Let’s talk about the types of punishment for sinners:
“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,…” - 2Th 1:9
Hell is one of the hardest doctrines taught by Christianity. People have spent much time trying to reconcile the idea of a perfectly loving God with the horror of eternal and everlasting pain and anguish. Where there is “wailing and gnashing of teeth”; where the “fire is not quenched” and where the “worms that eat them do not die.” In the ninth chapter of Mark, the Lord makes it perfectly clear that Hell is not a place you want to go.
To some, the description of of Hell as being a place of eternal conscious torment lies in such stark contrast to the God of Love that they reject the notion all together. In doing so the christian is left with a couple of options:
As this week’s title suggests, we’ll be focusing on Annihilationism.
There are a few different types of Annihilationism. The first one we’ll describe is pure mortalism. This one is really rare among Christians as it rejects the notion that humans have a soul capable of surviving the death of the body. So when we die, we all just cease to exist. Although there are pantheistic variants that will say that upon death we are restored to unconscious unity with God (Who, some will argue, is also unconscious). Otherwise, there is no afterlife. And that’s no fun for anyone. Seeing how annihilation of some kind is unavoidable (if pure mortalism were true), we shouldn’t spend much time considering it. That and the fact that it directly contradicts scripture at almost every turn is another good reason to simply reject it.
The second one is called conditional immortality. This one is similar to pure mortalism in that death is the end of the line. However. God will resurrect Christians and give them eternal life. The unrighteous are simply allowed to pass out of existence. Conditional immortality is also pretty rare among Christians as the Bible pretty clearly teaches that both the righteous and unrighteous will be resurrected unto judgement. (See Jhn 5:29 and Rev 20:11-15)
The final one is usually just called annihilationismand is by far the most common type. Here, the idea is that Hell is a place of limited conscious punishment. On this view, the unrighteous are resurrected for judgment, confined to Hell, and there punished and annihilated.
The reason why we are talking about annihilation in this post is because some people will argue that 2Th 1:9 teaches it. That’s because of its reference to the destructionof the wicked. Other verses used in defense of annihilationism are Phi 3:19; 1Th 5:3 and 2Pe 3:7.
Besides these scriptural references and the apparent inconsistency of eternal conscious punishment with the love of God, annihilationists will argue that there is injustice involved in the disproportion between sins committed in time and a punishment that is eternal. They would fell remiss in failing to mention the fact that the continuing presence of evil creatures in God’s universe will eternally mar the perfection of a universe that God created to reflect His glory. And that’s hard to reconcile with verses like 1Co 15:28; Eph 1:10; Phi 2:10-11; and Col 1:20.
As a cherry on top some will note, “Besides, you actually won't find a biblical reference to ‘eternal conscious punishment’; in Rev 14:11 ‘eternal’ refers only to the smoke of the torment of God’s enemies, not to the torment itself, and in 20:10 it is the symbols of hostility to God who are tormented for ever.”
While annihilationism is the most common view among the three discussed, it’s still a minority view among Christians. Although, it’s becoming more popular.
So. What do you think about annihilationism? Is this an acceptable form of "mercy killing" for God? Do you think it has sound biblical support? If not, how do you reconcile a Loving God with Hell? Perhaps you think the human soul is indestructible, so annihilation is impossible. As always, we’d love to hear what you think on this matter!
Johnston, P.S.. Hell. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (p. 543-544). Inter-Varsity Press.
Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology 3rd Edition (pg. 1089 and 1126). BakerAcademic.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 1150). Zondervan.
Olson, Roger. The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity 2nd Edition (p. 359-360). InterVarsity Press.
Thiessen, Henry. Lectures in Systematic Theology (p. 228). Eerdmans Publishing Company 1951.