As we have already seen, the Bible is very complex. We can study it all our lives and still learn. The pursuit of truth requires discipline and dedication.
While there is a powerful case for conditionalism, a few passages can support other viewpoints. We need to compare the evidence. Although Scripture always comes first, we must consider God’s character.
Justice and Mercy
When we think of God judging the world, two thoughts come to mind: God is just and God is merciful. We either get what we deserve, because He is just, or we get better, because He is merciful.
This is plainly spelled out in Romans 6:23. The first half of the verse says the wages of sin is death. Wages are what we earn. If God were only just, we would all receive the death penalty.
In the last half of Romans 6:23, we see that the gift of God is eternal life. We do not earn this gift; we only receive it because of God's mercy. All Christians agree that we only receive eternal life because of God's mercy. Conditionalists believe that the unfaithful receive death because of God's justice; universalists believe that the unfaithful will receive eternal life because of God's mercy.
Conditionalists and universalists can each make their case based on God's character. Traditionalists, however, face a serious dilemma. They either believe that God is unjust, or they believe that the wages of sin is everlasting torment. Scripture denies both suppositions of the traditionalists.
Reason also denies the traditionalist's inherent belief of God's character. Is it just for people to be tormented throughout eternity because of temporary disobedience? We are taught that people reap what they sow (Galatians 6:7). Is there any sin deserving of endless misery? God gives everyone freedom of choice; if the result of this choice is unbearable unending torment, then this is not freedom.
In the Law of Moses, people received penalty commensurate with the harm they inflicted upon others (Exodus 21:24-30, Leviticus 24:20-21, Deuteronomy 19:21). According to Moses, one must inflict everlasting torment upon others to merit everlasting torment as one’s penalty. Humans are not capable of doing this. Jesus states that we must treat each other better than this law (Matthew 5:38-39).
Thousands of years ago, people sacrificed their sons and daughters in fire. God did not command this, nor did it even enter His mind (Jeremiah 7:31, Jeremiah 32:35). It is a strange act for God to destroy people (Isaiah 28:21). It is against God’s character, which by definition is love, to make His creation suffer eternally.
God loves us and wants to have fellowship with us. If we choose to have fellowship with Him, the rewards are immeasurable. If we choose not to have fellowship with Him, we are wiped out of existence. The choice is life or death, not eternal life with God or eternal life in misery.
Reason and Human Error
When we discuss the injustice of endless suffering, traditionalists immediately respond that we cannot question God or His justice. Proponents of endless misery insist it is fair, though we are too limited in wisdom to understand. They claim conditionalists rely on human reasoning instead of the Bible.
This tiresome argument works both ways. While conditionalists may misunderstand justice, traditionalists may misinterpret Scripture. We cannot question God's justice. We can, however, question the way traditionalists analyze the Bible.
As we have seen throughout this book, Scriptures used to support the traditionalist view are inconclusive at best. Their entire case rests on the assumption that the soul is immortal. Rather than make their beliefs conform to Scripture, they make their interpretation of Scripture conform to their assumption that the soul is an eternal entity. The Bible does not support this belief.
Another common response is that God does not choose endless misery, people choose it. Does anyone choose to be born in the first place? This world is corrupt, and sometimes the most faithful followers of God give in to temptation.
Jesus tells of people who think they are doing right. They will not find out otherwise until it is too late (Matthew 7:21-23). Do they choose endless misery?
W. G. T. Shedd’s book, The Doctrine of Endless Punishment, was recently republished. He dedicates a third of his book trying to justify endless punishment. None of his arguments relieve the ultimate responsibility from God.
God is the omnipotent Creator of the universe, and nothing is outside His control. He knows most people will not follow Him and He chooses to create them anyway. The longer He waits to return, more people are born, and most choose not to follow Him.
If the smallest sin deserves endless torment, why has God allowed sin to continue for so long? How is it merciful to delay the return of Christ so more people face everlasting torment? God should have destroyed Adam and Eve before they reproduced offspring with their sinful nature. In fact, God should have immediately punished Eve in front of Adam so he would not follow her into sin.
Jesus commands us to love God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). He even tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), which means we must love nonbelievers. He also makes it clear most people will perish (Matthew 7:13-14). If everlasting torment is correct, billions of people (whom we must love) are going to suffer throughout eternity. Some are family and friends.
