.” As is the case throughout the New Testament, individuals who live in sin are considered spiritually dead. They are referred to as dead by the Holy Spirit because they have separated themselves from God via their sin. The sinning widow continued to exist physically, and her soul continued to exist, yet she was called dead. The biblical picture of spiritual death is not one of nonexistence, but one of a miserable existence separated from God.
The antithesis of death is “life” (zoe). As we have seen from numerous passages, one way that the word life is used in the Bible is to describe the state in which the physical body is joined or connected to the soul of a person. Furthermore, spiritual life, the opposite of spiritual death, is used in the New Testament to describe the condition in which a separated soul is brought back to, and joined with, its Creator. Paul described this condition when he wrote: “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and irreproachable in His sight” (Colossians 1:21-22, emp. added). Sin alienates a person from God and leads to spiritual death. God, through Christ, allows those dead, separated souls to be cleansed of that sin and have spiritual life, which reconciles them to Him. That is why John wrote: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).
It is evident, then, from a close look at the Scriptures that the word death does not mean a state of nonexistence—either in the physical realm or the spiritual realm. The Bible describes bodies that were dead, yet still very much in existence. The inspired record describes individuals who were spiritually dead, yet existing in that dead condition nonetheless. The misguided ploy to define “the second death” (Revelation 20:11; 20:6,14; 21:8) as a state of nonexistence is merely a failed attempt to avoid the actual meaning of the biblical text. The second death describes nothing more (or less) than the total separation of wicked, unsaved souls from the God Who created them.
Of all those wicked people who will ask “in that day” (i.e., the Day of Judgment), “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” (Matthew 7:22), Jesus, the righteous Judge (John 5:22; 2 Timothy 4:8), will declare (sentencing them to a second death), “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23, emp. added). Of those evil people who neglect the needy, He will say, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41, emp. added).
“Eternal destruction” awaits those who are cast away “from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9, emp. added). As both Jesus and the apostle Paul declared, the second death is not annihilation, but eternal separation “from the presence of the Lord.” Death in no way implies a state of nonexistence.
HOW CAN A LOVING GOD PUNISH PEOPLE ETERNALLY?
It seems obvious that the idea of annihilationism did not originate from a straightforward reading of the biblical text. After looking at the way biblical verses must be bent, stretched, ripped out of context, and twisted to support the concept of annihilationism, one cannot help but wonder why this idea is so attractive to certain well-educated individuals. While we do not have the space here to examine all of the reasons for the acceptance of this false doctrine, one very pertinent motive for accepting annihilationism does surface regularly in the writings and lectures of those who adhere to annihilationism
In April 1988, while speaking on the subject of “A Christian Response to the New Age Movement” at the annual Pepperdine University lectures in Malibu, California, F. LaGard Smith asked the members of his audience:
I also wonder if you feel as uncomfortable as I do in our traditional view of hell. Do you readily accept the traditional view of hell that says God sort of dangles you over the fires that burn day and night?... Is that what hell is all about? Haven’t you struggled with the idea of how there can be a loving God and anywhere in his presence permit that to exist? Doesn’t it seem like cruel and unusual punishment? (1988).
Notice his line of reasoning. Smith is “uncomfortable” with the “traditional view” of hell. What does he suggest has caused this cognitive dissonance on his part? He states that eternal punishment in hell seems (to him) like “cruel and unusual punishment.” Smith does not believe that a “loving God” could permit eternal torture of impenitent sinners. Fifteen years later, in his book, After Life, Smith was even more assertive in his view that God is “not a twisted, cruel God who tortures the wicked, dangling them over licking flames” (p. 183). Do not miss his point. According to Smith, if God punishes the wicked eternally in a flaming fire (rather than annihilating them), then God is both “twisted” and “cruel.”
Smith’s complaints bear a striking resemblance to the countless attacks that have been made upon the God of the Bible by skeptics and infidels. The renowned agnostic, Bertrand Russell, once stated:
There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment (1957, p. 17).
Russell’s self-defined sense of humanness balked at the idea of an everlasting punishment, which he offered as one of his primary reasons for rejecting Christ (since Jesus taught on an everlasting hell). Russell further noted:
Christ certainly, as depicted in the Gospels, did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching.... I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world.... I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that (pp. 17-18).
