A part of The Fate of the Unbeliever
This view has been growing in popularity in churches around the world. The concept has become known as annihilationism- the unbeliever is annihilated upon being thrown into hell. This is in fact what the depictions of hell are about.
This view of hell was created because of people’s inability to associate a loving God who would torment people forever. Proponents of this view cite a number of scriptures to back up their point. They do believe in hell and that a loving God would punish those who reject Him. They do not believe that this punishment is eternal (God can’t hold a grudge forever).
Hell is known as a place of fire, the Bible uses this description in many places. Annihilationists argue that fire consumes and destroys. Traditional thinking is that the fire is meant for torture, but proponents of this view say that it is a consuming fire and destroys anything that is fed into it. Verses that describe the fire as being eternal and unquenchable are still correct, but what is thrown into them is not eternal.
The second major argument for this view concerns God’s sense of justice, which is why many hold to this view. Eternal punishment would not be fitting of the crime. The Bible proclaims and eye for an eye. If a person is a murderer, they are to be killed. If an ox is accidentally killed, the price of a new ox is to be paid. Eternal punishment would be hardly fitting for a lifetime of bad deeds. Even the worst of sinners would not deserve an eternity of punishment.
I’ve also found a great similarity between this teaching and one of Buddhists. A good Buddhist’s ultimate goal is to reach nirvana, a state of nonexistence. Buddhists believe that they will be reincarnated after death until they reach spiritual enlightenment allowing them to achieve nirvana. At this point they believe they will stop being reincarnated back into a painful world. This is their equivalent to heaven. A Buddhist’s ultimate goal is to not exist! This is what annihilationists argue is what becomes of an unbeliever after death. There is still punishment they would argue, but the end result is the same as nirvana- a state of non-existence.
Most importantly however, the destruction of the nonbeliever is contra some passages of the Bible that speaks of eternal punishment.
In the passage in Isaiah 66 (referenced to acknowledge the existence of hell) undying worms and unquenchable fire are depicted. It was disgraceful for a body to lie exposed and being eaten by worms. However, normally maggots would die once their work was done. Likewise, a fire goes out when there is nothing left for it to burn. Both of these would seem to imply an eternal punishment.
Revelation 20:10 says, “And the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Verse 15 depicts those whose names are not found in the book of life thrown into the same place.
I don’t know how to spin “for ever and ever” into something that does not mean eternal punishment. Those in support of annihilationism I’m sure have an explanation for this and other references to eternal torment. The only way I see around these passages are to say that everlasting or eternal does not always mean “eternal.” Depending on the context of the passage, sometimes it may have limits upon it.
However, like the argument for the existence of hell, the eternality of hell is dependent on the eternality of heaven. Daniel 12:2 speaks of both in the same sentence. “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
In this situation, like before, if everlasting life is forever, shame and contempt is likewise forever. If everlasting is something other than forever in this situation (i.e., a long punishment and then destruction into oblivion) then heaven would have a time limit placed upon it as well. I do not know of any believer who will say that heaven is not eternal because hell is not.
Next Section – Everyone Goes to Heaven