The Psalmist describes those who walk with God by what they do to the valley of Baca – or weeping. As they pass through this dreadful place they transform it into a well; rainwater refreshes and overflows, turning the lowest places into pools of beauty and mystery. (Ps 84:5-6)
The vale of tears is at times a long one, taxing all but the holiest souls. Most every soul passes through it, one way or another. This life is one of suffering; no one escapes unscathed. (Job 14:1) The journey is transformative for those seeking truth, stripping off dross like a refiner’s fire. (He 12:11)
What do we do in the valley of Baca? that season where there’s little physical or emotional comfort in our circumstance, when there’s so much to mourn? Do we merely endure, or do we transform this valley as we’re transformed through it?
There’s certainly a time to mourn. (Ec 3:4) But if we aren’t careful we can be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. (2Co 2:7) We’re to be afflicted and mourn (Ja 4:9), but not like the world. (1Th 4:13) What we have in God ought to bring an undercurrent of rejoicing, even in our sorrow. (2Co 6:10)
How do we mourn with those who mourn (Ro 12:15), without it becoming too painful, overcoming us with grief? How do we turn these inevitable seasons of weeping into wells overflowing with the abundant water of life? (Jn 7:38) Perhaps it lies in gaining heavenly perspective in our suffering. (Ps 73:16-17)
Those who’s strength is God Himself go from strength to strength (Ps 84:5), walking with God through this world of suffering (7), knowing He’s good, that He works all things to the good of those who love Him (Ro 8:28), and that He Himself is the eternal reward of those who seek Him. (He 11:6) They know all with heavenly perspective are rejoicing in all of the works of God (Ps 145:10), highlighted and revealed through all the evil and suffering He allows. (Ps 76:10) In the end, the righteous rejoice in all of it (Re 15:4), and glory in God Himself. (2Co 10:17)
Our light affliction is but for a moment, but it works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (2Co 4:17) It’s only as we look at the eternal that we gain divine perspective and properly align ourselves with reality. (18)
Contentment is finding rest and peace in my present circumstance, viewing it as appropriate and satisfactory, so long as my very basic needs are met. (1Ti 6:8) The secret to getting ahead is realizing I’m already there: right now, there’s no better place for me to be than where I am. (1Ti 6:6)
Discontent is my alternative: chaffing against and resisting my condition because I believe I deserve better. It’s a state of turbulent unthankfulness, disappointment, covetousness and lust (Is 57:20); as long as I’m exalting myself above my circumstances I’ll never be satisfied. (Pr 27:20)
The key to contentment must then be humility, fully aligning with God as to what I deserve so my expectations are appropriate. It’s all about perspective.
What do I deserve then?
Reality is, no matter what condition I find myself in, God’s being incredibly merciful to me (La 3:22-23): He’s not giving me what I deserve. He’s never fully dealt with any living soul according to their true sinfulness. (Ps 103:10) Even as I fear Him and serve Him the best I know how, His mercy toward me is infinite. (11) Until I’m burning in the deepest infernos of Hell, I’m under mercy (Ps 23:6); I deserve infinite punishment. (La 3:39)
So when I’m complaining, ungrateful, unthankful and restless because I don’t have whatever, I’m despising the tender, infinite mercy of God, walking in the primal lie that God’s not good. (Ge 3:5)
Wisdom learns contentment through experience (Php 4:11); finding security and comfort in God’s faithfulprovision rather than in having physical/mental health or material wealth. (He 13:5-6) It learns in every circumstance to live from a perception of fullness and sufficiency rather than lack (Php 4:12), because God’s provision is not only merciful, it’s perfect for His purposes. (Ro 8:28)
Clearly, contentment ought not to breed laziness or complacency; we ought to be industrious (Pr 13:23), innovative and disciplined (Pr 6:10-11) in bettering our lives and those of others. (Ep 4:28) It’s hard for anyone to seek God and glorify Him when struggling to merely survive; we’re to remember the destitute and do what we can to help. (Ga 2:10)
