Punished Forever?

Q. I’ve always struggled with the concept of Hell. I can understand why a person who rejects Christ should not be allowed to live with him in Heaven for eternity. That’s their choice. I can understand the concept that if you reject God, you reject everything that defines his Character: Faith, Hope and Love and all he created. However, I can’t understand why God appears to go out of his way to make Hell painful:

Rev. 21:8, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

What about the good, decent person who doesn’t come close in behavior as the above listed people. I understand they still have a sin nature and that if you commit one sin you’re basically guilty of all. Are they to suffer the same fate Hitler and the anti-Christ are destined to suffer? Are they to be given an immortal, eternal, physical body that only feels torture and pain but doesn’t die? Isn’t just “knowing” you can’t live with God enough punishment?

I guess if it had been up to me, I would have simply “annihilated” them – blot out their existence where they have no self-awareness or consciousness. This seems to me more merciful. But I’m not God and I’m not in control.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m so grateful the Lord isn’t like me. I thank Him daily for who he is and what Jesus did for me, but I don’t understand, nor can I comprehend torture for eternity and what it really accomplishes.

A. There is a school of thought that says unbelievers will be punished “according to their works” before being destroyed altogether. This would, in effect, put a person out of his or her misery following a period of punishment reflective of their lifestyle. Those who do less evil would bear shorter periods of punishment than those who did more. Scholars are divided on this issue, but one thing is clear. It’s better to be saved and avoid the situation altogether.

In all of this, it’s important to remember that the notion of relative good and evil is man’s perspective. God’s view is that apart from Him we can do no good thing. The Israelites taught us that when they were out of fellowship with God, even their required sacrifices were disgusting to Him.

But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig’s blood, and whoever burns memorial incense, like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations; so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring upon them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.” (Isaiah 66:3-4)

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