Smith and Russell both “feel” that there exists an irreconcilable moral dilemma between a loving God and an eternal Hell. Due to this belief, Russell felt compelled to reject the Christ of the gospel accounts Who forcefully presents, to any unbiased reader, the idea of an eternal hell. On the other hand, Smith, not willing to reject the Christ of the Gospel, rejects the eternal hell presented in the New Testament. Both have rejected a facet of New Testament teaching based on a subjectively perceived moral dilemma.
That dilemma, however, has been created more from a sense of emotional discomfort than from an honest study of the Bible and God. As J.P. Moreland accurately stated when questioned about the eternality of conscious punishment, many people “tend to evaluate whether it’s [eternal punishment—EL/KB] appropriate, based on their feelings or emotional offense to it” (as quoted in Strobel, 2000, p. 172). He went on to state: “The basis for their evaluation should be whether hell is a morally just or morally right state of affairs, not whether they like or dislike the concept” (p. 172). The alleged moral dilemma presented by Smith and Russell is one that is based on emotions, not on accurate assessments of morality and justice. Upon further investigation, there proves to be no dilemma at all. Allow us to explain.
God is Love
It would be extremely difficult for a person to read the Bible and miss the fact that God is described as a loving and caring Creator. In 1 John 4:7-8, the writer declared that love issues directly from God and that, in fact, “God is love.” First John 4:16 states: “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” Throughout the Scriptures, God’s love for His creatures is repeated time and time again. One of the most familiar passages of Scripture, known even to the masses, is John 3:16, which declares: “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.”
It is here, however, that a very important point must be made. Our “politically correct” society has influenced many people to believe that a loving person would never cause harm or discomfort to the object of his love. In an interview with Lee Strobel, J.P. Moreland addressed this issue when he observed:
Yes, God is a compassionate being, but he’s also a just, moral, and pure being. So God’s decisions are not based on modern American sentimentalism.... People today tend to care only for the softer virtues like love and tenderness, while they’ve forgotten the hard virtues of holiness, righteousness, and justice (as quoted in Strobel, p. 174).
What does the Bible mean when it says that “God is love”? In today’s society, the concept of love quite often is misunderstood. Many people seem to think that a “loving person” is one who always tries to keep others out of every pain or discomfort. Punishment often is looked upon as an “unloving” thing to do. But that is not the case. In fact, a loving person sometimes will cause pain to others in order to accomplish a greater good. For instance, suppose a mother tells her 4-year-old son to stop putting the hair dryer into his little sister’s bath water, but the child continues his mischievous and dangerous activity? Is it not likely that the boy will be punished? Maybe he will get a swift swat on the leg, or have to sit in the corner of a room. The physical pain or mental discomfort inflicted on the child is for his own good and/or the good of his sister. This mother loves her children, but still punishes them. In fact, the Proverbs writer stated that a parent who does not discipline his/her child (which includes corporal punishment) simply does not love that child (Proverbs 13:24; cf. 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15).
God is Just
God is hardly a one-sided Being. He has many different attributes that need to be considered. Yes, one of those attributes is His love. But another is His justice. Psalm 89:14 states that “righteousness and justice” are the foundation of God’s throne. Deuteronomy 32:3-4 declares: “For I proclaim the name of the Lord: ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He.”
What is justice? Justice is the principle that crime must be punished. It is not difficult to recognize justice. Suppose a certain judge in a large U.S. city let every murderer walk away from his courtroom without any punishment. Even though many of the murderers had killed several people in cold blood, the judge would just wave his hand, pat the murderer on the shoulder, and say something like, “I am feeling very loving and generous today, so you are free to go without any punishment.” The judge obviously would not be administering justice, and he should promptly be relieved of his position. In the same way, if God did not provide punishment for the sinful actions that humans commit, then justice could not be the foundation of His throne.
It can be shown, then, that a loving person could punish those that he loves, and that justice demands that some type of punishment or penalty must be endured or paid for actions that break the law. But the problem still remains that eternal punishment seems to some to be too harsh and permanent to come from a loving God.
There is one other principle of justice that needs attention at this juncture. Punishment almost always lasts longer than the actual crime. When a gunman walks into a bank, shoots two tellers, robs the bank, and is successfully apprehended, tried, and found guilty, his punishment is of a much longer duration than his crime. The actual shooting and looting might have taken only three minutes to accomplish, but he most likely will pay for those three minutes by spending the remainder of his life in prison. Those who contend that hell will not be eternal say that forever is “too long.” But once a person concedes that punishment can (and generally does!) last longer than the crime, his argument against an eternal hell becomes self-defeating. Once a person admits that the punishment can last longer than the crime, it is simply a matter of who gets to decide how long the punishment should be.
