Q. This is a follow-up on the punishment forever question. Ever since I read about the view you discussed (a couple years ago actually in one of your articles) I’ve been looking for something concrete to back this up. The idea appeals to me humanly, and presents a view of God consistent with his love … However, I’m coming up dry.
Also, in light of Isaiah 66:24 and Mark 9:48 (and possibly 2 other vs in the KJV, I believe where it is repeated in the Mk 9 passage) I feel this is refuting the annihilation view. Is there another interpretation of “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched”. I’ve been wrestling with this now for about a year but wanted to find an answer through my own study. Can you help?
A. Among the three leading interpretations of Scripture pertaining to the destiny of unbelievers, the traditional view of eternal suffering is most consistent with Scripture. Those who like the conditional view point to the concept of being judged according to their works as being more in in line with God’s character, but they don’t have a good explanation for the verses you cite. (I won’t address the allegorical view for obvious reasons.)
In John 6:28-29 Jesus was asked what works God requires of us. Jesus answered, “Believe in the One He has sent.” With a perfect (might I say Heaven sent?) opportunity to list everything that God expects from us, Jesus mentioned only this. If this is God’s only required work than being judged according to our works could simply mean judged according to whether we believe or not.
We humans need to get over our self importance. From my reading of the Bible it seems like throughout history we’ve distinguished ourselves primarily by messing things up. God chooses to work through us out of love, but He definitely doesn’t need our help. He rewards believers with crowns because of our attitude of gratitude, not our results. Like he did with Adam and Eve, maybe God has given us only one rule. Believe in the One He has sent. Everything else comes after that, and with out it nothing else matters.
If that’s the case then the admired non-believing philanthropist and the reviled mass murderer are on equal footing. They both failed to fulfill God’s only requirement.