Some people, mostly universalists but others as well, point out that annihilation* is not consistent with Gods character. If God is love then moving from a God who chains up people and tortures them for all of eternity to a God who simply executes His enemies does not seem like a vast improvement ethically. Indeed both eternal conscious torment and annihilation can appear contradictory to other ideas presented in scripture like loving ones enemies (1) or the idea that God desires that none would perish (2) but that everyone would come to a place of repentance. Some conditionalists like Greg Boyd are uncomfortable with the term annihilation (as am I) and instead describe the destruction of the lost as a sort of divine euthanasia (3).
Another way of dealing with the problem reflecting my current thought process that I would like to propose though is to recognize that humans, in their fallen position, cannot exist in God’s presence when His glory and power is fully manifest:
But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" - Exodus 33:20
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, "Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. - Exodus 19:21
Then the sons of Israel spoke to Moses, saying, "Behold, we perish, we are dying, we are all dying! "Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, must die. Are we to perish completely?" - Numbers 17:12-13
In the Old Testament we see that God made a lot of rules to protect His people from perishing by entering His presence. Only select people could touch certain objects or enter certain places and even that required specific rituals concerning washing, wearing special clothes, performing certain sacrifices, adhering to a specific timetable and more. In one particular portion of scripture (2 Samuel 6:1-7), a guy with the best of intentions, by the name of Uzzah touches the Ark of the Covenant and is immediately struck dead. Many other places offer similar warnings as well (Exodus 28:35, 43, 30:20 - 21, Leviticus 10:9, 16:2, 13, 22:9, Numbers 4:15, 18-22, Deuteronomy 5:25, 18:16 and Judges 13:22). To offer a somewhat weak analogy, imagine that going to space requires certain gear in order for an astronaut to survive the harsh conditions, without it his skin would quickly burn as would his lungs as he tried to draw in a breath of air. Yet the clothing that he wears allows him to survive in this climate. This I believe is similar to how it works with Gods presence and those who are ‘clothed’ in Christ.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. – Galatians 3:26-27
This is symbolically represented with the veil in the temple that was torn from the top down when Jesus died on the cross (Mark 15:37-38). Like a fire that burns away grass and straw but purifies gold and precious stones, God is in a sense the destroying agent but He is also our hope, in Christ, of surviving an outer-space like environment. He is no more an executioner or 'God the Annihilator' (I can see the movie poster already) as space would be in the astronaut’s case. Rather, He protects us from entering in an unworthy manner and clothes us in a way that enables us to with boldness, enter into His presence. On the other hand though, those who reject Gods warnings and do not clothe themselves in Christ are consumed as light overwhelms darkness or as fire consumes the tares. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 puts it this way:
These shall be punished with everlasting destruction (they will be destroyed forever) from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.
Of course others may not feel a need to reconcile the love of God with the severity of eternal torments (traditionalism) or eternal destruction (annihilationism) at all and be content pointing to Gods justice to satisfy their own questions surrounding punishment. For myself and I suspect a few others as well though, justice and love are not opposite sides of a coin but complimentary and harmonious. It is not either or but both always and the question deserves reflection. The image attached to this post gripped me when I saw it, Is Jesus dropping people into hell or is He extending His hand in order to save people from destruction? I don't mean that in a post mortem repentance sense as it might sound but rather as it applies to the character of God and how it is revealed in Jesus. These are mostly just the thoughts expressed that are swirling around inside my head and I’d love to hear others opinions and understandings on the subject as well. What are the strengths and weaknesses that you see above? How would you answer the question posed in the title of this post? I am all ears and would love to hear from you as we seek out answers together.
*Annihilation is the belief that only the righteous inherit eternal life and the wicked will be raised for judgement but ultimately perish rather than live forever in fiery torments.
1 – Matthew 5:44
2 – 2 Peter 3:9
3 - https://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankviola/gregboydnew/