The traditional view of hell, that of eternal conscious torment of the lost, is under fire again, this time, not from Christian Universalists like Rob Bell, but Conditionalists, who believe that the Bible teaches that the unsaved are punished at judgment, then are destroyed, NOT tormented forever. The term ‘Conditionalist’ is short for “Conditional Immortality,” which means that we are not eternal souls, but temporal souls who must inherit eternal life in order to exist for eternity.
I am strongly leaning this way, but of course, am not quick to abandon the Traditional view, which has been the orthodox position for most of Christian history. I am often asked WHY I am even questioning this doctrine. So here you go.
The greatest reason to consider the view is that it may be a more accurate interpretation of the text – we want to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’ (2 Tim. 2:15). While every interpretation may have some open questions, the Conditionalist view obeys Occam’s razor, that is, it is a simpler, less convoluted answer – it’s a more straight forward reading of the text.
So when, for example, Jesus says “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:25-27), we don’t have to explain that ‘destroy’ actually means eternal separation from God – it just means ‘destroy’!
Using this simpler approach is not simplistic, and I’m not saying that simpler approaches are always better, but in this case, I think it solves more theological dilemmas than it creates.
More in keeping with the law of proportionality
A second reason to reconsider it is that we claim that God is just, but the perceived injustice of punishing someone for eternity for sins performed in a short life seems out of balance – that is, it violates the law of proportionality. In the context of punishment, the common phrase for this is that ‘the punishment should fit the crime.’ Does the eternal torment view actually violate this rule of justice?
Many thoughtful, caring people see eternal conscious torment as overkill, and so reject the faith. And many, like myself, have temporarily or permanently left the faith because eternal torment seems unjust.
I do not claim that this perceived injustice is a good enough reason to doubt eternal torment, since eternal torment has its justifications. I even presented the traditional justification in Why eternal punishment? But once we open the door via exegetical scrutiny, we should also re-ask the question of proportionality. It is important to understand what is and what is not just,, since God commands us to do justice throughout the scriptures. It should not be a complete mystery to us if we are to do it!
My experience of believing and sharing this view
My experience is one of relief that I do not have to justify the ‘injustice’ of eternal hell anymore – instead, God will “repay each person according to what he has done” (Mt. 16:27), and then, after this just punishment, the person’s existence is over, and they fail to enter into eternal life. This seems entirely fair.
This is still a fearful and terrible end, yet just. Or so it seems.
You can read and lsiten more about the growing Conditionalist movement at www.rethinkinghell.com.