3 Questions for Annihilationists

3 Questions for Annihilationists March 21, 2018
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As filmmaker Kevin Miller so poignantly points out in his documentary “Hellbound?” there are basically 3 positions Christians can take when it comes to eschatological matters: Infernalism, Annihilationism/Conditional Immortality, and Universalism. The reason for this is that the Bible, on the surface at least, includes passages that argue for all 3. In other words, there are passages that seem to suggest some humans will be tortured for time-everlasting (Infernalism), that some will perish entirely (Conditional Immortality), and that all will one day be redeemed (Universalism).

Obviously, however, not all 3 positions can be true. So, what all of us essentially do is read the passages that don’t fit within out eschatological system in light of those that do. Infernalists do it. Annihilationists do it. And Universalists like myself do it.

That being said, I didn’t want to spend any time arguing for my position over and against the other 2. Not only has enough of that been done over the millennia by whole hosts of great thinkers, but I’ve already done it in multiple places as well. And, if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m sort of done arguing. Instead, what I wanted to do is simply ask my Annihilationist brothers and sisters 3 questions that have been on my mind as of late, not to prove or disprove anything, but simply because I’m really curious as to what they will say.

So, without further ado, here they are:

  1. Does God’s Love Endure Forever?

In the Bible, there is this striking claim that “God is love” (1 John 4:8); not that “God is loving” or that “God has love,” but that God is love itself. Because of this, it seems fairly safe, then, to conclude the following: if God is eternal, so is love. This New Testament claim is not really anything new, however, for in the Old Testament there is an entire chapter in the Psalms about God’s mercy enduring forever. In fact, in Psalm 136, this claim is made in each of the 26 verses. So, with that in mind, my question is this: If God’s love and mercy endure forever, does God love those who are one day annihilated? If so, how would this work?

I don’t ask this to push annihilationists into a corner. I’m honestly curious. Is it possible for God to everlastingly love something that no longer exists? And if so, could God even handle such a thing? Wouldn’t it cause God great suffering to know that in spite of her best efforts, there was simply nothing that could be done to save the lost? In spite of mercy that endures forever, in spite of love that endures forever, isn’t hopelessness for the salvation of some really what endures forever?

  1. Should Our Love Endure Forever?

What I love about the Bible—and, more specifically, passages like the Sermon on the Mount—is that the anthropological is often attached to the theological. What I mean by this is simply that we as human beings are to act in certain way because that is how God acts. Jesus makes this fairly clear. We are to love and bless our enemies and persecutors because God loves his enemies and persecutors (Matthew 5:48). We are to show them mercy because God shows them mercy (Luke 6:36).

To that end, if some are utterly lost forever, should we still continue to love them? If we are chillin’ up in heaven, eating bread and sipping wine, and some of those whom we were called to love are not, should we just party on and forget about them, or should we still long for their presence? And what would it mean to love them? What would it mean to bless them? Or, does this cease to be Jesus’ command once this age passes on into the next?

  1. What Exactly is “Annihilation?”

For me, this is where the rubber meets the road. What exactly are we talking about when we talk about annihilation? I’m fairly certain most mean that some human beings will be utterly destroyed, either by their own volition or by God. However, how does that play out in real time? For instance, does that mean our memories of them are annihilated as well? Does it mean that the impact they had on others—either for good or for ill—is wiped clear?

I’ll be honest, if this is the case, then I’m not sure I want to live forever in heaven. If, for instance, my daughter one day heads down the road to perdition—if she chooses a life of wickedness over a life of peace, love, and grace—and is utterly destroyed, could there ever truly be a heaven for me? What would it take for this to happen? Surely, the memory of gazing into her eyes for the first time would have to be taken away. The memory of watching her dance in her first ballet would have to be taken away. The memory of taking her to Kindergarten for the first time, gone. The memories of all our walks, all our conversations, all our snuggle-times, all our kisses, all our hugs, all the times I bandaged her wounds, all the times she bandaged mine, gone. Either that, or it seems heaven, for me at least, would be a hell unto itself.

I’m sorry, but I can’t believe that. Even as I write this, the thought of such a horror brings tears to my eyes. And if I have hope for anything, it’s that one day God will wipe every tear from our eyes and that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). Not because God erases my memories a la Men in Black, but because all those I love—which, per Jesus, includes my enemies—are one day reconciled and redeemed.

And so, that is one reason I can’t affirm anything but universal reconciliation. For without it, I’m left with too many questions that I’m simply unable to answer. But if you can, then wonderful. I’d be curious to hear how you go about answering such inquiries.

Until next time. Peace.

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  • Nimblewill

    I too am a hopeful universalist, but I’ve come to believe that our entrance into eternity my be like the birth process. Maybe that our life now is comparable to our time spent in the womb and when we leave this life it will be comparable to being born. I don’t remember anything from the womb but it prepared me for this life. Could it be possible that you might not remember looking into your daughter’s eyes for the first time and yet it still have a profound impact on your life in eternity? Just thoughts, with absolutely nothing to back them up!

