The topic of eternal punishment is one of the most unpleasant and least desirable that any Bible teacher will ever have to discuss. I myself get no sense of enthusiasm, excitement, anticipation—and certainly no joy—out of the requirement that any discussion on death, the afterlife, and human destiny requires an analysis of what happens to the unredeemed. This is something that simply has to be addressed, and one which the author of Hebrews actually considers to be elementary to people of faith (Hebrews 6:2). To only address the positive side of human destiny, and not the negative side, would be a dereliction of a responsible teacher’s duty to the Biblical message and story.
Regardless of which position an individual, or a Biblical interpreter, takes, contemplating the issue of eternal punishment is not something “fun.” While it is difficult for one to ideologically justify a doctrine of psychopannychy for Believers (the idea that those who have died in faith are unconscious in their graves until the resurrection), many people who espouse a doctrine of psychopannychy do so not necessarily because they find the idea of going to Heaven into the presence of the Lord revolting. On the contrary, they reject the premise of an intermediate afterlife because if the righteous are in the presence of the Lord in some kind of paradise, then the unrighteous are likely in some kind of penalized state. Such a penalized state is likely a foretaste for them of the final judgment.
Generally speaking, most of those who adhere to psychopannychy also believe in a concept known as annihilationism, and those who adhere to a conscious intermediate afterlife hold to some kind of never-ending eternal punishment. (There are some who believe in a conscious intermediate afterlife before the resurrection, who do espouse annihilationism, and vice versa, although this is rare.) What is annihilationism? The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms notes how this label is from the “Lat. annihilare, ‘to reduce to nothing,’” detailing it as “The belief that those not believing in Jesus Christ will be directly obliterated by God because of their sin.” Annihilationism is, in no uncertain terms, a belief that the unredeemed will experience total oblivion from existence as their punishment for rejecting the salvation of the Creator God.
Quite contrary to annihilationism, traditional models of eternal punishment throughout Christian history have advocated various degrees of conscious, ongoing, and never-ending condemnation to be meted out upon the unredeemed. Many people, who enter into the discussion and debate over eternal punishment, are actually not aware of the fact that not all traditional models have advocated some kind of never-ending fire and brimstone “bath,” but have focused more on themes of never-ending exile and removal from the presence of the Creator.
Entering into the discussion of eternal punishment is also seriously complicated because of many popular—and even some mythological—ideas about Hell, Satan, demons, and the Lake of Fire that need to be overcome. Many think about eternal condemnation in somewhat comedic terms like going to Pitchfork City, with its mayor being a bearded/goateed half-man half-goat dressed in a red suit, where regular orgies are held between condemned sinners and demons—group sex and drugs all included as some kind of hippie party. We have to overcome the different cultural stereotypes we have encountered in popular media, such as an angel sitting on one person’s shoulder, and a devil sitting on the other, reminding us of what is good or evil. We have to get over things like the Dallas series finale Conundrum, where oil baron J.R. Ewing is tempted to commit suicide by one of the Devil’s top agents calling himself “Adam”—dressed in a red tuxedo no less!
Make no mistake about it: eternal punishment is a very serious issue that is to drive people to tears and lamentation, as they are to consider their own very serious mortal and sinful limitations in view of a perfect Creator God. Those who do not respond to the message of the good news of salvation in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), by receiving Him into their hearts, will be severely penalized for it.
Many of today’s evangelical Christian pastors and teachers admittedly choose to not delve into the topic of eternal punishment that frequently, or in any detail. While being familiar with debates over annihilationism versus a never-ending eternal punishment, they often choose to be agnostic about it. It is often said, “I don’t care what eternal punishment is. Whatever it is, I don’t want to be a part of it.” While I would agree with this basic sentiment, the fact that Bible-believing people do ask the question about what eternal punishment is, and more importantly what human beings need salvation from, makes it imperative that a proper evaluation of the subject be provided. While some theologians and Bible teachers might think that the debate over what eternal punishment is, is just some philosophical exercise; it really is not. When any one of us looks out across the globe and considers the fact that every man and woman needs eternal redemption in Yeshua, what are such people to be redeemed from?Why_Hell_Must_Be_Eternal