Yet in pursuing the forbidden to satiate our cravings we self-deceive (Pr 5:20); even when we manage to succeed, it’s ultimately pointless and empty. (Ec 2:11)
By design, only God Himself can satisfy. (Ep 3:19) Everything else I could ever desire is merely a shadow reminding me of Him. (Ps 72:25) When my soul is discontent, the cure is seekingGod Himself, to feed in His majesty. (Mi 5:4)
The goodness of God ensures His judgements are right (Ps 119:75); the righteous understand that any affliction or punishment He prescribes is perfectly appropriate, faithful and just, more than deserved. (67,71) To resist or complain when God afflicts us is to defiantly reject His goodness and claim He’s inherently malevolent and evil; it’s exalting ourselves above God, arrogant presumption of the highest order (Ps 19:13), insisting we know better. (Ge 3:22)
This includes all those suffering everlasting punishment(Mt 25:46); to believe in God and receive Him from there, from Hellitself, which the wicked should certainly still do (Re 22:17), is to acknowledge that all divine punishments are appropriate in response to offenses and crimes committed against God; the wicked shouldn’t complain against or resist the wrath of God, even from Hell. (Re 15:4) They should exclaim with all Heaven that God’s judgments are true and right. (Re 16:7)
However, the wicked will not do this (Ge 4:13), because the very wellspring of wickedness is the belief that God is not good, that He is unjust. (Ge 3:5) Even to escape the fires of Hell itself, the wicked won’t repent of this sin against God; they’ll stubbornly persist in it. (Re 6:16)
Consider the story Christ tells of a rich man in Hell, lifting up his eyes in torment, pleading with Abraham to relieve him in his misery. (Lk 16:23-24) He plays on mercy to tempt the righteous to do what God will not do, and thereby admit God’s justice is too severe. Yet Abraham aligns with God and refuses, reminding the rich man of his sins against God and Man, having profoundly neglected the helpless in their earthly suffering (21), and of the righteous consequences. (25)
The rich man’s next move is to again beg Abraham to do something else God will not do: send someone back from the dead just to warn his family to flee the wrath to come. (27-28) This is a second attack upon God, directed at His self-revelation, claiming it’s insufficient, again implying His punishments are unjust. Abraham again refuses, pointing out that his family has perfectly sufficient proof of God’s character and expectation: God has plainly revealed Himself in Torah and the Prophets. (29)
The rich man persists in his denial of the sufficiency of God’s provision, insisting that his family would repent and be saved if they witnessed such a spectacular miracle. (30) This is a third arrogant attack upon God, directed at His knowledge of Man: his presumption is that God is misinformed, that we’re mostly reasonable people, his family in particular, undeserving of eternal punishment; we simply lack sufficient warning to live in light of eternity. Yet Abraham remains faithful: God knows Man’s depraved heart and is revealing Himself to mankind accordingly. (31)
What would God do if the wicked softened their hearts in Hell and acknowledged His goodness? If we know God well we know how He’d respond: His mercy is infinite toward those who fear Him. (Ps 103:11)
Why won’t the wicked honor God then, even from Hell? Why would anyone ever deliberately sin against God? This is indeed the true mystery, the mystery of iniquity(2Th 2:7): the desperate wickedness of Man; the godly are horrified by it; we may never fully understand it. (Je 17:9)
In repentance, regardless of our suffering at God’s hands (La 3:9), we admit to receiving the due reward of our deeds (Lk 23:41) and heed God’s warning to flee the wrath to come. (Lk 3:7) This is God’s gift to all who are willing to acknowledge that He is, and that He faithfully rewards all who diligently seek Him. (He 11:6)
Who are the children of God? Who will dwell eternally with Him? Am I one of these blessed souls? Are you?