Skeptics, infidels, and others admit that punishment can be longer than the crime, but then they contest that “forever” is too long. Who says forever is too long? Would a hundred years be too long to punish a child molester? What about two hundred? It soon becomes obvious that determinations of “too long” are arbitrarily made by those (like skeptics and infidels) who want to reject the God of the Bible or (like annihilationists) the hell of the Bible.
In his debate with renowned atheistic philosopher, Antony Flew, Thomas B. Warren pressed this point masterfully. Before one of the debating sessions, Warren gave Flew a list of questions to be answered (a facet of the debate that was agreed upon before the debate started). One of the questions was a “true or false” question that read as follows: “It is not possible that the justice of God would entail any punishment for sin.” To this question Flew answered “false,” indicating that it is possible that the justice of God could entail some punishment for sin. The next “true or false” question offered by Warren stated: “It is possible that this infinite justice of God might entail at least one minute of punishment when this life is over”—to which Flew answered “true.” Warren then commented:
He answered “true.” Now note, it might entail at least one minute of punishment and not be out of harmony—the basic concept of God would not be self-contradictory. What about two minutes, Dr. Flew? What about three minutes, four minutes, an hour, a day, a year, a month, a hundred years, a million years? Where do you stop? Would a billion years be long enough? Could God punish a man a billion years and still be just and loving? You can see that he has given up tonight.... He has shown his inability to answer these questions in harmony with the atheistic position and the implications which follow from it. He himself is on record as saying when a man cannot do that, then it is clear that he holds a false position (Warren and Flew, 1977, p. 150).
Once the point is conceded that a loving God could punish sin with at least one minute of punishment after this life, then the only question left to answer is: Who is in the best position to determine how long punishment should be? Would it not be a righteous judge who knew every detail of the crime, including the thoughts and intents of the criminal? God is exactly that. He is not motivated by selfishness, greed, or other vice, but sits on a throne of righteousness (Psalm 89:14). Furthermore, He knows all the facts of the case (Proverbs 15:3) and the intents and thoughts of the lawbreakers (Psalm 44:21). Only God is in a position to determine how long sin should be punished.
Furthermore, it is ironic that those who are claiming that “forever” is “too long” to punish people for sins, have themselves sinned. Of course a person who is guilty of sin is going to want to lessen the punishment of that sin. Once again we must ask, would a person guilty of sin be in a better position to determine how long sin should be punished than a sinless, perfect God (1 John 1:5)? To ask is to answer.
Yet again, the idea that eternity is “too long” only tugs at human emotions when dealing with punishment, never with reward. Who would argue that heaven cannot be eternal because God would be unjust to reward us for “too long.” On the contrary, the eternality of heaven and hell stand and fall together. And both are deeply rooted in the justice and mercy of God. When Jesus spoke to the people of His day about the ultimate fate of humanity in eternity (as we discussed earlier), He stated that the wicked would “go away into everlasting (aionios) punishment, but the righteous into eternal(aionios) life” (Matthew 25:46). The Greek word rendered “eternal” in the English, is the same Greek word (aionios) rendered earlier as “everlasting.” Observe that precisely the same word is applied to the punishment of the wicked as to the reward of the righteous. Those who are willing to accept Christ’s teaching on heaven should have no trouble whatsoever accepting His teaching on hell.
WHY DO AFTERLIFE QUESTIONS MATTER?
One pertinent question that should properly be addressed in any discussion of this nature is simply, “What does it matter?” Why should these questions be discussed at length? In answer to such appropriate questions, it must be stated that God, through His inspired Word, saw fit to include these issues in the list of “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). That fact alone is enough to justify such a discussion.
But that is not the only reason afterlife issues are of utmost importance. In a discussion regarding Roman Catholicism’s unofficial doctrine of limbo, F. LaGard Smith wrote:
[A]fterlife issues become a litmus test of the legitimacy of underlying theological assumptions. Whenever any afterlife scenario lacks coherence with other clear biblical teaching regarding what happens after death, red flags are raised immediately as to the validity of any doctrines upon which that afterlife theology is based (p. 242).
