Does the Bible teach eternal separation from God?

(Winston Jones) #1

I am new to RZIM but I have noticed several questions about hell. I have a question too. If the unrepentant are to be eternally separated from God somewhere, in some kind of state of awareness, why does the Bible, from beginning to end, present the choice we have as humans as being life or death, to live or to perish, instead of the choice of eternal life in heaven or eternal life in hell, or, in other words, eternal life with God or eternal life apart from God?

Ask Michelle Tepper (August 13-17, 2018)
Is there a good reason why we should not give a direct answer to “Do you think I’m going to Hell?”
(SeanO) #2

@WinstonJones That is one of the arguments for what is known as annihilationism - where those who fall under God’s judgment are destroyed rather than tormented forever - they are annihilated - they die the second death, as it is called in Revelation. The website “rethinkinghell” below provides many articles and arguments for annihilationism.

Steve Gregg’s book offers a fuller treatment of the subject and presents all three historical views - eternal judgment, annihilation and the idea that all will eventually be cleansed through Christ.

This is one of those issues that Christians can disagree about and still worship together. But I have found it is also an issue that can give people a great deal of freedom when they realize that neither the Bible nor Christian history requires them to believe in a God who torments people forever. There are valid arguments for that view, but it is not the only view.

In the end, we can trust that the God of all the earth will do what is right and good and true (Genesis 18:25). I hope that is helpful. Feel free to ask more questions.

(Winston Jones) #3

Thank you, Sean, for your reply. I guess I am an annihilationist.
As a child, I had to listen to hellfire and brimstone preaching and I could never understand why adults, who were free to not attend Church, would ever voluntarily listen to such preaching or worship such a threatening God.
When you say a different view can give people a great deal of freedom, I say Amen to that.
What still puzzles me though, is why people still believe that threats of punishment will change peolpes’ hearts. Can you show me an example in the Bible where warnings worked, apart from Jonah? Even God’s personal warning to Adam did not stop him from sinning. (And even Nineveh’s repentance seems to have been only temporary)

(SeanO) #4

@WinstonJones Thank you for the reply. I lean toward annihilation as well in my own views, but I am always willing to learn more on this topic. I think it is important to remember that the wrath of God is real.

Hebrews 10:31 - It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Romans 11:22 - Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

So while I agree with you that the Biblical view of hell is not the fire and brimstone that has often been preached, I think we must emphasize that the view we hold is rooted in Scripture and reason - not only in emotion. Though certainly the view of eternal torment may evoke strong emotions.

Strangely enough, I have known people, a close friend in college included, who were converted through hell fire and brimstone because I think the reality is that there is terror in the judgment of God. Here is a testimony from the brother of famous atheist Christopher Hitchens - Peter. Peter Hitchens was strongly influenced by a painting of what I would call a wrong view of hell and convicted of his sinfulness:

“On a cycling trip to Burgundy he saw Rogier van der Weyden’s 15th-century Last Judgment, and this made a lasting impression. “I had scoffed at its mention in the guidebook, but now I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open, at the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of hell. I had a sudden strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. My large catalogue of misdeeds replayed themselves rapidly in my head. I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned. Van der Weyden was still earning his fee, nearly 500 years after his death.”

I think that hell fire and brimstone can lead to a false view of God and to a very unfortunate legalism. Some of that manifested itself in my friends life in fact. But I think good preaching does not shy away from the reality of judgment, while always pointing to the amazing mercy and love and grace of God at the cross of Christ.

(Jimmy Sellers) #5

I see no difference in atheism and annihilationism, for me they have the same end. If annihilation is the agreed upon destination for non-believers would we not just find ourselves in the camp of the Epicureans, content with living life well? and if there was a punishment from God “what difference would it make” it would be over in due time.
Would Pascal have changed his wager? If I understand the street level view it, (the wager) was predicated on the fear of an eternal hell.

(SeanO) #6

@Jimmy_Sellers Imagine with me for a moment that rather than giving Adam and Eve the choice to obey in the Garden He had put a great shock collar on them. Now, every time they went to do something bad he shocked them for thirty minutes or so to show them that this was a bad idea. At the end of the day, they would obey out of fear of being shocked, but they would probably not like God - much less love Him.

I think the idea that there must be some terrible eternal suffering associated with sin in order for people to turn from it may be misunderstanding the reason God created us in the first place. If ‘hell’ is used like a giant eternal shock collar to try to scare us into obedience, where then is the love of God?

I John 4:18 - There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

(Bonnie Crabtree) #7

Doesn’t annihilationism give people an excuse to sin? If they simply cease to exist than where is punishment for sin?

Note: have not read the articles yet?

(SeanO) #8

@crabtreelighthouse Great question. You know, Paul the apostle struggled because people used grace as an excuse to sin. But does that mean that God’s grace is not true? Of course not - but people can try to take advantage of grace by twisting it into something it is not. In the same way, yes, people could use God’s mercy in annihilation (if that turns out to be true) to try to excuse their sin, but that does not make it untrue.

Romans 6:1-2 - What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

(Jimmy Sellers) #9

So, on the flip side can we say heaven is a reason to believe, instead of a shock collar God gives Adam and Eve ice cream sundaes ever time they do something that He approves of, sort of like Pavlov’s dog. I think love is a much better motivator then any type of rules based system but you cannot deny the fact that warnings and fear played a role in the Bible story. I am not suggesting that every warning was laced with visions of a burning hell anymore that every Stop sign I encounter means certain death.

As an aside what is the meaning of the son of hell as used in

15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees—hypocrites!—because you travel around the sea and the dry land to make one convert, and when he becomes one,* you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are! Matthew 23:16-15

It sounds like hell might be a place or the Pharisees were about to demoted to garbage collectors.:grinning:

(Bonnie Crabtree) #10

Paul’s discussion regarding grace and its misuse by contuning to sin was addressed to believers. For those who reject where would the punishment for sin be to a perfect holy God is they just cease to exist?

So live any way I want because in the end I just vanish. ???

(SeanO) #11

@Jimmy_Sellers I definitely agree with you that there is a balance - love involves both justice and mercy. On that we are in full agreement.

What I think makes God’s love different than an ice cream sundae for a dog is that God is not offering us physical rewards. Torture is a physical punishment. God is not offering us - at least the main motivation of Heaven is not - physical things. In fact, there is no sex in Heaven… Heaven is knowing God - eternal life is knowing Christ. God is offering us Himself.

I think, without doing more study, son of Gehenna or son of ‘hell’ simply means that they belonged to the kingdom of darkness rather than the kingdom of light, they were children of their father the devil and not of God.

(SeanO) #12

@crabtreelighthouse Annihilationism does not teach that people simply cease to exist. It teaches, at least Biblical annihilationism, that people die, they are kept until judgment and then, just as in all of the other views, they must stand before God and give an account of their life. Annihilation leaves open the possibility that God does punish people at the judgment before they are destroyed. The reality of judgment remains.

But let’s think about this from God’s perspective for a moment. Would God want people who obeyed Him just because they were afraid of being tormented? Imagine if someone asked your child why they honored you and their response was, “Because if I don’t I’ll suffer terribly”. I do not see the benefit of eternal torment - the people who suffer it cannot change - they are there forever - and anyone who followed God in this life just because they feared torment would not be obeying God for the right reason.

John 14:21 - Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.