The Incompatibility of Justice and Torture
On June 26, 1987, The United Nations Convention against Torture became enforceable as a covenant between nations. The content of this international agreement is of extreme significance, not only for the protection of human rights it affords, but also for what it tells us about the general human awareness that torture is unequivocally wrong. Because human beings were created in the moral image of God, even in our fallen condition we still possess an innate sense of justice that naturally condemns torture as evil. When that sense of justice is missing from a human being so that they can engage in acts of torture without feeling guilt, we judge that person a psychopath. We know that torture does not accord with justice and that a person who engages in torturing is mentally ill at best and willfully evil at worst.
And yet, many have been taught to believe that God subjects millions of people to torture for all eternity. The most famous sermon ever preached in America is titled, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards. A few lines will suffice to remind us just how horrific the idea is:
“It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God for one moment; but you must suffer it for all eternity. . . no end to this exquisite, horrible misery . . . a boundless duration before you . . . you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance . . . you must wear out long ages . . . conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance . . . and then . . . when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point (a dot) to what remains. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite.”
Wow! This reads like Edgar Allan Poe horror. But no, it’s popular religious doctrine. Conscious beings burning alive forever! It’s difficult to imagine a more terrifying idea. And it’s even more difficult to imagine a God of love doing this to people! In this study, we will discover that the Bible paints an entirely different picture, revealing that God is just and merciful in all His ways, even in the way He will finally deal with those who, by their own choice, reject God’s gift of redemption.
The Pagan Origin of Eternal Torment
The fact is, the idea of a place of fiery torture at the center of the earth, or in some other region of the universe to which damned souls go when they die, is not taught in the Bible. Rather, it is a pagan teaching that traces back to ancient Babylon and then shows up in nearly all of the cultic religions of the ancient world, most prominently in Egypt, Persia, Greece, and, finally, in Rome, the apex of paganism. Then, as the Roman Catholic Church was gradually incorporated into the pagan Roman Empire as the official religion of the state, church leaders found it politically advantageous to “Christianize” the doctrine of eternal torment in order to secure and control multitudes of nominal converts.
There were two main features to the ancient pagan conception of deity: (1) the demand for human beings to engage in appeasement rituals, including human sacrifice, to divert divine wrath and earn divine favor, and (2) the terrifying threat of eternal imprisonment in the flames of the underworld as the punishment awaiting lost souls when they die.
Some of the ancient pagan gods are named in Scripture: Dagon, Molech, Chemosh, Ishtar, Marduk, Tammuz, and Baal. In Jeremiah 19:5, the one true God distinguishes Himself from the false god, Baal, by sharply disassociating Himself from the cruel practice of burning humans as sacrifices:
“They have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind.”
This God is different! Hear His heart. Burning human beings as sacrifices is completely foreign to His character. The very idea never enters His mind. How much more foreign to His character must it be to burn people alive forever with no hope of release from the flames!
So, then, if the doctrine of eternal torment has its origin in paganism, what does the Bible itself teach regarding the final demise of the wicked?
The Final Demise of the Wicked
First of all, we need to understand that at the foundation of the doctrine of eternal torment is the doctrine of inherent immortality—the idea that the human soul cannot die. From this premise it logically follows that wicked souls must live on eternally somewhere in God’s universe, and since they cannot live with the saints in Paradise there must be somewhere else they continue existing in a tormented state. But the Bible teaches no such thing.
READ GENESIS 3:1-5, ESPECIALLY NOTING VERSE 4, TO DISCOVER WHERE THE IDEA THAT HUMANS CANNOT DIE CAME FROM.
The Bible plainly states that God “alone has immortality” inherent in Himself (1 Timothy 6:16). The Bible just as clearly states that God will give the gift of immortality to the redeemed at the second coming of Jesus: “this mortal has put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Immortality is something God gives to the redeemed. It is not something human