Soulbook: What Happens to the Soul After Death? @Enwrightened
Eternal Punishment From the Believer’s Perspective
Some believe that, while all people do possess a soul, only the faithful child of God has an immortal nature. In other words, the souls of those who die outside of Christ are not immortal and, thus, perish when the body dies, while the soul of the Christian goes to Heaven. In the July 1852 issue of Christian Magazine, a popular preacher from Nashville, Tennessee, by the name of Jesse B. Ferguson, asked: “Is Hell a dungeon dug by Almighty hands before man was born, into which the wicked are to be plunged? And is the salvation upon the preacher’s lips a salvation from such a Hell? For ourself, we rejoice to say it, we never believed, and upon the evidence so far offered, never can believe it.” In his book, The Fire That Consumes, Edward W. Fudge taught the same concept when he wrote: “The wicked, following whatever degree and duration of pain that God may justly inflict, will finally and truly die, perish and become extinct forever and ever.” The pervading idea is that God loves us and could not possibly punish someone eternally. The idea of Hell is so repugnant to people that they will do and say almost anything to get around it. We do this type of thing in our lives all the time. Consider how people sometimes rationalize hot topics like the death penalty or abortion. Some who advocate abortion, for instance, claim that the “thing” inside the wombs of “its” mother is not human and therefore has no rights. But, a DNA test and an ultrasound prove differently. The same goes for Hell. The truth of God’s Word portrays Hell as a real place with eternal characteristics. No matter how inconvenient or unpalatable this truth may be, it still is truth.
One of the attempts to get around the idea of Hell is to look at it as a non-existent state, called annihilation. Annihilation is defined as the complete destruction of the Soul, rendering it non-existent forever. Author F. LaGard Smith strenuously argued that God will “destroy it [referring to the soul]. Not punish it. Not dangle it. Not torture it. Destroy it!” (1988). Three years later, in October 1991, Wayne Jackson (as editor of the Christian Courier) wrote LaGard Smith to ask him about his position on the destiny of the souls of the wicked. Within a week, Smith replied via a five-page, handwritten letter in which he admitted that he believed in “the possibility that part of the ultimate punishment of the wicked is total destruction of their souls.” In December 1986, Alan Pickering spoke at the Central Church of Christ in Stockton, California and advocated the view that the souls of the wicked, after a limited period of punishment, will cease to exist. As he had done with LaGard Smith, Wayne Jackson (who lives in Stockton) wrote Pickering to inquire if the material available on audio tape from his lectures did, in fact, accurately represent his views. In a telephone conversation a few days later, Mr. Pickering acknowledged that it did, and even went so far as to state that the concept of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked was a “slap in the face of God.” He then challenged Wayne to a public debate on the matter—a challenge he later retracted when his offer was accepted. If souls are simply destroyed after death, how do we account for the eternal nature of God (Father, Son, and Spirit) and the angels? What about Satan and his angels? Are we to believe that they will be annihilated too? Logic and, most of all, Scripture dictate otherwise. Why would one soul be any more or less eternal than another? What power could annihilate a soul and why? What would the purpose be? Obviously, the logic attached to the nature of God and the souls He has formed overwhelms the question of annihilation.
Of course, the easiest way to dispel all of the questions is not though philosophical debate, but through the truth of God’s Word. What does the Bible teach concerning the destiny of the soul? First, the Soul of the righteous lives on in Heaven. When David’s son (born as a result of his adultery with Bathsheba) died shortly after birth, he said: “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, “Who knows whether Jehovah will not be gracious to me, that the child may live?” But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23). Job said: “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last He will stand upon the earth: And after my skin, even this body, is destroyed, then without my flesh shall I see God; Whom I, even I, shall see, on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger” (Job 19:25-27). Jesus said: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes on Me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever lives and believes on Me shall never die” (John 11:25-27). It’s a comfort to understand that there is a soul life that will carry on after this body life is over. Actually, the soul life is the one we live now and have had since our souls were formed and joined to our bodies. We merely perceive this life as physical because the physicality of it obscures our view into the spiritual. What a wonder it will be when all of this physicality is dissolved and we will experience true life in the spirit with a soul that has been cleansed of the universe. Heaven will be discussed in depth later in the book, but it’s an amazing thing to consider. Since our souls are the center of us, it seems that talking about our souls should be the center of life and more so talking about God, Whose image they are formed from, should be the greatest object of understanding and focus. Once again, it’s about the Soul, not the Face.
