Does our Loving God REALLY have ZERO alternative but to torment forever in Hell?
There is an important on-going debate as apologists for atheism and apologists for the faith struggle to address the question whether a loving Creator would REALLY allow his creatures to be tormented forever in Hell. The atheist’s accusation is that God does not exists because a loving God would not have created such a perpetual Hell of Torment. The Free Will defense is that you basically choose your destiny and refuse God’s help, and therefore God basically has no alternative but to allow people to be tormented for the rest of eternity because love has to be freely chosen. But does God have a better, logical, and scriptural alternative? I believe so. I REALLY DO!
Please bear with me as we briefly consider Mt 25:46 – the #1 verses used to support “Eternal Conscious Torment” or ECT – where it is stated as a matter of rather obvious fact that the length of the “eternal punishment” has to be of the same length as “eternal life”. This is perfectly logical and in fact we agree that they are the same duration. However in what follows we will briefly confirm that this issue has been important for numerous souls, and then we will help you unpack this verse with a short quiz, and finally we will logically conclude that God does have an awesome alternative where He can respect free will and be perfectly just and loving in the judgment.
We all agree that Hell/eternal torment is a critical issue that needs explanation. In fact, think of renowned people other than Darwin for whom Hell was a huge factor alongside Evolution and suffering (in one direction Charles Templeton –Farewell to God and Brian Baker –From Faith to Reason, and in the opposite direction ex-atheist Anthony Flew –There IS a God and Greg Boyd’s ex-skeptic father – Letters to a skeptic). Note that although the logic of Creation eventually convinced Flew, he could not believe in Jesus because of eternal conscious torment. As we can see, Hell is therefore a life and death very important subject assome leave the faith and many can’t embrace it because of it. Although an oversimplification, please consider what is the Eternal Punishment by answering 6 questions:
1-How long do you believe the judging goes on in the “eternal judgment”? Heb 6:2
A- Basically Judged & Re-Judged each & every day every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity
B- Or finally judged just once…but last judgment is permanent, eternal, for the rest of eternity
2-How long do you believe the saving goes on in the “eternal salvation”? Heb 5:9
A- Basically Saved & Re-saved each & every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity
B- Or fully/finally saved once…but it is permanent/irreversible, for the rest of eternity
3-How long do you believe the redeeming goes on in the “eternal redemption”? Heb 9:12
A – Basically Redeemed/re-redeemed each and every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity
B- Or fully Redeemed once… but it is permanent, irreversible, for the rest of eternity
4- How long do you believe the destructing of Hell goes on in “eternal destruction”?1Th1:9
A – Basically Destroyed/Re-destroyed each & every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity?
B- Or finally DESTROYED ONCE… but it is permanent/irreversible/for the rest of eternity
5- How long do you believe the condemnation goes on in “eternal condemnation”? Mk3:29
A – Basically Condemned/Re-Condemned each & every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity
B- Or finally CONDEMNED ONCE… but it is permanent/irreversible/for the rest of eternity
6- How long do you believe the punishing of Hell goes on in the “eternal punishment”? Matt 25:46
A – Basically Punished/Re-punished each and every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity?
B- Or finally PUNISHED ONCE… (could be a state of complete death/destruction) but it is permanent/irreversible/eternal/for the rest of eternity
Were you consistent? Think! Unless you can answer A to #1-3 (for the just), you are inconsistent to answer A to #4-6 (for unjust) because these sentences with word “eternal” are exactly the same. So, if B to #1-3, then you should at least consider B for #4-6. If not, why not? The point of 6 questions is to show that our view and understanding of eternal comes from outside ideas/texts – not the word itself.
Now, note powerfully that the DURATION can be exactly the same – i.e. all 6 are imparted ONCE (saved, redeemed/ destroyed/punished once) but all are permanent, irreversible, for the rest of eternity, hence all ETERNAL. WOW! It would appear that “eternal punishment” does not necessarily imply endless on-going torment as it can be a permanent irreversible punishment/destruction imparted once for the rest of eternity. Do you see why I think that the typical cruel monster torturer arguments against God and the free will arguments for God both try to explain a misinterpretation of the word eternal.
Now could I prove this? Could this understanding be the plain consistent meaning for “eternal” in entire scriptures including all texts with “eternal life”, such as Mt 25:46? I`d have to say an emphatic YES! Although we have a measure of life now, Scripture indicates that eternal life is fully GIVEN ONCE at the applicable resurrection/ judgment… when mortality is swallowed up, when we will be MADE ALIVE (finally/fully ONCE but only) at His coming (1Cor 15:22-23), when we receive (once)… in the AGE TO COME, ETERNAL LIFE (Luke 18:30). Notice that in Lk 18:30, Jesus was asked “what” to do to inherit eternal life and Jesus answered “when” – in the age to come. So let’s spell out eternal in Mt 25:46 in a more consistent manner (i.e. the same for both just/unjust).
“And these shall go away into eternal punishment (a state of complete permanent horrific destruction (Second Death) imparted once at the just judgment of God – as per examples of judgment of wicked at flood and at Sodom), but the righteous into eternal life” (a permanent life also imparted once at His coming, in the age to come).
Again, WOW! Once it is understood that the gift of eternal life is basically imparted ONCE in the age to come (per John 6:40 at last day when raised to life from the dead), we can REALLY understand that the eternal punishment is also per 1 Thes 1:9 a last day everlasting (permanent & irreversible) destruction FROM GOD’s CONSUMING APPEARING IN GLORY (per KJV), a second but permanent/eternal death. God truly is a consuming fire…
With the above I have shown that eternal conscious torment is not necessarily found in Mt 25:46 (#1 verse quoted in support of eternal torment), unless we want the meaning of eternal to be inconsistent between the just and unjust, based on outside inputs, or verses, most of which are quite figurative, with worms and beasts. For example the typical understanding of Rev 20:10 seems to contradict 7 verses about devil and anti-christ beasts (Rev 20:9, 2Thes 2:8, Heb 2:14, Dan 2, Dan 7:11,26, and figuratively Ezek 28 and Is 14).
Finally, let’s think about God’s loving justice and God’s REAL ALTERNATIVE: Just like before Flood, evil and injustice is now everywhere (downtown, ISIS, Boca Haram, Paris), and our Creator will have once again to restrain evil by finally cleansing this earth via His wrath & judgment and make it completely new, where there will be no more pain, suffering, evil, death, sin, and NO SINNERS WRITHING IN PAIN IN HELL. Think of it! Earth will be re-created “very good”, just like it was in Eden, with no traces of evil, death, sufferings, or Hell (once punishment is completed and Death/Hades thrown into Hellfire lake). Just like the ark of Noah, there is again only one way to live on. The wages of every sin (big or small) is death. The choice is ours: turn, repent & live in Christ or die a permanent Second Death without Christ. Choose to live – it’s pretty simple – love your neighbor (created in His image) and love Jesus Christ the Creator and Savior.
Note: Evangelical authors Francis Chan and Peter Sprinkle studied Hell for a full year and started leaning to this view (Erasing Hell). Another evangelical author Mr Fudge has written a very comprehensive book (The Fire that consumes). See also jewishnotgreek.com, amazingdiscoveries.org, helltruth.com, rethinkinghell.com.