People have not seriously considered what this means. There are graphic documentaries on television about war, starvation, disease, crime, child abuse, and other suffering. Many get very upset and cannot watch these disturbing programs. These same people, however, believe and preach the doctrine of endless torment, which is far worse than any temporary hardship today.
When finding a seriously injured animal, most people put it out of its misery. Although God is more loving and merciful, many believe God would miraculously keep people conscious throughout eternity for the sole purpose of tormenting them.
God could keep Satan and others from tempting people, yet God allows it. It is impossible to love nonbelievers and a God who makes people suffer throughout eternity, especially when God allows them to be tempted.
Does the thought of everlasting torment motivate us to preach the Gospel? What happens when someone accepts Jesus? Instead of five billion people suffering throughout eternity, only four billion, nine hundred ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine people will suffer throughout eternity!
A Tie Breaker
Many Bible scholars finally see the case for conditionalism. Once people truly understand the arguments and search the Scriptures, they cannot deny it is a valid interpretation of the Word of God. Some Christians quickly adopt conditionalism. Others cannot decide between this view and everlasting torment because they can see a legitimate case for either view.
If both cases appear equally valid in Scripture, it is time to use the intelligence God gave us. Logical reasoning says endless misery for temporary disobedience does not make sense. Every attempt to justify eternal torment falls hopelessly short.
God also gave us the capacity to love, and commands us to love our enemies. If the thought of billions of people suffering, year after year, century after century, millennium after millennium, does not put us in a severe state of depression, then we need to ask ourselves if we truly love our enemies.
It is our duty to examine questionable doctrine; it is inhumane not to question endless misery. The belief that God would make people suffer throughout eternity is unimaginable. It is also difficult to defend in Scripture. Hard to imagine and difficult to defend, eternal suffering is also harmful to the body of Christ. The remainder of this chapter will deal with identifying some of these unfortunate consequences.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians
Many Christian organizations have outreaches to cultic religions. This is commendable, since it is critical that they know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Belief in everlasting torment, however, is not a salvation issue.
Trying to convince Jehovah’s Witnesses of everlasting torment is not a waste of time, it is much worse! Most Jehovah’s Witnesses know the Bible very well, as many find out when discussing Scriptures with them. Traditionalists will never convince them that the soul is eternal, since this is not in the Bible.
Protestants lose credibility with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians because of this doctrine. They ask themselves the obvious question: if Protestants are wrong about this, how many other things could they be wrong about? This closes the door to more important issues.
I have many fruitful discussions with Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I tell them about this book, they realize we have common ground. This makes them receptive to my message. Christadelphians and Jehovah’s Witnesses will be more interested in mainstream Christianity if traditionalists quit insisting that the soul is eternal.
Extinction as a Deterrent to Sin
When shown powerful arguments for conditionalism, some reply philosophically, saying extinction is not a big enough deterrent to scare people into obedience. Perhaps this explains why many do not accept conditionalism despite the evidence. Do they continue to hold the traditional viewpoint for pragmatic reasons? Do they believe there would be anarchy without belief in everlasting torment?
Since, in our world today, most people do not believe in God, the situation would not be any worse than it is. To the nonbeliever, a loving God who tortures people endlessly is ludicrous. Comedians make a mockery of Christianity because of this. In the minds of many, this is such an obvious contradiction that they more readily accept the theory of evolution than creation by a capricious God. Preaching everlasting torment supports evolution more than any scientist can.
The more believable conditionalist view of the threat of suffering and death for turning away, combined with the alternative of eternal life when we follow God, is an effective tool. In the final analysis, people must choose to follow the Lord because of love. 1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love."
It is difficult to explain why God allows so much suffering in the world. This is possible only because all suffering is temporary. Many Christians struggle with everlasting torment, and some even doubt the infallibility of the Bible. It is easier for many to believe the Bible has errors than to accept this repulsive belief.
It is time to quit causing grief and confusion to well-meaning Christians. We can be certain from the Bible that loved ones will not suffer endlessly. Those who reject God will not spend eternity in heaven, though they will be out of their misery. This is their choice. This is fair and logical.
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Table of Contents: Title Page: The Myth of Everlasting Torment
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