|8.||Objections to Destruction|
|8a.||The evangelistic message|
|9a.||The reality of Hell|
|9b.||The reality of judgement|
|9c.||Distorting the gospel|
People often object to the idea that the unrighteous will perish because they think this teaching will have all kinds of bad consequences. The more common of these fears are:
We will look briefly at each of these fears in a moment.
But first, we need to get these responses into perspective. Even if the fears are well founded, they are irrelevant. We still have a responsibility to examine whether the doctrine is true.
After all, we can easily point to other doctrines which reduce the probability of people being saved because they do not like the message - salvation by grace alone is a prime example! We preach God's truth because we believe it to be true, not because we have a personal liking for it - or because we have discovered a set of ideas that people are likely to respond to!
The basic issues here are truth and integrity. Will we allow our doctrine to be determined by its popularity or its anticipated consequences? Or will we allow our doctrine to be determined by God, through His revealed Word in the Bible?
Will our evangelistic message be blunted if we cannot warn sinners that they will be eternally tormented if they do not repent?
I do not believe so.
I am not afraid of blunting our evangelistic message. However, it is true that some Christians are motivated to do evangelism by the desire to rescue people from eternal torment. What of them?
Firstly, we have to say that being effective does not make it right. I may be able to motivate you to have a 'quiet time' each day by promising that you will suffer in purgatory for each day you miss. That would not justify the lie.
More importantly, it is possible for any Christian to discover how the wonder of God's love can motivate us in all our worship and our work for Him. We do not have to be motivated by the threat of torment: there is a better alternative.
Jesus offers life to dying people. Is that not a tremendous gift, and one to get excited about? As we meditate on what the Bible teaches us, and as we grow in grace and Christian maturity, so we will discover ourselves being motivated by the things God intended. The result will be greater enthusiasm and energy for God's work, not less.
I think we have established that God is not a monster. He is not a sadist who deliberately chooses to inflict more pain and suffering on people than any tyrant in history. We have established this through a careful examination of what the Bible teaches.
I would like to make, in conclusion, three brief points.
I have heard people who claim that this belief (that the wicked will be destroyed) is a denial or rejection of Hell. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not a denial of Hell, but an honest recognition of the reality of Hell.
It is a dreadful thing for a person to be consigned to Hell - to be branded a failure, to be worth nothing, to be rubbish, fit only to be burned up. Can we begin to appreciate the horror of such a judgement? And can we begin to understand the pain that making such a judgement gives to our loving Heavenly Father?
Our God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. He delights in His creation. Imagine His sorrow when a part of His creation fails so completely that it has to be destroyed.
In suggesting that the ultimate punishment is death, not torment, we have to remember the Bible's clear teaching about judgement.
We will all one day come before the Judgement Seat. It is clear from many passages that the Judgement is not the same as simple cessation of existence at the point of bodily death - Hebrews says it as clearly as any:
"man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement" (2)
The question we have been addressing here is the fate of the wicked after they have been judged and found guilty.
Whatever the punishment turns out to be, we believe that the ungodly will go to that punishment knowing that their punishment is just, and having no complaint concerning their fate, no matter what their regrets may be.
The doctrine of eternal torment distorts the gospel message.
The gospel message offers people life, as opposed to death. This other doctrine would have us offering pleasure, instead of pain (3).
And what sort of pleasure is it? It consists of enjoying ourselves while living in a universe which is shared by millions of souls suffering unbearable eternal torment. It is a pleasure which makes us forget about (or just not care about) the lost writhing in Hell. It does not sound like the sort of pleasure the God I know and love would offer to anyone.
This doctrine of eternal torment makes the gospel message both hedonistic (I am seeking pleasure instead of pain) and self-centred (I will enjoy myself in Heaven, no matter what anyone is suffering in Hell). Does such a message express the character of Jesus as you know Him? It is not the Jesus I know.
The Bible teaches us the Sovereign Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (4). It does not tell us how He feels about the prospect of them suffering eternal torment, but I think we can guess.