Previously, when we looked at the importance of considering the logical implications of one’s arguments, we looked at a failed attempt to use physical laws to prove that all men live forever (in the way everyone means “live” except when talking about hell).1 Here, we will be looking at two more examples of arguments that fail when the logical implications are considered.
Immortality Through Creation In The Image of God
The fact that men are made in the image of God comes up in discussions on the nature of hell. This involves a number of ideas, but in no case does it succeed in demonstrating the eternal conscious existence of all people.
The first idea is along these lines: since God is immortal, and men are created in his image, men are immortal too. W.O.E Oesterly cites Genesis 1:26, among different creation accounts, and he concludes the following: “In all the three accounts referred to, the immortality of man will be accounted for because of the mode of his creation, a part of him partook of the divine, and therefore immortal nature.”23 This is quoted approvingly by Harry Buis in his oft-cited book The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment (although unlike Oesterly, he at least qualifies the statement enough to say that being made in God’s image does not totally prove the immortality of the soul).4 John Gill cites the fact that man is made in the image of God as one of the ways in which the soul’s nature proves its immortality.5 This isn’t an obscure idea that is relegated to discussions on the internet.
All of these, in different ways, are stating that, since man is created in God’s image, man therefore contains this divine element that is immortality.
The issue with this line of reasoning is simple: there are many things that are true of God that are not true of men, despite our being made in his image. To single immortality out is arbitrary. If we followed their reasoning, we would have to say that men are completely sinless, all-powerful, and all-knowing (among other attributes). But obviously none of these things are true about humans!6
No one is going to say that since we are made in God’s image, we must have these attributes. To single out immortality only works if one already believes that men are all immortal (and therefore the connection can be inferred).
Free Will and the Love of God Require Eternal Torment Instead of Annihilation
It has been argued by some traditionalists that if annihilationism were true, it would be an unloving violation of man’s free will. How would this be? The gist of the argument is that it wouldn’t be right for God to give men the ability to choose or reject him and then destroy them just because he doesn’t like their decision. Jeff Spencer, in the article “The Destruction Of Hell: Annihilationism Examined,” gives us a version of this argument. According to Spencer, “God loves man enough to endow him with a free will – the ability to embrace or reject Him.”7 He then goes on to explain how this comes into play: “Hell is God’s loving gift to those who reject Him. To annihilate those who reject Him would be akin to killing a child because he does not obey.”8
Now, there are a lot of potential issues with Spencer’s argument. It holds to a particular view of free will not shared by all Christians. It makes a comparison between how God relates to someone who is ultimately impenitent and how a parent relates to a child, as opposed to viewing being God’s child ultimately as a right that Jesus earned specifically for the saved – John 1:11. But aside from all that, this argument is coming from a traditionalist! It is coming from someone who is arguing that God eternally torments the unsaved. So to completely kill one who rejects God would unloving and would violate free will, but to torture that person for ever and ever would not?
Aside from emotions and questions of justice, the simple fact is, in both cases, God is responding to the unsaved person’s free choice with serious, eternal retribution. What Spencer is saying, or so it sounds to me, is that to react that way would be evil, and annihilationists have God reacting that way. It sounds as if respecting their man’s will means that God couldn’t rightly respond in fury and unquenchable wrath at all. After all, God gave men free will; what right would he have to punish them for it?
Now, this line of reasoning could potentially work as an argument for universalism, if one did grant that God would have to respond in love and mercy to the choices of all men. But this is isn’t coming from a universalist. After all, Spencer holds the view that because of sin, because of the unsaved person’s free choice, God will burn that person alive for ever and ever (or expose him to some sort of sadness and despair that is even worse). How is this view ultimately any different from the annihilationist view, except, perhaps, by being even harsher? Fellow Rethinking Hell contributor Glenn Peoples does an excellent job of illustrating this point through analogy, as you will see below.