We’ve been asking this question for millennia (Ps 15:1), and God’s been answering (2), but it’s easy to miss Him if we aren’t seeking. (Ro 10:16)
As Christ begins His public ministry, He gives us a window into this precious company of eternal souls, telling us what we’re like, how to begin to identify us. He doesn’t describe those with a particular theology or doctrine; rather, Christ shows us what we believe by describing our behavior, how we live. (Mt 7:20)
He begins with the poor in spirit(Mt 5:2): we who, finding ourselves entirely insufficient to meet God’s righteous standard on our own merit (Ro 7:18), to please Him in any way in our own strength (2Co 2:16), to even think clearly without Him – find God Himself to be our sufficiency. (2Co 3:5) We enter into His rest by faith. (He 4:10)
Note this well: these blessed souls, the poor in spirit, comprise the kingdom of God: in other words, all in God’s kingdom are poor in spirit, and no one else is – the kingdom is ours. (Mt 5:2b)
He continues to describe these precious souls – God calls us saints(Ep 1:1) – as those who mourn(Mt 5:4), who grieve as God’s law is broken (Ps 119:158), especially within the church. (1Co 5:2) Saints find no ease in the midst of sin(1Co 13:6); we’re afflicted in it, we mourn and weep over sin, both within and without. (Ja 4:9) As we do, we’re comforted: Christ is our sin, and He’s making us righteous. (2Co 5:21) He’s also restraining sin in the wicked according to His perfect will and plan (Ps 76:10), so we thank Him in and for everything. (Ep 5:20)
Christ continues to describe the blessed: we’re meek(Mt 5:5), submitted to God and obedient to Him (1Pe 1:2); we hunger and thirst after righteousness(Mt 5:6), continually pursuing the living God and wanting to be more like Him (Ro 2:7); we’re merciful(Mt 5:7), rejoicing when others repent and turn from their sin. (Lk 15:10); we’re pure in heart(Mt 5:8), cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2Co 7:1); we’re peacemakers(Mt 5:9), encouraging every soul around us to align with the eternal God. Consequently, we’re also persecuted(Mt 5:10), we don’t fit in with the world because we’re no longer of it. (Jn 15:19)
When we find God at work in our souls like this, conforming us to the image of His beloved Son, we confirm we’re blessed, bound for eternity with God: ours is the kingdom – it belongs to us, and no one else. (Ep 5:5-6)
Jehovah promises that if I wait on Him, my strength will be renewed. (Is 40:31) This isn’t merely a call to silence and inactivity, if it is that at all; wait relates more to having an expectation that God will be faithfulto His Word, to His name, to His character — that He will keep His promises. (Nu 23:19)
When I expect God to be as He has revealed Himself to be, and to do as He has promised, I honor Him and please Him. When I take God at His Word, and live as if He is as He truly is, I’m aligning myself with reality, and this is the place of strength; this is when I’m at my best, living according to my design, as strong as I can be.
But when I alienate myself from the life of God through my ignorance of His Way(Ep 4:18), when I cling to false ways in my unwillingness to fully trust Him, I emulate the world (17), living in anxiety, frustration and fear, which steals my joy – which is my strength. (Ne 8:10)
My motive for distrusting God appears to be a fear of being let down should God fail me, as if it’s better to anticipate being disappointed and brace for a fall than to fall flat on my face. But in living like this I’m calling God a liar (1Jn 5:10), and I’ll eventually be ashamed of every moment I’ve lived apart from Him like this. (1Jn 2:28)
If God isn’t faithful, if He isn’t good, if He can’t be trusted, then nothing else matters anyway; then life has no meaning, I have no purpose, no hope. And how’s that working out for me? I’m saved by hope. (Ro 8:24) There’s nothing else worth having, so what do I have to lose by trusting Him? Nothing: I’ve everything to gain.
I should trust Him, and I should trust Him implicitly. But I must also study Him and seek His face(Ps 28:7) so that I may know Him as He is, so I don’t trust in a false image of Him that I’ve created for myself. My trust in Him is only as helpful as the accuracy of the perception I have of Him; I must seek to know Him as He truly is (Php 3:10), and not merely as I wish for Him to be.
