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:
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?
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?
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.