Spencer is not alone in this line of reasoning. He liberally quotes Norman Geisler, who effectively says the same thing. And Geisler doesn’t just make this argument in one place. Aside from the sources Spencer cites,9 Geisler brings this argument up in his Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics. According to him:
Annihilation would demean both the love of God and the nature of human beings as free moral creatures. It would be as if God said to them, “I will allow you to be free only if you do what I say. If you don’t, then I will snuff out your very freedom and existence!” This would be like a father telling his son he wanted him to be a doctor, but when the son chose instead to be a park ranger the father shot him.10
As in Spencer’s case, this argument becomes very problematic since it is coming from someone who advocates the eternal torment view. Geisler says, “It would be as if God said to them, ‘I will allow you to be free only if you do what I say. If you don’t, then I will snuff out your very freedom and existence!'” But his view is as if God said to them, “I will allow you to be free only if you do what I say. If you don’t, then I will burn you alive for ever and ever, and give you no chance to ever freely repent or accept me and my blessings!”11
Consider also Geisler’s analogy where a son chose a job that his father didn’t want for him, and the father killed him in response. It is in response to this analogy that Dr. Peoples makes the problem with this whole line of reasoning quite vivid.
How exactly should the analogy be re-cast to describe the way Geisler thinks God will treat people who reject him? Would this be akin to a father telling his son that he wants him to be a doctor, but when his son decides to be a park ranger the father drags him downstairs to the basement, straps him to a table and begins horribly mutilating and torturing him for the rest of his life, giving him medication to ensure that he never sleeps or passes out so that he must experience the maximum amount of excruciating suffering imaginable?12
That may seem provocative and even slanderous, but considering the fact that almost all traditionalists in the history of the church have either believed that hell is a place where people are literally burned alive, or that the fire is a metaphor for something even worse, the above is not an unfair re-casting of Geisler’s analogy. Even if there are no active tortures inflicted, if the experience of not having God’s blessing is worse torment than being burned alive, then how is Dr. Peoples’s analogy somehow unfair to the view that God sends people into such a state for ever and ever?
Now, it is one thing to say that humans on this side of eternity don’t understand the seriousness of sin, and that sin warrants that kind of experience in eternity. But that’s not the point here. Whether eternal torment is just or not, proponent’s of the view that Spencer and Geisler hold are arguing that somehow, treating the unsaved like the above in response to their free choice is loving and honors free will. And yet if the God who gave them life were to take it away because they rejected him, that would be, to use the description given by Bible Answer Man Hank Hanegraaf when he made the same argument as Geisler, “a horrific evil.”1314
Despite being aware that the traditional view holds that hell is terrible, and that it is retributive punishment for the unsaved person’s ultimate choice, the above authors fail to consider the fact that when they are pointing the finger at conditionalism, three fingers are pointing back at the traditional view.
- See Part 1.
- W.O.E. Oesterly. Immortality and the Unseen World (1921), 198, reproduced at Archive.org, n.d., https://archive.org/details/immortalityandth00oestuoft (accessed March 28, 2014).
- The other two were the more detailed account in Genesis 2, and an unnamed Babylonian creation account
- Harry Buis. The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible (1957), 8, reproduced at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d., http://www.ccel.us/buis.ch1.html#6 (accessed March 26, 2014).
- John Gill, “Book 7 – Chapter 2,” A Body of Doctrinal Divinity Second Body of Divinity, reproduced at pbministries.org, n.d., http://www.pbministries.org/books/gill/Doctrinal_Divinity/Book_7/book7_02.htm (accessed on March 28, 2014).
- Even if one correctly points out that one day we will be completely sinless (and that as believers we must aim for sinlessness today even if we don’t always achieve it), that only applies to regenerate people, not every person (despite every person being made in God’s image).
- Jeff Spencer, “The Destruction Of Hell: Annihilationism Examined,” Christian Apologetics Journal, vol. 1, no.1 (Spring 1998): 9, reproduced at gospelanswers1.com, n.d., http://www.gospelanswers1.com/HellandAnnihilationismSP.pdf (accessed March 28, 2014).
- The link to Spencer’s article is in the footnotes, as per usual
- Norman L. Geisler. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker Books, 1998), 24.
- Given Geisler’s descriptions of the fire in hell, he presumably holds to the actual traditional traditionalist view, that the unsaved are burned alive in hell. See Geisler, 23.
- Glenn Peoples, “Norman Geisler on Annihilationism,” Right Reason [blog], posted May 28, 2009, http://www.rightreason.org/2009/norman-geisler-on-annihilationism/ (accessed on April 11, 2014).
- Hank Hanegraaf. Resurrection: The Capstone in the Arch of Christianity (Word, 2000), 82.
- Dr. Peoples has pointed out to Hank Hanegraaf’s mistake as well (See here).