“’Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:24)
God is love. (1 John 4:16)
There is a difficult tension that many believers confront when the doctrine of eternal punitive condemnation in Hell is contrasted to the pure love and holiness of God. How could a God of such love and mercy create such a place as the torturous horror of the chambers of Hell? Not only that, how would he condemn his creations to this painful punishment forever? In the course of answering these questions and responding to a call for the reconsideration of the doctrine of Hell, the concept of Annihilationism has been created. This school of thought believes that although not everyone will be saved (cf: universalism), those who are not saved will not face unending punishment. Instead, those not saved will simply cease to exist; they will be destroyed or annihilated. The core belief that supports this modified doctrine is that no one, regardless of the enormity of their sin, deserves eternal suffering.
A form of annihilationism known as conditional immortality states that the human being in his nature is mortal. Those who die unredeemed will be allowed by God to pass out of existence while the believer is granted immortality so that they survive death. A more developed form of this doctrine sees the unredeemed participating in the resurrection but that they will again pass out of existence while the saved enjoy the new heavens and new earth. Another form of annihilation envisions a period of punishment but that it is not eternal. After some measure of time has passed, perhaps in proportion to the sinfulness of the person, the soul finally ceases to exist.
The difficulty with annihilation is that there is little direct support in the Scriptures for the doctrine. The typical annihilationist reads the passages that refer to the final states, specifically those referring to destruction, literally. For example, Matthew 7:13 says:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
The word destruction is interpreted literally as matter being destroyed, fulfilling the annihilationist’s view of the end state. The Greek word apoleian does not support this literal interpretation but English readers have continued to do so. The annihilationist must also explain the number of passages that support the eternal measure of perdition. Many complex scriptural structures have been constructed to perform this task but the majority of the Church has not been convinced.