Views Of Eternal Punishment Philosophy
The understanding of Hell and eternal punishment is more complex than it might seem to most, since the majority of people simply take it as it is - eternal torture for the sins that have been done in one's life. However, many theologians and believers in general tend to argue on this topic not only to how this eternal punishment is executed but also of whether hell exists and there is any actual eternal damnation, this is not only due to the different interpretations of the passages within the bible and the Christian teachings but due to internal conflicts of how one understands "torture", "punishment", "eternity" and even the understanding of an ultimatum. Some have different opinions of what is on the very end of a spectrum, to one the ultimate punishment may be very physically based while to another it is soul based.
Having a strong grasp on the doctrine of eternal punishment is crucial in order to accept other doctrines as well. For example: Hell is eternal (Matthew 25:46), Hell is a place of punishment (Matthew 25:41, 46; Revelation 19:20), "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever." (Revelation 20:10). It also touches the doctrine of conditional immortality, since immortality can be seen as a gift or it can be seen as something natural to the soul.
The topic of eternal punishment never did seem questionable to me. It was simple: sin and suffer eternal torture in hell. Questions never did rise on this topic since it was firmly established in my surrounding culture. Only when seeing the opinions of others on the topic, such opinions that were radically different did it shake the idea of eternal punishment that was established for me. I had to re-evaluate my ideas and create a new strong, evidence based opinion on this concept of hell and eternal punishment. The main question is: what is eternal punishment, and does it even exist? I believe that eternal damnation is not what it seems at first glance.
The two main views on this issue are the traditional view and the annihilationist view. The traditional view is the one that I held initially. It is that there is a place called hell, to where those who have sinned go after the physical death to be punished and tortured for all eternity without end. It is considered in this sense that God makes the sinners immortal for the purpose of torturing and punishing them forever.
The annihilationist view however argues that there is nothing after death for sinners. Death is permanent both physically and for the soul. It is complete destruction after which there is nothing left of the person. There is nothing beyond death for sinners.
While the position that I am pursuing currently and wish to establish is different from both the traditional one and the annihilationist one it does have more similarities to the traditional one and is somewhat based upon it. I believe that there is hell and there is eternal punishment after death for those who have sinned. It is in a sense torture, but of a different kind, that the traditionalist view sees. It is not physical torture or injuries as such. It is the breaking of the bond with God eternally. A sinner is no longer linked with God because he is not able to look upon the presence of sin. While the first death is the physical one (not literally physical, more in the terms of what is physical to the soul in hell), the second one is not the destruction of the soul, but the destruction of the link to God for all eternity. That in itself can be considered torture and eternal punishment. I find it inappropriate to believe that the soul could be forever destroyed just like that; it takes away the meaning or purpose of punishment. There is no suffering in that, there is no example. It is as if the slate was whipped clean. Someone sinned, and the retribution is that it was simply erased as if it never was.
Eternal punishment for disobedience, for defying what is right. A sin is the opposite of compliance; therefore it must be treated in opposite to a pure person after death. If the ultimate reward is considered to be heaven, the new kingdom, being in the presence of God, the connection stronger than ever possible for eternity, than it is only logical that the punishment for sin should be the opposite. Eternity can be both a gift and a torture. If one is deprived of the ultimate reward and banished as far from it as possible for all eternity then it becomes the most horrific of punishments.
John Stott and Edward Fudge both are in compliance with idea that annihilationism is the answer concerning eternal punishment. They both argue that being tortured for all eternity is cruel and should not be attributed to God as an act that he would not be capable of since it so immoral. What is more they explain eternal punishment in a way that some might accept since it has compelling arguments. The eternal destruction of the soul fits fairly well in this belief. The soul of a sinner is destroyed with no return. This belief can be even more convincing taking the words of Jesus from Matt 10:28 "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." The main point of annihilationists is that God would not subdue to the cruelty of eternally torturing a soul and that it brings no purpose.
