James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.
My parents were not religious. I never saw either of them read the Bible or pray or go to church. However, both sides of my family featured plenty of devout Christians, Baptists on one side and Pentecostals on the other. So, I grew up hearing all about fire and brimstone and warnings about trillions of years of torture looming in my future if I was not saved.
In my twenties, I attended a Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) for a few years. I enjoyed it very much and learned a lot from the SDA. I believe they are correct that the Sabbath Day is Saturday. Their dietary rules obviously work. They are a healthy lot with long life spans. Their other distinctive doctrine is annihilationism. The SDA teaches that the wicked are not tormented by God forever and a day but are annihilated. Gone. Poof.
Sadly, the church changed pastors. On his first day, the new minister preached a sermon in which he declared Christians down through the centuries who went to church on Sunday are among the annihilated. Damned because of the day they worship. I thought about all the fine Christians I had known, especially my paternal grandmother, widely held to be a saint even by devout sinners. There was no way a loving God would bar her from Heaven because of such a mistake—if it was a mistake. I left that church and never went back. Ever since I have been a plain old Christian with no denomination. Some would call me an Evangelical, an appellation that suits me just fine.
Anyway, I digress. Let us take a look at life after death.
Conditional Immortality & Annihilationism
Now I am not going to throw around a lot of big fancy words here. Conditional Immortality means that only the redeemed will live forever. The New Testament is clear that God will give the saved the gift of Eternal Life. I cannot find where it says the wicked will. Instead, it pronounces that the wicked will experience the Second Death after they face Judgment Day. They will perish and be no more. It is everlasting punishment in the sense that their destruction is everlasting. There is no coming back.
It is not only the SDA that holds this view. It is as old as Christianity itself but has never been the majority position by any means. Second-century guys such as Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus seemed to think that only the elect live forever. Later Protestant heroes Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and John Wycliffe supported conditional immortality.
In 1995, the Church of England proclaimed, “Hell is not eternal torment but non-being.” If you think about it, non-being is a dreaded punishment.
The Roman Catholic Church calls my view heresy. It is known as annihilationism. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992, paragraph 1861) states that Hell is “eternal death.” Even the ancient Athanasian Creed says, read this closely, “They that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire." Notice it is the fire that is everlasting, not the lives of those in it. Fire does what fire does. It burns up what is thrown into it.
The Catholic Church does say that punishments after death are not equal for all. So perhaps, how long it takes to burn you up—to annihilate you—depends on how much sin you have committed during your lifetime. The higher the mountain of sin, the longer one would burn in Hell before the extinguishing Second Death. It would make sense that a Hitler, Stalin, or Mao, or even a Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy might burn longer than a run-of-the-mill rebel.
The Word of God
You will search in vain if you try to find any reference to eternal torment in the Old Testament or even any suffering after death. What we do see is: "the ungodly shall perish" (Psalm 1); “the fire shall devour them" (Psalm 21:9); “As wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God." (Psalm 68:2); “shall be destroyed forever" (Psalm 92:7); "let the wicked be no more" (Psalm 104:35); "all the wicked He will destroy" (Psalm 145:20); “the wicked will be snuffed out." (Proverbs 24:20); "rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed" (Isaiah 1:28–31); “they shall be as stubble, The fire shall burn them” (Isaiah 47:14); “they shall be as though they had never been” (Obadiah 1:16); “For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet” (Malachi 4:3).
What about the fate of the unrepentant sinners in the New Testament? "God will destroy that person" (1 Corinthians 3:17); "those that perish" (2 Corinthians 2:15); "whose end is destruction" (Philippians 3:19): "who shall be punished with everlasting destruction" (2 Thessalonians 1:9); "There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy" (James 4:12); "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12); "broad is the way that leads to destruction" (Matthew 7:13); “fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” Matthew 10:28); “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16); “the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:14); “the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
We must remember that God told Adam and Eve disobedience brings death. Notice the Serpent tells them a different story: "You surely will not die." He implies to Adam and Eve that they already were immortal beings who should have no fear of death. They sinned, and they did die. The Devil lied.
Romans 2:7 says that God will give eternal life only to those who persistently seek immortality. It makes no sense to seek that which you already possess.
Romans 6:23 teaches, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And inside Psalm 37, we find, “For those who are evil will be destroyed, the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. The wicked will perish; God will completely destroy wrongdoers. All sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked.”
There is an air of finality there. Scripture does say that God has or is an "unquenchable flame." To me, that means you cannot run down there with a firehose and put it out.
God is love. A loving God would have no interest in tormenting people forever. But those who reject Him must be punished. God is holy, so sin cannot abide in His presence. I think that when those who reject God’s grace appear before Him, they will be burned up by the light of His glory. Christians will only be saved by the protective heat shield that stands in front of us: Jesus.
All of life is dependent on God. Only believers in Jesus Christ will be granted life eternal. You must prepare for eternity now.
Special thanks to my friend Ron Calugar for inspiration and the Bible verses.
James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 03, 2021:
Stephen Brown ~ Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I am so glad to find a kindred spirit on this issue. I sincerely appreciate your gracious compliments on my work. Yes, you are right about John Stott. I should have mentioned him in my piece.
I wholeheartedly agree with you: "I believe that our theology should be derived from the Scriptures as opposed to Dante and the pagan philosophers."
James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 01, 2021:
Pamela Oglesby ~ Thank you for reading my writings. I always look forward to your response. I think you put that just right: "God is love, and we love others as ourselves." Amen. I am glad you found this one interesting.
Stephen A Brown on October 01, 2021:
I totally agree with your view concerning the annihilation of the wicked, James. Although this doctrine is not considered "orthodox" by the standards of evangelical Christianity, I believe that under the light of reasonable scrutiny this is what the scriptures actually teach. There are great men from many doctrinal paths that have taught this doctrine such as the great Anglican theologian John Stott and the faith healer William Branham. The Essenes of Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls scribes) also taught a form of annihilationism and spiritual refinement. With that being said, I believe that our theology should be derived from the Scriptures as opposed to Dante and the pagan philosophers. Splendid work as always, my friend.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 30, 2021:
This is a very interesting article about afterlife, James. I know God is love, and we love others as ourselves. We treat everyone with Love and generosity, although I don't think that work has been used. He tells us exactly how to live. I attend a non-denominational church also.