And I should onlytrust in God (Ps 62:5), not man. (Je 17:5) I should not ultimately expect anyone else to be perfectly faithful on their own, apart from God: only God is good, and He works in all of us according to His pleasure (Php 2:13), so I can safely trust Him to work all things for my good (Ro 8:28), and thank Him for all things (Ep 5:20), regardless of appearances.
God’s after one thing – making me like His Son, along with all others who’ll have Him (Ep 5:26-27), that we should be to the praise of His glory. (Ep 1:11-12) So, this is what I should expect Him to do; this is God’s agenda, and I should joyfully pursue Him in it.
Death is so final. One minute we’re taking a life for granted, and the next it’s snuffed out forever; only dust remains.
Or is it final?
Yesterday, a sweet old friend died, our 12-year old dog, Hoolah. She had a wonderful life; brought such delight to us and our children, as well as many, many others.
I’ll never forget – walking her one morning when a complete stranger pulled up beside us in her car and asked, “Are you Hoolah’s owner?” As I affirmed she said, “I just LOVE Hoolah! She brightens my day every time I see her. Look here! See?”, showing me her phone … Hoolah was her wallpaper.
That was Hoolah, not just cute — she was adorable; her fur was as soft as a stuffed animal toy, and she was so gentle she’d lay down in a crouched position when strangers approached so she wouldn’t intimidate them. People would exclaim, “Oh! How sweet!! How did you train her to do that?” We didn’t train Hoolah; that was just her temperament.
A 50-lb Great Pyrenees + Golden Retriever mix, Hoolah was the perfect family dog. She was gentle but also fierce; when I’d roughhouse with my Down’s Syndrome son and we’d do our 7-step slap-bump-clap (which delighted him unto squealing), Hoolah would literally lunge into us barking and growling and body-slam me! She didn’t like anyone messing with Jonathan, not even in fun.
Yet when Hoolah saw a tennis ball or a frisbee all else vanished; she’d fetch until she dropped from exhaustion, rest a bit, and beg for more! She had a certain bark that simply demanded we play with her. She’d hike the frisbee back and forth across the back yard all day long — as long as someone was watching, but never by herself. She loved being noticed, engaging with her family.
And she had this uncanny ability to do what we called her bucking-bronco; whirling round and round like a wild bull in a rodeo, sometimes with a short, fat rope in her mouth, smacking it on the ground and into anyone who dared draw near, like she was killing a viper. She had so much energy at times she just didn’t know what to do with herself!
And there was the day Hoolah was nearly killed by a Pit Bull. Tough day! So thankful it wasn’t so much worse. (Ep 5:20)
Then, like many larger breeds, she developed hip dysplasia, which my wife Elizabeth carefully nursed for 6 long years, then finally laryngeal paralysis: yesterday Hoolah’s breathing finally became so labored the vet put her down. She didn’t suffer much, or for long, and showed her chipper, spunky, playful demeanor right up to the end.
I feel so privileged to have known Hoolah, to have cared for her and enjoyed her. My grief even has a bittersweetness to it because she was such a joy. She will be sorely missed; we’ve no hope of ever finding a sweeter animal.
Perhaps our lives are somewhat like this; life is so short, yet the death of the righteous is a blessing (Ps 116:15), and their memory is sweet. (Nu 23:10b) I see a lesson in Hoolah: live so I’ll be missed. (Ac 20:37-38)
But I’m finding that there’s more than mere memory here for me – like Hoolah’s not really gone for good, more like she’s just stepped away for a bit, still aware of her family. Is this an illusion? wishful thinking? or another window into eternal reality …
Scripture says all Creation is waiting for the Resurrection (Ro 8:19), for the restitution of all things; this includes Hoolah. If she was just a body, and didn’t transcend her physical life, this makes no sense. She’s a spirit (Ec 3:21) who’s now returned to God (Ec 12:7), still looking forward to the end of all things, what so few of us can see.
