For the past week or so, I’ve been privately debating (via email, with some “listeners”) an advocate of annihilationism, an alternate belief to traditional views of hell and eternal punishment, contending that unbelievers are “annihilated” or extinct upon judgment. Hell is not eternal, they say, and neither is punishment, though the outcome of punishment may be. I do not think any of my readers will be interested in reading the entire transcript (trust me, it’s long and tedious, even from my viewpoint!), and to protect the innocent (or guilty in this case!), i.e., my conversation partner, I won’t reproduce it here. But here’s a thought I had regarding annihilationism: it has a correlation with atheism. Let me explain.
Atheism is the belief that there is no God. Consequently, we are just animals, except more intelligent and sophisticated than the other species. Whether there is a soul is debatable, but generally a naturalist denies the human soul (or spirit), in the sense that there is no afterlife upon death and that we are simply extinguished. Annihilationism sort of says the same thing, that people who do not believe in God, e.g., atheists, upon death simply extinguish; the soul ceases to exist. Some annihilationists say that they suffer some form of the wrath of God before extinguishing. Those who submit to Jesus and believe in him are rewarded by being granted everlasting life (non-extinction), which is what heaven is. I have many arguments against this, but this isn’t the place to reproduce them.
Of course, the way I have explained it above has shown the correlation I have made between annihilationism and atheism: annihilationism simply applies atheism for unbelievers, while atheism is applied to all. However, when we read Scripture, we see numerous passages where unbelievers will suffer eternally for their rejection of God. John the Baptist spoke of it; Jesus spoke of it; Paul spoke of it; John the Apostle spoke of it.
Hell is not a popular topic at all. It should not be. It should be something we should shudder at, because it is where God’s wrath against rebellion and rejection of himself will be poured over. I do not take God’s wrath for granted, and I would not want to experience that, nor would I want anyone else to experience it. But in fact, it is a place that no human being in his right mind would conjure up; it is only something that God would have to communicate within holy revelation that we would accept such a place–and even those who read his revelation do not accept it! But just like atheism, annihilationism is a human construct, meant to comfort those who cannot accept such a horrific place of destruction. In simple terms, annihilationism makes us feel good. I would love for annihilationism to be true; but it is not. The Bible is clear: all who reject God will experience his punishment forever (Matt 25:46; 2 Thess 1:9). And that is something that we seriously need to consider as we live our lives.