Friday, June 20, 2008

The Unspeakable Horror Of Sin: A Question for Annihilationists

I was led to question the traditional belief in everlasting conscious torment because of moral revulsion and broader theological considerations, not first of all on scriptural grounds. It just does not make any sense to say that a God of love will torture people forever for sins done in the context of a finite life . . . It's time for evangelicals to come out and say that the biblical and morally appropriate doctrine of hell is annihilation, not everlasting torment.
-Clark Pinnock

Emotionally, I find the concept [of eternal conscious torment] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain . . . Scripture points in the direction of annihilation.
-John Stott
Sin manifests itself in a lot of horrifying ways in our world. Every time that a bomb drops, a police siren sounds, or a door locks behind someone, we are reminded that we live in a fallen world full of depraved people just like ourselves. I consider myself a pessimist in the short term and an optimist in the long-term (because God's glory is the ultimate reason for all of this), but even I am occasionally surprised by the wicked things that my fellow humans are capable of (and I try to expect everything from them).

Read this news story, if you can bear it. Personally, since I have a 2 year old, this story stirs something within me I never knew until fatherhood. I was just thinking that someone like this can never be treated as badly as he deserves. What can men do to him that would right the wrong which he has done to this poor innocent (albeit fallen) child? My answer is, nothing. "Do not fear those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear. Fear him who, after he has killed has the power to cast into hell" (Luke 12:4–5). For Jesus, the suffering which men can cause to the body is nothing compared to what the infinite God is capable of. Temporal suffering will always end, one way or another. But, Jesus says, there is another kind of suffering which will literally never have a termination point.

The thought of it is too much to bear for some, as you see with the quotes from Pinnock and Stott, above. But would Stott and Pinnock still tremble when reflecting upon the suffering of those in Hell and individuals such as Sergio Aguiar (the man mentioned in the above story)? This is a man who mercilessly and savagely stomped his 2 year old son's tiny body until it was beyond recognition; the justice for something like that will literally never be filled up. I charge that those who deny the eternity of Hell minimize a) God's hatred of sin and b) the heinousness of sin. To devalue these two things is the only way to make a temporal hell make any sense (not even allowing for the overwhelming Biblical testimony which others are better equipped to deal with).

So which is it, annihilationists? Is Aguiar's crime not nearly as bad as I say it is, or am I simply not being understanding enough? In Heaven, I will not shed any tears for Aguiar, but I wish I could muster up some today, while my feet are still on the ground. They simply aren't coming.


  1. "You have not considered what a grievous weight sin is" Anselm

    I, for one, resonate with both Pinnock and Stott. When I think of eternal suffering and punishment, it makes my skin crawl. It is hard for me to logically reconcile God's love for the elect and his decision to punish the reprobate.

    However, the answer is not to chuck the Bible and its witness and run to philosophical constructs that appease my (fallen) conscience. I do not think, contra Stott, that Scripture points in the direction of annihilation. I think there are certain statements that can be taken for supporting annihilation if, and only if, you ignore other, clearer, statements (most of which were made by Jesus himself).

    Rev 20:10:
    and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

    Rev 20:15
    And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

    Seems pretty clear to me. The problem with saying that someday God may change his mind and annihilate them is the problem of God changing his mind. Will God change his mind about our salvation? Will he change his mind about adopting us as fellow heirs with Christ? God forbid! His word stands, and it is to us to conform to his word, not stretch his Word to our Procrustean bed.

  2. I think there's more evidence for a non-literal hell than there is annihilation. And there really isn't any evidence for a non-literal hell. (It seems to be primarily a question of interpretation.)


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