If you have been a conditionalist for a while, you will have certainly heard it stated that annihilationism can’t be true because people suffering in hell would want to be annihilated, and therefore annihilation is actually a good thing, not a punishment.
This traditionalist objection has always made me cringe because the fact that it misses the point is almost self-evident: annihilation is a bad thing because it is worse than the alternative fate of eternal life with God. That seems pretty simple, right?
However, I have never really laid down in one place a solid rebuttal to this argument. I hope to rectify that here. Because it is accepted by many, and because healthy dialogue is seldom furthered by simply telling others “you’re wrong, stupid,” I’d like to take this opportunity to break down this line of reasoning and explain where I think it falls short.
Firstly, I actually agree that annihilation is a less terrible fate than eternal torment – at least the historical Christian version of eternal torment that involved fire and unbelievable pain and suffering, that is. By comparison, death would be an improvement. Annihilationists are divided on this, but that is where I stand. Therefore, if some people were in hell, being horribly tormented, burned alive (or its equivalent) in the presence of Jesus and the angels (which is as much a part of Revelation 14:9-11 as the references to the smoke of their torment and “for ever and ever”), and these people were given the option to be destroyed or to stay in that condition for eternity, they would surely choose destruction. And in doing so, they would be better off than if they stayed alive in traditionalist hell for ever and ever. To this extent, I agree with the traditionalist sentiment behind this argument.
That said, this is irrelevant as to whether or not evangelical conditionalism is true.