    Great questions, BTW!

  • John

    The first two questions strike me as a bit non-sensical. It’s like your setting up a proposition about God and his eternal love and then linking that to the something that once existed and now doesn’t. Is that even something that can really be answered? Or better yet, does it really make any sense? It is a false premise and a leading question that seems like you are forcing a certain answer. As far as question three, I expect you know better than I what the annihilationist position is. But then you take it to a hypothetical of how you would feel about those who no longer exists in eternity. Again, this cannot be answered satisfactorily. It can make for great musings, but leads to no real conclusion on the matter. Your points are based in feelings and not scripture, and as a premise to understanding us annihilationist – that won’t work.
    So, yes, God’s love endures forever but it need not be linked to something that no longer exists. The two are not tied together in any theological fashion. God as love is not dependent on the existence of something or the ceasing to exist of something that once did exist. Yes, I think it is very likely that we will have memory of those who no longer exist, but I would have no way to know how I would feel about that from a eternal perspective. Scripture does not speak to that so any conclusion or feelings would be our own. Annihilation is the second death – an eternal end to life/soul/spirit.

  • Thanks for your comment.

  • I consider myself an Annihilationist. I wasn’t compelled with the first two questions but the third really threw me and I don’t really have an answer. I think I only land in the Annihilationist camp because I come from an Armenian background and view an individual’s ability to choose to accept or reject God as a central gift we humans were given, a forced love seems abhorrent to me. Combine that with the view that we are not inherently eternal beings like God, then I don’t see how a place like the traditional Hell where we exist eternally outside of God could actually exist. I do believe that very few will ultimately make the choice to reject a loving God once fully revealed in this life or the next and cease to exist, probably no one will. Ok so maybe I’m a Universalist after all 🙂

  • Lol

  • EmilyS

    I’m a Baha’i, and Baha’is are universalists. We believe that even the wicked progress on to Heaven, as an eventuality. First (immediately following death) it’s made known to the soul the error of their ways, and they feel all the pain they have caused others; then, when they understand and feel regret, they continue to happier lofts. We believe that the only thing that could keep a soul out of Heaven is rejecting God’s grace, even in His presence. Though, since the love of God is all-powerful and transformative, I would think that’s virtually impossible… However, I’m just as puzzled with regard to the third question 🙁 Do we forget our relationships with those souls who cannot join us? That’s incredibly sad.

  • I, too, am a Universalist.

  • Rick Fifer

    Is there redemption for Hitler? Pol Pot? Stalin? Nero? That is what is jarring to me. That is why I don’t see validity in Universalism. Just as I find other human dogmas of predetermination, or eternal roasting of lost like pig on a spit.

  • brassyhub

    I try to follow Jesus. I have a major problem with the Christians who selectively hold to Old Testament positions. What did Jesus say about hell, damnation, judgement, homosexuality? He said, ‘I judge no-one.’ (John, 8.15)

  • james warren

    In my view, all human behavior has a positive intention behind it. And it comes down to making the best informed choices as well as doing some focused thinking on the possible EFFECTS of our “good” intentions.

    I have no way of knowing–short of therapy and psychological help for the man–of what Hitler’s underlying intentions were. But just suppose behind his brutality was an honest wish to make Germany once again a country to be proud of. And number one was to help the population recover from the shame of Germany’s surrender after the Great War in 1918.

    He fought the communist with the same intensity America fights ISIS. He saw protecting his nation was paramount: “All enemies, foreign and domestic.”

    These are worthy goals but the choices the dictator reached for were ultimately brutal, pernicious and ultimately failures.

    Hitler was regularly beaten by his grandfather. Later in life, he bragged that he was able to push down his pain and stand silent and steadfast. He grew up with no way to show himself empathy and so there was no way to show empathy to anyone else.

    This certainly does not excuse his choices, but it might just help us understand why other authoritarians behave in similar ways.

    “The Father makes his sun to shine on the evil and the good and sends his rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
    –Matthew 5:45

  • WisdomLover

    I believe in eternal conscious torment because I believe the God is loving and that He allows His free creatures to exercise their freedom to be separated from Him for as long as they would like to be separated from Him. Even if that’s forever.

    I agree with your objections to annihilationists above Matthew. I don’t think that God really could be said to love a creature and then wipe it out. Well, OK, God could be said to love some lesser being, like a rock or an electron and countenance the elimination of that being from the universe. But He has not first endowed such a being with an awareness of the future, with hopes and plans for that future and so forth. An awareness, hope and plan that He then dashes…because it wasn’t working out.

    I don’t think that God ever stops hoping and longing for the restoration of the lost. If He loves them, as the Bible teaches that He does, then this must be so.

    Still it’s a little hard to see how God could still hope for the restoration of those in Hell. Most people assume that Hellions cannot be restored. Given this impossibility, wouldn’t it be irrational for God to hope for the restoration of the lost?

