A DOSE OF FAITH
Richard G. Mendoza, MPH, PHD
Pr. Richard Mendoza works at the Central Luzon Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. An educator and promoter of health, he complements his advocacies with spiritual and values-oriented insights.
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Throughout Scripture it is clear that “forever” has its limits. The Old Testament says that a slave could serve his master “forever” (Ex. 21:6), that the child Samuel was to abide in the tabernacle “forever” (1 Sam. 1:22), and that Jonah thought he would be in the belly of the great fish “forever” (Jonah 2:6). The New Testament uses this term in a similar way: Paul, for example, counseled Philemon to receive Onesimus “forever” (Philemon 15). In all these instances “forever” means “as long as the person lives.”
Psalm 92:7 says that the wicked will be destroyed forever. And prophesying of the great final conflagration, Malachi said, “’The day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘that will leave them neither root nor branch’” (Mal. 4:1).
Once the wicked—Satan, evil angels, and impenitent people—are all destroyed by fire, both root and branch, there will be no further use for death or hades. These also God will eternally destroy (Rev. 20:14).
So the Bible makes it very clear that the punishment, not the punishing, is everlasting—is the second death. From this punishment there is no resurrection; its effects are eternal. The full penalty of God’s law having been executed, the demands of justice are satisfied. Now heaven and earth proclaim the righteousness of the Lord.
The Cleansing of the Earth. Describing the day of the Lord, when all traces of sin will be eliminated, Peter said, “The heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).
The fire that destroys the wicked purifies the earth from the pollution of sin. Out of the ruins of this earth God will bring “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1). From this cleansed, re-created earth—the eternal home of the redeemed— God will forever banish mourning, pain, and death (Rev. 21:4). Finally the curse sin brought will have been lifted (Rev. 22:3). This is what we believe based on the Bible. (Sourced from Chap. 24-27, “Seventhday Adventist Believe…”1988 Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1988 Hagerstown, Maryland).
The doctrine of eternal torment is the logical partner of the doctrine of immortality of the soul, but both teachings did not come from the Bible. Historically, “The concept of a soul within us that cannot die first became a ‘Christian’ doctrine at the end of the second century AD. Hell had been taught in Greek philosophy long before the time of Jesus, with Plato (427-347 BC) as the important leader in this thinking. The teaching of an everlasting place of punishment for the wicked is the natural consequence of a belief in an immortal soul.
At the end of the 2nd century Christianity had begun to blend Greek philosophy. It was Athenagorus, a Christian, but whose teachings, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, were strongly tinged with Platonism, who had introduced the teaching of an immortal soul into Christianity. In this way, he paved the way for the logical introduction of eternal torment for immortal, but sinful, souls. This was a hundred years and more after the time of the apostles, and came straight from popular philosophy.
The apostles had consistently taught that death is a sleep, to be followed by resurrection. The early church leaders – Clement, Ignatius, Hermas, Polycarp, and others who also believed that death is a sleep, taught that the wicked are destroyed forever by fire – their punishment was to be annihilation. These leaders did not teach of an immortal soul to be tortured by fire in hell for eternity.
About AD 240 Tertullian of Carthage took up the teaching of an immortal soul. It was he who added the further, but logical dimension. He taught the endless torment of the immortal soul of the wicked was parallel to the eternal blessedness of the saved, with no sleep of death after this life.
This came at a time when many Christians were being burned for their faith and it was natural for them to accept that their persecutors would at death be consigned to an ever-burning hell for the persecution they had inflicted on others while they went straight to eternal bliss.” (source:truthaccordingtoscripture.com)
Now look, if eternal torment is true, can there be partnership between God, who looks after heaven and the Devil who looks after hell? Can a loving and just God tortures people forever for the bad things they do in less than a hundred years, puts them in hell before He has had a judgment? Some people will be punished longer than people who lived later and did worse things! Can God keep people alive so he can torture them? or, Is He not able to destroy them? I can’t imagine the scene of the saved enjoying life in heaven, while their love ones who did not make it are suffering in hell, both eternally.
The teaching of Eternal Torment could turn more people away from God than other false teachings! It seems that many, if not all of us would be better off if the concept of hell just didn’t exist at all. In fact some, in an attempt to divest their minds of such a fearful idea, make the choice to disbelieve in the idea of hell altogether, which often leads to the next step of choosing to disbelieve in a God who would create such a place.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about hell can be found in the famous text John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Here Jesus clearly states that it is the believers who are the ones that live eternally, not the wicked. What!? The wicked don’t live eternally writhing in flames? Correct! To hell with hellfire!
May 2018 Health and Lifestyle