Hell is Annihilation

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

There is No Hell

A part of The Fate of the Unbeliever

Many do not believe in life after death, whether it is heaven or hell.  These are often the same people who deny the existence of God.  However, the doctrine has found its way into some churches.  British philosopher Bertrand Russell was a champion of this view.  He was an agnostic, not a Christian.

He writes about Christ and his position on hell: “I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world.”  He later speaks of the cruelty of teaching about hell and disregards its existence basically because a loving God wouldn’t have created hell.

There are many who regard hell as a story, or something told to kids to scare them into acting properly, much like “Be good or Santa Clause won’t bring you any gifts.” 

Some Christians disregard hell as being unreal because its images are too horrific.  Any reference to hell must simply be a metaphor for something else. 

To ignore the existence of hell, for whatever reason, requires a person to ignore numerous verses concerning hell and its nature or depiction.  To begin to pick and choose verses from the Bible and throw out ones a person doesn’t like is extremely dangerous. 

Assuming a literal interpretation of the Bible, there is much to be said about hell.  Even if one takes an extremely metaphorical view of these passages, they are still left with the issue.  They can disbelieve the depictions of hell, but it is still spoken as a real place – just as real as heaven is.  To take heaven as literal and hell as figurative would be quite foolish.

Here are some of the Biblical references to hell: 

Matthew 5:22 “But anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Revelation 1:18 “I am the Living One; I was dead and behold I am alive for ever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

And the book of Isaiah ends with this unsettling verse- 66:24 “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

For those non-Christians who deny the existence of an afterlife, they only are lying to themselves.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  Eternity is in our hearts; anyone who denies its existence denies their hearts.

Next Section – Hell is Annihilation

Unbelievers Get a Second Chance

A part of The Fate of the Unbeliever

This view is largely based out of the idea that those who have not had the opportunity to hear the gospel will be given the opportunity at death.  Clark Pinnock is a major name in this argument.  He argues, if God really loves the world and wants all to be saved; they’d all have to hear the gospel.  Likewise, he states that God does not cease to be gracious to someone just because they are dead.

Biblical support for this view is found in 1 Peter 3:18-20.  “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”

Proponents of this view say that Jesus went and preached the gospel to those who were being held until judgment.  Using the English word “preached” it is still a stretch to say from this verse that Jesus preached the gospel to the dead of Noah’s time and some were saved.  There is no indication at all that this happened.  As it is, the word translated “preached” can probably better be translated “heralded” – likely instead of Jesus preaching good news to those awaiting judgment, he heralded his victory over death and sin.  In fact, it was bad news for them as they would now be held truly accountable.

Back to the issue of those who have not heard the gospel.  It is indeed a sticky subject and this is an attempt to get around the issue.  (Some of the other views of hell have the unevangelized in mind as well)

There is no easy answer aside from the fact that they have not accepted Christ as their savior and the Bible pronounces judgment on those who do not.  That is the short answer, they are not saved and the Bible offers no third category of would be saved if they had heard.

Instead, Romans offers condemnation to even those who have not heard.  Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse.”

Nature itself testifies to God and even the person living in a grass hut has the ability to see creation and realize that there is a God.  Of course many tribes worship a god, but the difference comes in recognizing the fact that a person is a sinner and needs a savior.  If a person is looking for a savior, God will not simply let that person go to hell because they are far away.  God will create a situation to bring someone who can explain salvation to that person.  A good example is in Acts 8:26-40.  An Ethiopian god fearer (but not a Christian) is reading the book of Isaiah.  Philip is brought to the man and explains the gospel to him.  Surely God is capable of doing this with every person who would believe but has not heard the gospel yet.

A final thought for the idea of the unevangelized has to do with missionaries.  (I’m spending so much time on the unevangelized right now because the same arguments can be used against other views of hell also.)

We are commanded to go into the world and preach the gospel according to the Great Commission.  However, when are you more likely to believe the gospel?  When a missionary comes to tell you, or when you’ve died and are face to face with God?  By sending missionaries out, we’d simply be condemning those who rejected the gospel.  It would be a lot simpler if we just let the unevangelized wait until they die to find out.  In fact, if this were true, many, many people have died and suffered needlessly because the people they are trying to save would in fact get a chance to make a decision after death had they not been told!

Next Section – There is No Hell