Hell: Does it last forever?

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A friend of our family is a Seventh-Day Adventist, and he was kind enough to share some literature with me regarding their beliefs. Overall, I was very impressed with what I read in Ellen G. White’s book Steps to Christ, although I still regard her as a false prophet. For example, I was disappointed to learn that she promoted the false doctrine of annihilationism. In the SDA magazine A Love Stronger Than Death: Mysteries of the Great Beyond, they include quotes from Ellen White’s writings to make excuses for the many mentions of Hell throughout Scripture. Here are some examples:

  1. You can’t use the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) as proof of Hell because it’s just a parable.
    • So what? Just because we don’t take parables 100% literally doesn’t mean that we should take them 100% figuratively either. The whole point was to illustrate the reality of Hell as a warning to the greedy Pharisees so they would repent. If unbelievers are just annihilated when they die, then Jesus’ parable makes zero sense.
  2. When Jesus said everlasting fire (Matthew 25:41), He simply meant everlasting in its result, not in its duration. In other words, eternal fire destroys in an instant (Jude 1:7 and Lamentations 4:6), and the result is that all life ceases to exist (Jeremiah 49:18 and Jeremiah 50:40). In much the same way, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were burned to ash as an example of the fate that awaits the ungodly when they die (2 Peter 2:6).
    • How do you explain Matthew 25:46 and Daniel 12:2 which state that the ungodly will go away to eternal punishment and the righteous to eternal life? Either punishment and rewards both last forever, or neither of them do. As Augustine put it, “To say that life eternal shall be endless, [but that] punishment eternal shall come to an end is the height of absurdity.”
  3. The angel says that “the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever”(Revelation 14:11), but he doesn’t say that the shrieks of their torment will rise forever. Smoke and ashes are the end products of fire.
    • Yes, but it does say, “There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” If they were annihilated, then that would be a form of rest or respite from their torment. Besides, smoke doesn’t rise once the combustible material is completely consumed, so smoke wouldn’t rise forever unless the soul lasted forever also.

The writers go on with several more increasingly weak attempts to argue against the plain reading of the text, essentially claiming that forever only means an infinite length of time when it refers to something good, but never when it refers to something bad. The reason why they find it necessary to employ this double standard is because they cannot understand how a loving God could allow anyone to suffer eternal, conscious torment.

To clear up this confusion, I would like to remind annihilationists that love isn’t God’s only attribute. God is also a righteous judge, and therefore He will punish evil (Psalm 7:11). If you don’t believe me, just do a quick Bible search for the word “wrath” and count how many times it refers to God’s punishment of sin. Let’s just run through a few examples to show how seriously God takes sin:

  • When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the punishment was a curse upon the entire planet, creating thorns, death, disease, suffering, and natural disasters for thousands of generations. (Genesis 3)
  • When wickedness increased among the population from the time of Adam until Noah, God responded by destroying almost all life on Earth in a global flood. (Genesis 6)
  • When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, He turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt simply because she looked back. (Genesis 19)
  • When Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered unauthorized fire to the Lord, He incinerated them. (Leviticus 10)
  • When the Israelites complained about not having any meat to eat in the wilderness, God sent a plague to kill them. (Numbers 11)
  • God incinerated 250 men who complained about Moses and Aaron’s leadership, and He killed another 15,000 in a plague. (Numbers 16)
  • God killed 24,000 Israelites in a plague because they committed adultery. (Numbers 25)
  • God killed Uzzah for touching the ark of the covenant. (2 Samuel 6)
  • God killed 70,000 Israelites by plague because David took an unauthorized census. (2 Samuel 24)

In every one of these examples, God demonstrated His holiness, purity, and justice by punishing evil. If you find yourself second-guessing God or you think that maybe He overreacted with cruel and unusual punishment, then you have a flawed understanding of how holy God is and how evil sin is.

In the Bible, God describes Himself as a “jealous and avenging God” (Nahum 1:2), and He says that His wrath is as infinite as the reverence that we owe Him (Psalm 90:11). Clearly God wants us to know and fear His wrath so that we will seek His mercy and avoid an eternity in Hell (Matthew 18:14 and 1 Timothy 2:4).

Finally, the biggest problem with annihilationism is that it minimizes the beauty of the Gospel and robs Jesus of His glory. If Jesus only died to save us from losing consciousness then it’s not really that big of a deal. If someone isn’t saved and they’re suffering horrible agony in this life, then going out of existence would actually be a gift rather than punishment.

The reality of Hell reminds us that sin is a crime against God, the highest authority of all, and therefore it is the worst crime that we can commit. A crime of that magnitude deserves the worst punishment possible. Since Jesus willingly took the punishment that we deserve upon Himself, that makes His sacrifice the greatest love possible, one worth of all glory and honor.

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