The tradinionalists can respond to this by questioning the key beliefs as well. What is the point of annihilation? There is no lesson. If you are annihilated, then there is nothing afterwards, there is nothing you should fear or anticipate, because there will be nothing. The punishment does not fit the crime. If the sin creates disgrace that is forever left engraved in history why the sinner should be simply destroyed as if he was never in existence? Well this is where the eternal punishment comes into play. The immortal soul left in hell for ever to be tortured by the devil. The annihilationists have already addressed this point in their specific manner. And while there is some truth in the traditional explanation it is not perfect. My view may not be perfect, yet it provides an explanation that is more intact with Christian disciplines and is morally acceptable as it provides a just punishment.
It is simpler to put the three one besides the other in order to find one that keeps the Christian doctrines and moral code intact. Annihilationism - immortality is a gift, if you sin, you do not receive it after death and there is nothing left, nothing to fear or regret in death for the sinner as you will not have to actually feel anything in accordance to the sin. Traditionalism - immortality is natural to the soul. A sinner is for all eternity damned to stay in hell and be tortured. The sinner's soul left to be punished for all eternity in the fire of hell. My view - immortality is natural to the soul. Heaven and a pure connection to God as a reward for the good, hell and eternal destruction of the link between God and the soul while he remains to suffer without God for all eternity.
Perhaps the most controversial writing could be considered Revelation 20 where it is spoken of a second death. It is very easy for the annihilationists to claim that the second death is that of the soul for only those who have sinned, while the good people may avoid it. While the traditionalists can claim that the second death is the path to hell, damnation of the soil not a literary destruction of the soul. For my view the second death is the most powerful negative experience that can be experienced, separation from God, something that deprives a soul of its own essence.
In my own perspective the reason these different views rise is due to the difference in understanding the concept of being destroyed. While in Matt 10:28 it can be interpreted that the soul can be destroyed in hell "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell". However in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ("They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might") the phrase "everlasting destruction" does not seem to comply with annihilation in the contemporary manner. This is very controversial since it can mean both being destroyed forever in such a manner that it is impossible to undo this and being in the state of continuous destruction for all eternity. You think continuous destruction for all eternity is not possible? Imagine being deprived of absolutely everything that ever mattered or could ever matter, realizing that nothing will ever change, that there is no more light left. It is the absolute point of no return and all is lost. Such an idea sounds quite horrifying, how could God, something that is ultimately good allow this? Well, you chose to break the link to god as it is said in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, you are shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. It is the sinner's choice and the punishment for his indiscretions. It is the sinner himself that brings this upon himself and leaves the domain of God. It is not God who is cruel for punishing the sinner in this manner, but it is the person that took this path to "annihilate" the sacred bond that was given to the person as a chance to reach nirvana.
So what is eternal punishment? I firmly believe that it is not the permanent destruction of one's body and soul, nor is it the immortalization of the soul in order to purposefully cause it the perceived physical pain and torture in hell. In truth it is the ultimate punishment - separation from God. If one believes in annihilationism then anything concerning hell is flushed down the gutter. There is nothing left of hell, of being sent there. It changes the view of the soul, it is no longer immortal. Immortality is seen as a gift at the end of the road. If a person did not sin, he will receive immortality in heaven, yet if he did sin, he does not and his soul perishes. If one chooses the traditionalistic view then eternal damnation is merely physical pain continued on your soul forever in the pits of hell with no actual soulful suffering. It gives no purpose to eternal damnation as simply to instill fear and obedience. The reason my view can bring a difference to a Christian is that it provides a much stronger incentive not to sin, not to stray. What is at stake is no longer eternal pain of a somewhat physical matter, but the forever lasting loss of the most important thing to a Christian that there can possibly be - the connection to God. So consider on what should be a true Christian teaching: annihilationism - utter destruction of a sinner beyond death as if nothing ever happened. Traditionalism - Eternal punishment, torture of the soul in the fire of hell and condemnation by God. Attribution of what comes after death to one's own choice - if one chooses to sin he himself is responsible for breaking the link to God, self destruction so to say. Instead of trying to blame God for what is the outcome of something a person chooses to do himself perhaps one should consider that even though God is purely good he cannot take away your free will to break the holy bond to him and deprive yourself of the greatest gift he could provide.