One of the primary objections that is brought against the idea of eternal punishment is the claim that a God of mercy would not keep someone alive just so that they could suffer pain for all eternity. On the surface, this seems like a valid objection, and it is used with great effect to sway today’s emotionally driven believers into rejecting the idea of eternal punishment. The question, however, is not whether we think that eternal punishment is consistent with the character of God but rather whether or not the Bible says that it is. In that case, let’s look at a few of the passages which assure us that our merciful God is quite capable of condemning sentient beings to an eternity of pain.
To demonstrate this, we could begin with a statement just a few verses prior to the first verse that we looked at in this study. We began with Matthew 25:46 which tells us that the wicked will be cast into an eternal punishment, but a few verses prior to that, in verse 41, we see exactly what kind of punishment that will be. There we read:
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
The punishment of the wicked consists of being cast into an everlasting fire. This claim is not contested by annihilationists. They simply claim that lost souls are consumed by this fire and cease to exist, but let’s take a moment to think about the last phrase of this verse, “prepared for the devil and his angels.” The devil and his angels are certainly sentient and conscious beings, and they are the very beings for whom this eternal fire was created. Would a God of mercy condemn the devil and his angels to an eternity of pain and suffering?
The answer to this question is a resounding yes. In Revelation 20:10, we read:
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Here we have a direct statement from God declaring that the devil and his angels will be tormented every day and every night for all eternity. And not only that, but this torment will take place in the lake of fire which Jesus said in Matthew 25:41 was specifically prepared by God for this purpose.
Now let’s consider what transpired when one of the devil’s angels saw Jesus. According to Mark 5:6-7:
But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.
But in Matthew 8:29, we read of an additional detail about the cry of this demon. In that passage we find him saying:
What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?
Taken together these two passages inform us that the demons do not want to be tormented in hell, and that they are willing to beg and plead with God that He not send them there. This means that God is not just going to allow the devil and his angels to go to the lake of fire as a result of their own choice. Rather, God has intentionally created a place of eternal torment, and He will with equal intention force the devil and his angels to remain there against their wills for all eternity.
Is this not the very thing which annihilationists claim to be contradictory to the character of our merciful God? If the Bible teaches that God will condemn at least some sentient beings to an eternity of conscious torment (which it clearly does), then this type of condemnation cannot be contrary to the character of God. Thus when Scripture tells us that the wicked will be cast into the same everlasting punishment that God created for the devil and his angels, we can know with absolute certainty that this punishment will be one of eternal fiery torment.
Part 1: Will the Lost be Punished Forever?
Part 2: Other uses of aionios and aion
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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