Smith correctly noted that what a person believes about the afterlife often stems from that person’s beliefs about God and the Bible—what Smith calls his or her “underlying theological assumptions.” Interestingly, an outstanding case of this statement’s validity can be seen in Smith’s own dealings with afterlife issues.
As was quoted earlier, Smith stated that God is “not a twisted, cruel God who tortures the wicked, dangling them over licking flames” (2003, p. 183). When one dissects such a statement, he can view Smith’s primary “underlying theological assumption,” which becomes evident via the following syllogism. First, any God Who “tortures the wicked, dangling them over a licking flame” is “twisted and cruel.” But the God of the Bible is not “twisted and cruel.” Therefore, the God of the Bible could not, and would not, torture the wicked by dangling them over a flame that lasts forever. Notice that his “underlying theological assumption” is that any God Who would torture the wicked in everlasting fire is twisted and cruel. Because of his assumption, Smith must twist the Scripture in a way that would not allow for God to punish the wicked forever in hell.
The problem with Smith’s argument is that he falsely assumes that a God Who punishes people forever in hell is twisted or cruel. As we have shown, eternal punishment of the wicked in unending flames does not violate any of the attributes of God, including His love. It is the case that a loving, just, righteous God could cast the wicked into an eternal hell, where they would be punished by fire forever, and still be a loving God. Smith’s views on the afterlife have been shaped by this false assumption, and thus are built upon a faulty foundation.
What is worse, since the assumption is false, the implications of Smith’s argument impugn the very nature of God. Follow the logic. If any God Who tortures the wicked by “dangling them over licking flames” is “twisted and cruel,” and if the Bible teaches that God does, in fact, torture the wicked in licking flames unendingly, then the God of the Bible must by necessity be both “twisted” and “cruel.”
It is no wonder that Smith so adamantly defends his position that the Bible does not teach that the wicked will be punished forever in hell fire. He, like so many other annihilationists, has painted himself into a corner. If the Bible does, in fact, teach that the wicked will be punished forever in hell then all those who have stated that any God Who would allow such is “twisted and cruel,” have in reality accused the God of the Bible of being “twisted and cruel”—an extremely dangerous accusation to make, to be sure (since the Bible does teach that God will punish the wicked forever in hell).
Make no mistake about it: a person’s beliefs about afterlife issues are of utmost importance to that person’s spiritual well-being and future eternal destination. As Wayne Jackson correctly stated:
The dogma of annihilation is not an innocent view with harmless consequences. It is a concept that undermines the full force of that fearful warning of which the Almighty God would have men be aware. There is many a rebel who would gladly indulge himself in a lifetime of sin for an eternal nothingness (Jackson, 2003b).
It is ironic that the picture of nonexistence painted by annihilationists and described as hell, is almost identical to the picture of nonexistence painted by Buddhists and labeled as the ultimate reward (also called Nirvana). Buddhists’ “heaven” closely resembles many annihilationists’ idea of hell!
Does it really matter what a person believes in this regard? Jackson again spoke to that question when he wrote:
Those who contend that the wicked will be annihilated are in error. But is the issue one of importance? Yes. Any theory of divine retribution which undermines the full consequences of rebelling against God has to be most dangerous (1998, 33:35, emp. added).
Those who argue that a “loving God” cannot punish impenitent sinners for eternity, simply have neglected to realize the heinousness of sin. What could possibly be so bad that it would deserve an eternity of punishment? God’s divine answer to that is simple—unforgiven sin. Adam and Eve’s sin brought into the world death, disease, war, pestilence, pain, and suffering. The cumulative weight of the sin of mankind from that day until the Day of Judgment was, and is, so overwhelming that it cost God the lifeblood of His only Son.
To see the atrociousness of sin, cast your eyes back 2,000 years to the excruciating violence, mockery, and torture perpetrated on the only human ever to live a perfect life without sin—Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:15). Does God want the wicked to be punished for eternity in hell? Absolutely not! Scripture, in fact, speaks expressly to that point. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Paul wrote that God “desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel recorded the words of God concerning the wicked: “ ‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord God, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’ ” (Ezekiel 18:23).
The answer to that rhetorical question is a resounding “No.” God does not want the wicked to die in their sin and be lost forever in eternal punishment. He will not, however, override the freewill of humans, and force them to accept His free gift of salvation. Nor will He contradict His own revealed Word in order to save those who have not obeyed the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8) by coming into contact with the saving blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7). The Scriptures are crystal clear on these important points.
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