Sunday, November 21, 2010

In Defense of Hell: Six Arguments Against Annihilationism

"In the first place, the amount of time spent in wrongdoing is often irrelevant in determining the sentence. As I write these words, police in London are looking for thugs who attacked a forty-five year old man in broad daylight, almost severed his arm with a billhook, pummelled him with a baseball bat and sprayed hydrochloric acid in his face. The assault was all over in less than a minute; would sixty seconds in jail be an appropriate sentence? As William Hendriksen says, 'It is not necessarily the duration of the crime that fixes the duration of the punishment...What is decisive is the nature of the crime.'

Secondly, God alone has the ability to determine the true nature of sin and of the punishment that would be appropriate. Even at an earthly level, the criminal who insisted on manipulating the law to suit his own case would be given pretty short shrift. In the case of God's law, the idea of even trying to do so is absurd. Does anyone seriously claim to know how enormous an evil sin is in God's eyes? As John Wenham freely admits 'No sinner is competent to judge the heinousness of sin.'

The point has been well made by a contemporary theologian: 'The desire to find an escape clause for ourselves or for others is a natural enough reaction, but it simply does not come to terms with the authority of the Bible or with the justice and finality of the judgements of God. The Bible makes it plain enough that human concepts of justice and equity, distorted as they are by the sinfulness of fallen human nature, are deceptive and unreliable, and in any case are not binding upon God, who tells us explicitly, 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways' (Isaiah 55:8).'

Thirdly, as God is infinitely worthy of man's love, obedience and honour, man's obligation to give him 'the glory due to his name' (Psalm 29:2) is infinitely great. By the same token, his failure to do so is an infinite evil. And as infinite evil demands infinite punishment, the infinite sufferings of hell exactly fir the crime of which the wicked are guilty and are the ultimate example of God's perfect justice.

Fourthly, the argument about the punishment needing to fit the crime ignores the issues of the sinner's continuing attitude. There is certainly no such thing as repentance in hell; if there were, the end result would lean towards universalism. But as Paul Helm rightly says, 'When judgement is pronounced there is no opportunity for repentance.' Yet the absence of repentance is in itself a sin, deserving punishment; and as that sin will continue for ever, it is difficult to see how everlasting punishment would fail to fit the crime. John Gerstner clinches the point:'Since punishment itself never produces repentance, justice requires it to go on for ever.'

Fifthly, the character of God is at stake here. God's punishment of sinners is not something done in a fit of temper which might blow over after a while. Instead, it is the outcome of his perfect justice and unchanging hatred of evil. That being the case, there will never be a time when God will 'cool off' and take a more lenient view of the sinner's stubborn rebellion. The Roman historian Suetonius tells of a long-term prisoner of Tiberius Caesar who pleaded with the emperor to put an end to his misery by having him put to death, but the emperor replied, 'Stay, sir, you and I are not friends yet.' So it will be in hell. However desperately the sinner might cry to God to be annihilated and put out of his misery, God's righteous nature and the sinner's evil nature will mean that the reply will always be, 'We are not friends yet.' The illustration is not perfect, and is not intended to reduce God to the level of a pagan Roman emperor, yet the general principle involved safeguards God's holy and unchangeable character.

Sixthly, the argument that something done finitely can never have an infinite result proves too much, because it rules out heaven for the righteous as well as hell for the wicked. Jesus said, 'Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him' (John 3:36). I appreciate that heaven is a gift of grace while hell is 'earned', yet it would seem that the only way in which to make Jesus' words mean that the sinner's punishment in hell will come to an end is to say that the believer's joy in heaven will also do so, and I am not aware of any serious Bible student who has ever suggested that.

As if these six points were not conclusive, the argument they answer begs an obvious question. If it would be wrong of God to punish finite sin with everlasting punishment, how can it be right for him to punish it by annihilation, which by definition is itself everlasting? If (as some allege) endless punishment is 'sadistic', surely the same would apply to limited punishment? Would indescribable (but pointless) torture followed by annihilation be any kinder?" (John Blanchard, Whatever Happened to Hell [New York: Evangelical Press, 2003], 223-225).


  1. Thanks for posting this! It is a much needed reminder of God's holy and just wrath.

  2. We need to be reminded that our finite rationalizations of certain difficult doctrines of Scripture do not in any way erode their veracity.

    The Bible teaches everlasting torment in hell, and it is true whether our notions of justice, equity, and holiness agree with it or not.

    My pleasure, Ed.

  3. Hi underdogtheology, nice blog & good post. truly like it, you must submit your site for free in this website which really helps to get more traffic. hope u have a nice day & Keep posting!

  4. Another point is this: God sees all men in one of two ways - either in Christ or in sin. If your sins are not covered by Christ, then God, since He is eternal and infinite, must necessarily continue infinitely and eternally to see you in sin.


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