We have a body, but we aren’t just a body: we’re a living soul(Ge 2:7) with body and spirit (1Th 5:23); death for the believer is simply the shedding of the earthly body for the heavenly one (2Co 5:2); it’s a final transformation, becoming a new creation, as from a caterpillar into a butterfly. (2Co 5:17)
For those in Christ, there’s hope beyond the grave; we sorrow and grieve in losing loved ones in death (Php 2:27), but not as those without hope. (1Th 4:13) Whether I’ll ever reconnect with Hoolah again isn’t the point — maybe so, maybe not — but every precious relationship is a shadow of the fullness we’re promised in God. (Ep 3:19) That’s Who we’re ultimately after. (Php 3:8)
Heaven is beyond our wildest dreams, perfection (1Co 2:9); however God’s designed it, we know one thing for sure: our joy will be complete.
Pain and suffering, whether physical or emotional, is so unpleasant that it’s difficult to understand how God can command us to count it all joy under various kinds of trials. (Ja 1:2) Does God expect us to disconnect from reality and not feel the normal, healthy emotional response that trauma typically evokes in our lives?
No, it isn’t actually the pain and suffering itself that God wants us to glory in; we’re to rejoice in the midst of our suffering, confident that God will produce patience in us (Ja 1:3): the ability to endure difficulty without losing hope.
If we value patience, and God works patience in each of us through suffering (He 12:6), then we can rejoice in the outcome of godly suffering. It’s through suffering that God matures and completes us; it’s necessary (1Pe 1:6) for our growth in godliness. (He 12:11b)
Patience seems to be the primary goal in suffering: it’s the tendency or ability to experience distress in hope: the confident expectation that God’s working it all out for our good (Ro 8:28) and for His glory. (1Pe 1:7)
Patient endurance of suffering produces a wealth of practical, life experience with the faithfulnessof God, as we see how He works so brilliantly through chaos and pain to accomplish His purposes. And such experience produces hope (Ro 5:3), the knowledge that God will ultimately be wondrously glorified through whatever He allows. (Re 15:4)
And such hope makes us unashamed in our suffering, as the love of God shines forth from us by the Holy Spirit. (Ro 5:5) It is in the midst of suffering that our love for God and others shines most brightly, when it’s clear that we aren’t seeking God out of selfishness, but even when it hurts, even in persecution. We’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain by rejoicing in God and knowing He’s at work; we aboundin hope through the power of God in the midst of our suffering, knowing God does all things well.
So, it’s appropriate to be in heaviness as we’re suffering (1Pe 1:6), to weep and grieve and struggle (He 12:11a) – this is perfectly healthy. (Ro 12:15) But this sorrow and heaviness should not be the whole of our experience; we should not suffer like the world does, without hope. (1Th 4:13) We must also look beyond our suffering in faith, rejoicing in what God will eventually accomplish in and through our suffering. (1Pe 1:7)
We can be thankful inour suffering (1Th 5:18), and also forour suffering (Ep 5:20), knowing there’s a glorious purpose in everything God allows. (Ep 1:11)
God is infinitely self-sufficient; He doesn’t need our worship or our service. He is perfectly complete and content in Himself.
Even so, there issomething God lacks, which He may only obtain through us: affliction. (Col 1:24) God would not afflict Himself, or cause Himself grief or suffering: this only comes to Him through sin.
This suffering in God is not at all for God; it is for us; it is the vehicle through which God chooses to reveal His infinite nature and character to the universe (Ro 9:22-23), and the elect are the primary beneficiaries of this.
