Table of Contents
Part V: The Future of the Non-Elect
considered the pros and cons of four alternative views of the
destiny of the unsaved. The first (Annihilation) seems unsatisfactory
because although it recognizes the justice of punishment, it
leaves unexplained why creaturely existence should be given to
an enormous number of individuals who are simply to be eliminated
as though they had never existed. Total annihilation by an act
of God seems a more ruthless form of punishment than even endless
torment that is self-imposed.
1 of 3
The second alternative (Universalism)
essentially ignores the problem of justice entirely, and from
a Christian point of view is quite unacceptable.
The third alternative, limited
punishment, in the dual role of vindication of the law and correction
of the lawbreaker, makes much more sense, yet still presents
problems: until we can be sure that the meaning of the words
translated eternal, eternity, and so forth, have been
unequivocally established one way or the other.
Finally, the alternative of everlasting
torment, though our versions almost without exception favour
it, seems somehow to challenge the justice of God and the wisdom
of his original purpose. Yet the other alternatives in one way
or another do not seem to have commended themselves to the Church
of God throughout the centuries. Is it likely that for all these
centuries we have been holding a false view in this matter?
In summary, then, it may be said
that almost all the arguments against either annihilation or
any kind of restoration tend to be vitiated by poor understanding
of what is being rejected. First of all, with the exception of
the Universalist view, none of those who argue for these other
alternatives would question the certainty of punishment for sin.
Judgment leads to condemnation, and the penalty imposed is commensurate
with the offense. Annihilationists like Basil Atkinson simply
argue that men suffer for their sins to the point of extinction.
By this means hell is made in some ways an even more awful reality
than is suggested by everlasting punishment, which is at least
a form of personal survival.
Those who see the penalty as a
sentence to be served out until the last
farthing has been paid
do not hold, as some critics imply, that the absence of saving
faith still makes the position of the condemned quite hopeless.
The advocates of limited penalty would not deny that the man
condemned to hell dies in unbelief and therefore cannot be saved
on the ground of faith. They would argue rather that whereas
faith saves from the penalty of sins, these are not saved from
the penalty of sins but suffer that penalty themselves. Their
ultimate release is not an escape from the penalty but the payment
of full satisfaction. Nor is saving faith applicable to them
when they are released; such faith would be too late.
One argument against annihilation
which is often raised is that the "soul" is inherently
immortal ‹ though Scripture says otherwise (1 Corinthians
15:53, 54). The soul is only contingently immortal, as
sustained by God. The Lord alone had the power of life within
Himself. Even unfallen Adam's immortality was contingent upon
God. Immortality of the soul is a Greek invention, not a biblical
Revelation, Luther considered the doctrine of the immortality
of the soul as the last of the five cardinal errors of
the papal church. (1)
The issue, in short, is not, Will
the unbelieving be punished? but Will they be punished for ever
and ever? If so, the universe will never be free of the presence
of evil and the Lord's victory will never be truly complete.
As Augustus H. Strong sums up the situation:
In any treatment of the subject
of eternal punishment we must remember that false doctrine is
often a reaction from the unscriptural and repulsive over-statements
of Christian apologists. We freely concede (1) that future punishment
does not necessarily consist of physical torments, it may be
wholly internal and spiritual; (2) that the pain and suffering
of the future are not necessarily due to positive applications
by God, they may result entirely from the soul's sense of loss
and from the accusations of conscience; and (3) that eternal
punishment does not necessarily involve endless successions of
suffering, for since God's eternity is not mere endlessness we
may not forever be subject to the law of time.
I can say, Amen! And add only that probably one of the most awful
features of hell, and one least often acknowledged in the literature,
is the fact of isolation.* The individual will not merely
1. Luther: quoted by Basil F. C. Atkinson, Life and Immortality,
published privately, no date, p iii.
2. Strong, Augustus, Systematic Theology, Valley
Forge, Pennsylvania, Judson Press, 1907, p.1035.
* It is significant that far more attention
is being paid by psychiatrists today to the factor of isolation
as a cause of human sickness. Deprivation of company has turned
out to be one of the most distressing punishments a prisoner
can be subjected to, and there are moves to have it internationally
outlawed as an inhumane form of torture. Harry Stack Sullivan
(a renowned psychotherapeutic clinical psychiatrist regarded
by some to be second only to Freud) observed that "absolute
isolation would be equal to death." The most awful of all
isolations is to be cut off from God, which probably entails
being also cut off from all other human beings. In this case
it has to be viewed as a self-imposed torture.
be separated from God
but from all other men. There will be no company to commiserate
with. As C. S. Lewis put it, "There are no personal relationships
we have to let the matter rest, having seemingly exhausted the
means of elucidation at our disposal. The reader will undoubtedly
sense my own leaning towards the third alternative, but I must
confess that I am by no means confident that such a hopeful alternative
is justified in the light of our Lord's own awful warnings.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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