Saturday, December 20, 2008

Qualifying Annihilationism

Overview of my stuff about Hell.

This is part of a spate of posts I'm writing on the topic of Hell. I might put some kind of structure in later. I'm not writing these because I like to talk about Hell - I don't. I'm writing them because there's a lot of confusion about Hell..

There's a growing movement in some evangelical bits of the church towards annihilationism - the idea that Hell is actually a state of non-existence - that people who aren't saved by Jesus eventually just cease to exist rather than the traditional idea that they suffer consciously in hell forever. (As I've posted recently, I think it's a better expression of the full teaching of Scripture to talk about some form of ruin than about people as they are now being tormented.)

There's quite a lot that could be said about annihilationism. As I've already mentioned, I don't go along with it because I think the case for eternal ruined existence is better. But even for those who do go along with annihilationism, if they take the Bible as authoritative, there are still some qualifications that need to be put on their belief from what the Bible teaches clearly.

  • What matters is not what we feel to be preferable, but what is actually the case.
  • The saved and the unsaved will all be raised from the dead (Daniel 12:2) and judged.
  • There needs to be some form of suffering after the final judgment. What does it mean for the judge of all the Earth to do right when the rich unsaved oppresses the poor unsaved and both die in that state? Or if Heinrich Himmler and Mahatma Gandhi are both unsaved, how can it be fair that they get the same punishment? This is also strongly implied by passages such as Matthew 11:21-24 and Luke 12:47-48.
  • Satan does indeed seem to suffer eternal conscious torment (Rev 20:10).


Speaker for the Dead said...

I'm someone who probably would identify as an "annihilationist," but believes something that is better described as "terminal punishment." Unfortunately, there's no good way to turn belief in terminal punishment into an -ism. (Non-eternalism?)

(I also sometimes vacillate between terminal punishment and universalism, but that's a whole 'nother story...)

Terminal punishment (potentially) addresses your second and third qualifications. The first qualification does not specifically apply to any theory (although it is extremely important to keep in mind). When it comes to the fourth, we can simply say that terminal punishment applies to humans only; perhaps Satan and other demons will suffer eternally.

Terminal punishment, in my opinion, reconciles the reality of punishment with the dichotomy of life and death which the NT constantly uses when discussing the afterlife.

As you've described a "ruined existence," I'm not sure exactly how it differs from annihilationism (or terminal punishment), except in its use of different imagery and terminology.

John said...

Yes - I think if you're going to be an annihilationist, terminal punishment is the best way to do it.

I think the main difference between terminal punishment and everlasting ruined existence is that in my view, the unsaved continue to exist in some form, even if diminished, for ever.