Now we need to see the flip side of the eternality of the righteous soul. What happens to the unrighteous? What did Christ mean when He warned: “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28)? As D.M. Lake observed, at the very least this “does imply a transcendental reality that is in some cases independent of the body. This seems to be the force of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 10:28” (1976, 5:497). The “destruction” of which Jesus spoke was described by the apostle John as the “second death.” The devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever. And they were judged every man according to their works. And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10-14). In Matthew 25:46, Jesus said that the wicked would “go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” In his second epistle to the Christians at Thessalonica, Paul wrote specifically of “them that know not God” and “obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” as those “who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of His might” (1:8-9). Wayne Jackson wrote: “There is, however, no punishment, or suffering, apart from consciousness. And yet, consciousness (knowledge, awareness) is a characteristic of the spirit (1 Cor. 2:11). One must necessarily infer, therefore, that the spirit (or soul) of man will exist in an eternal conscious state. Jesus once said, regarding the traitor Judas, that it would have been better for that man had he never been born (Mark 14:21). If Judas did not exist before his earthly life, and yet was to be annihilated eventually, how does the Lord’s statement make sense? How is non-existence better than existence?” While we might not like the idea that people will consciously experience Hell for eternity, it is important to realize that people make a conscious choice for Hell over Heaven in this life and, thereby, choose Hell by rejecting God. Ultimately, Hell is a choice a person makes. God gives us what we want, whether He wants it for us or not. “He is not willing that anyone should perish” (2 Peter 3:9). In the end analysis, it becomes obvious that, while God does not want us to go into eternal punishment, He loves us enough to allow us to choose. For, without choice there is no love. Our choices not only define who we are, but our eternal destiny. Who you are really has very little, if nothing at all, to do with your physical being. All of you is wrapped up in who you truly are, and who you truly are is your soul. Proverbs 27:19 depicts this very well: “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.” Is it the Face you see when you look at yourself and others, or is it the Soul?
People will continue to reject the idea of Hell regardless of the proof from logic and Scripture. Hell and the afterlife, in general, carry with them the connotation of personal volition. With this concept in tow, many people do not want to be ultimately responsible for their ultimate end and, therefore, will try to avoid the idea that there is an eternal place of punishment or rest. The idea of a Creator is simply too much for some people to entrust their existence to and, therefore, they balk at the thought. Unfortunately, many human beings simply want to have control with no responsibility, leading them to reject a Creator who endowed them with that very freedom to choose to reject Him. When this happens, imagine the hurt God must feel, not for Himself, but for the Soul He loves. Yet, the separation remains, as does the love.
Some believers will continue to try to reconcile God’s love with Hell, but Hell is not a result of a lack of perfect love from God. In fact, God shows us perfect love by giving us the choice and further shows us perfect love through Jesus and His sacrifice for us all. Not only did humans have the chance and the choice to remain in a perfect relationship with God from the beginning, they had everything provided to them for life and goodness in this universe. When the wrong choice was made by the original human beings God created, this chance and choice was removed, at least to some degree. Jesus’ sacrifice brought that gift back to the human race. We will cover that fact later in the book. Jesus is the whole cure for the disease of sin. The love and choice that He brings is more than humanity could have ever hoped for or imagined.
Your soul has an eternal nature that guarantees you a post-physical existence of some sort. The life you live within your physical manifestation will orient your soul toward an eternal existence in either Heaven or Hell. Therefore, as you might be manifested in physical form here and now, you still must live a spiritual life in this reality in order to orient yourself properly for your eternal destiny. The most intense and amazing characteristic of this understanding of life is the fact that you don’t have to live perfectly, but instead, you must live in perfection. That is to say, you cannot be perfect enough yourself to get yourself to an eternity of rest, but through Someone perfect, through whom you have completion and cleansing, you can be steered toward and, ultimately, locked-into that existence. On the converse, you can also steer your own existence any direction you wish and be locked into an eternity of destruction. Overall, the end of the matter rests on a choice.
The clear answer to existence after your physical manifestation is complete is that Heaven and Hell are real, eternal existences. There is a temptation to refer to these abodes as “places”, however, as they are not physical realms, this description would be inaccurate. Heaven and Hell could, perhaps, be described more as states of being, one that is pleasant and is joined with the life giving God and one that is completely the opposite since it is infinitely removed from that joined state. The characterization of a time of existence in either of these two realities is inappropriate, as well as the nature of eternity carries with it timelessness. As hard as it is for us as physical, time-constrained beings to understand this concept, when we are no longer fettered by this existence, the properties of such a place will be completely evident to us, while still amazing and new.