    But that goes beyond what the Bible says about what could happen to those in Hell. The Bible is silent on the matter. True, the Bible teaches that at least some never will repent. But that’s miles away from a flat out inability to repent. And if a Hellion did repent, then of course they would be received into the arms of Christ.

    Insofar as the Bible ever speaks as if Hellions cannot enter into Heaven, e.g. in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, I think it speaks as though they cannot do so without repentance. That they could not repent and then, as a result, enter in to Heaven is not so clear.

  • John

    Wait, so God couldn’t love a creature and then wipe it out, but he can torture those same creatures eternally? Absolutely, totally, absurdly illogical!

  • WisdomLover

    Who said God tortures them? He allows them to torture themselves.

  • John

    Ok, still ridiculous. Eternal torture is more loving than annihilation? You can’t defend that position.

  • WisdomLover

    Of course I can defend that position. The one respects free beings regardless of their choices, however self-destructive those choices might be.

    The other treats them as things to be thrown away when you don’t like what they are doing.

  • John

    Eternal torture vs ceasing to exist at all, and the former is more loving? Sorry, but I can’t go there. Your caricature of a thing being discarded is contrived. Scripture makes no such inference at all. Like ECT, annihilation results from free choices. Neither position is viewed as loving in scripture. That concept is human derived, so it is really not a good argument in this issue.

  • WisdomLover

    My characterization of Hell has been a pretty standard view of the church for quite some time: HELL = (SIN + TIME) – DEATH.

    There’s no torture by God involved. The only thing by-God in the whole affair is that God does not annihilate the souls in Hell and He allows them to pursue just the free actions they choose. He doesn’t annihilate them because they’re no use to Him.

    And the issue is not what damnation results from. Just about all Christians who believe in damnation agree that damnation, whether it be annihilation or Hell, results from the free choice of the damned. I think only supralapsarian Calvinists hold a contrary view.

    The issue is what results of damnation are.

    Annihilation results in the end of free choices from the soul that is annihilated. ECT does not have this result. ECT results in souls in Hell that continue to perform all sorts of free action, none of them completely free of sin.

    And, in case you were wondering, Hell is part of the world, so Christ also died for the sins of Hellions.

    The souls in Hell aren’t there because God hasn’t forgiven them. He has forgiven them. The torment they suffer isn’t the torment of God’s wrath at sin that was poured out upon Christ. That’s accomplished. Over and done with for everyone, even Hellions.

    The souls in Hell are there by their own choice suffering the consequences of the sins they keep committing against each other and against themselves without death to release them.

    Even though the self-inflicted torment of the Hellions is not the torment of the wrath of God, God in the Person of Christ suffers this torment and all torments. Something to bear in mind when deciding whether to judge God for allowing it to happen.

  • John

    Appreciate your response and the time you took. I do enjoy understanding more of your position. Thanks for you cordial answers.

  • Guy Norred

    Why not? If there is no way that they could be redeemed we actually are left with the predetermination are we not? At least that is the only conclusion I can find.

  • Rick Fifer

    No we are left with annihilation. Jesus said fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Destroy is not roasting like a pig on a spit. And I can’t help but think there are some people that were so truly so evil as to be Beyond Redemption.

  • Guy Norred

    What makes a person beyond redemption? Let me explain my question a bit. My journey to universalism actually started when I heard an acquaintance say Hitler was in Hell. Of course this wasn’t the first time I had heard this but it was the first time I thought to wonder how Hitler became the monster we know him to have been. I do not pretend to know how this happened but I do know that I cannot imagine being there myself.

    Perhaps I have never gone through some great pain that Hitler did. If so, then my redemption (or the possibility of it) comes from not experiencing that which would put me beyond redemption–ergo Hitler, by experiencing his pain was condemned to be a monster beyond hope of redemption.

    Perhaps I could have experienced that pain and still not become this monster. If so, then my redemption comes from strength with which Hitler was not blessed–again it seems that Hitler was born to be condemned.

    The same pair of possibilities for simply not succumbing to great temptation (either I have never been tempted this way or if I had I have the strength to resist it) lead to the same conclusion.

    And then of course, perhaps he just was born evil. And again I find myself in the position of determining that the reason I have the possibility of redemption is that I was simply not born Hitler.

    All of this said, I am not God. While there is no question that these examples you bring up have done terrible things, I cannot look at their hearts as God does. I cannot judge their hearts. Perhaps annihilation is their fate, but then it would seem the playing field is far from level.

  • Jesusisdemocrat

    God is love, therefore there is no way that even the most evil person could do enough in one lifetime to justify an eternity of either torture or nonexistence. Our egos are evil, those will be distroyed, not our souls.
    My moniker is meant ironically.

  • Daniel

    Honestly I feel that annihilation would be an act of mercy. Allowing humans to exist eternally in our sinful state would be a form of hell, possibly worse than any external torment. Also, in my opinion, love must be freely chosen. Giving us the choice to reject life and ultimately perish is an act of love. He could have made us all robots, and in my opinion that’s the only scenario where everyone has a happy ending. But it’s a fake happy ending.