The Reality of Eternal Hell
Hell has been depicted as a lake of fire, eternal torment, and everlasting punishment. Because of the heinous nature of hell, many have decided that it is impossible for a loving God to conceive such a place, much less send His wayward creatures there. For this reason, they have rejected the idea of an eternal hell. And this trend to reject the concept of hell does not reside solely in the camp of the skeptic and unbeliever. Many Bible “believers” have fallen prey to this idea. In a March 1991 U.S. News & World Report article titled “Revisiting the Abyss,” this quotation appears: “In many churches, one finds little talk these days about a literal, punitive hell as a real possibility after death. ‘My congregation would be stunned to hear a sermon on hell,’ says the Rev. [sic] Mary Kraus, pastor of the Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. Her parishioners, she says, are ‘upper-middle-class, well-educated critical thinkers’ who view God as ‘compassionate and loving, not someone who's going to push them into eternal damnation’ ” (1991, 110:60).
According to Miss Kraus, the idea of a literal place of torment reserved for the wicked does not sit well with her “upper-middle-class, well-educated critical thinkers.” The basic argument against hell can be stated like this: It is unjust to punish someone eternally for sins they committed in their few years on Earth; the biblical concept of hell entails such punishment; therefore the biblical concept of hell is unjust (which would mean, of course, that the God of the Bible is unjust as well).
HELL IS ETERNAL
Although the argument against the biblical concept of hell is erroneous in several of its points, it is accurate when it states that the Bible depicts an eternal hell. On numerous occasions Jesus underlined the fact that hell is eternal. In Matthew 18:8, for example, He described an “everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41,46 renders the same idea, but adds “everlasting punishment”). In our modern day and age, it is popular to posit the idea that hell will last only a short time, and then the souls of the wicked will be annihilated. Clark H. Pinnock, theology professor at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, was quoted in the January 31, 2000 issue of U.S. News & World Report, as saying: “How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness” as to inflict “everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been?” (as quoted in Sheler, 2000, 128:44). Pinnock went on to argue that a God Who would do such a thing is “more nearly like Satan than like God.”
However, for Pinnock and his ever-increasing pack of “annihilationists,” their house is built on shifting sand—both biblically and philosophically. Biblically, our Lord repeatedly stressed the idea that the souls of the wicked will have to endure “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46). To contend that the wicked soul is annihilated would be to negate the words of Christ, since “everlasting punishment” cannot be inflicted upon an annihilated being.
Philosophically, the view is equally flawed, because it fails to take into account what every person understands about justice: the punishment always lasts longer than the actual crime. When a man walks into a bank, shoots two tellers, robs the bank, and is apprehended, tried, and found guilty, his punishment always is of a much longer duration than his crime. The actual shooting and looting might have taken only 3 minutes to accomplish, but he most likely will pay for those three minutes with the remainder of his life in prison. Those who contend that hell will not be eternal say that forever is “too long.” But once a person concedes that punishment can (and generally does) last longer than the crime, his argument against an eternal hell becomes self-defeating.
Furthermore, the idea that eternity is “too long” only appeals to the human emotions when dealing with punishment, never with reward. Who would argue that heaven cannot be eternal because God would be unjust to reward us for “so long.” On the contrary, the eternality of heaven and hell stand and fall together. And both find their place in the justice and mercy of God. When Christ spoke to the people of His day about the ultimate fate of humanity in eternity, He stated that the wicked would “go away into everlasting (aionios) punishment, but the righteous into eternal (aionios) life” (Matthew 25:46). The Greek word aionios, rendered “eternal” in the English, is the same Greek word (aionios) rendered earlier as “everlasting,” Precisely the same word is applied to the punishment of the wicked as to the reward of the righteous. Those who are willing to accept Christ’s teaching on heaven should have no trouble accepting His teaching on hell.
“Revisiting the Abyss,” (1991), U.S. News & World Report, 110:60, March 25.
Sheler, Jeffery L. (2000), “Hell Hath No Fury,” U.S. News & World Report, 128:44, January 31.