And it may very well be that the primary way God suffers is by allowing His children to suffer innocently at the hands of the wicked. When believers are persecuted, Jesus Christ takes it personally, as if He Himself were being persecuted. (Ac 9:4) This is a gift He gives Himself through us and for us, and also a deep privilege he bestows upon us. (Php 1:29)
Perhaps it is only in this mindset that we fully rejoice in difficulty (Ja 1:2) and tribulation (Ro 5:3): suffering not only works patience and holiness in us (He 12:10-11), but will eventually serve to glorify God immensely. (1Pe 1:6-7) If God is allowing others to afflict Himself through us, for a glorious eternal purpose, we can glory in this as well for His sake. (Php 3:10)
There’s something about God’s suffering that will vindicate and glorify Him one day. The nature of His enemies will be open to the universe, impossible to hide, since He’s given them liberty to pursue their own free will. Most all of what they have done will have been perpetrated against His own, whom the world hates because it hates Him. (Jn 15:19) In that day, in the context of the suffering of God, there will be no just complaints, no excuse for the wicked. (Ro 1:20)
Let’s be ready and willing to suffer for God as He wills (Ga 6:14), to let Him suffer in and through us. (Ga 2:20) This light affliction, for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (2Co 4:17)
Any basic misconception about the nature of God can be detrimental; to the degree that our expectations of God are misaligned with reality, we’re deceived, captive to the devil (2Ti 2:25-26), and prone to bitterness and resentment. (He 12:15)
It is common for the enemy to offer us a fable, a heart-warming story teaching us something false about God. (2Ti 4:4) As an example, consider the following.
As the aircraft is pummeled by turbulence, thrashing violently up and down, back and forth, the poor man is more than distraught, taking drinks one after another, trying to calm himself.
From his first class seat, he notices a little girl back in coach playing with her doll, as calm as can be.
“Stewardess! Another drink, please!” He keeps trying to sedate himself … but it isn’t working. He’s terrified. Yet every time he looks back, the little girl is still playing happily with her doll. Her peacefulness is both an invitation and a rebuke, but he can’t translate, he’s just too upset.
Finally he can’t take it any more. Glaring back at her as the plane plummets again, he sputters: “Little Girl! Why aren’t you worried?”
The little girl pauses, looks up sweetly and says: “Mister, see that cockpit up there? My daddy’s the pilot, and he knows I’m back here. He’s not going to let anything happen to me; he will get us home.” Then she goes back to playing with her doll.
How comforting! What a picture of divine love, of how we should rest in our Father’s care! (1Pe 5:7)
But isn’t something amiss? Isn’t this half-truth?
To be complete, she needs to add something like,
“But … even if he doesn’t get us home, Daddy doesn’t make mistakes. If this is my last day, or if I get hurt, that’s OK. I trust him, no matter what.”
Moral of the story? Believing God will always keep us safe and protect us, that He’ll never let anything terrible happen to us, is unrealistic, deception, a false hope: it’s not what God promises.
When suffering does come, and it will if we belong to Him (Jn 16:33), and we don’t have the whole picture, we become bitter, cynical and resentful, turning from God as if He’s unfaithfulor evil. (Ep 4:18)
But the problem isn’t with God, it’s with our wrong perception of God: the problem is idolatry — the false, nice, safe little gods we’ve made up for ourselves, and that we’re still clinging to. (1Jn 5:21)
Not only does God not promise to keep us safe, what He does promise is quite the opposite, and so much better. He promises to scourge us (He 12:6) and chasten us; it’s for our good and we all need it. He afflicts us faithfully (Ps 119:75) to conform us to the image of His Son. (Ps 119:67) Though it seems awful to us at the time (He 12:11), it’s part of His plan to glorify Himself in us. (Ep 1:12)
What God promises is that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us (He 13:5); He will be suffering with us and in us through anything He allows in our lives. It’s a precious gift if we’re living for Him. (Php 1:29)
God promises that all things work together for good to those who love Him (Ro 8:28); He’s able give us grace to walk worthy of Him in every circumstance of life. (2Co 9:8)
God is faithful to establish us, to keep us from being overcome and destroyed by evil and suffering (2Th 3:3), and to present us faultless before Himself with exceeding joy. (Jud 1:24) We are His workmanship (Ep 2:10), and He will complete the work He has begun in us. (Php 1:6)
Rather than pleasure and convenience, God offers us something vastly superior: Himself. But we can’t receive and enjoy Him without holiness (He 12:14), so He will do the needful, whatever it takes, to produce His likeness in us.
God is good, but He isn’t nice: God’s not safe – He’s a consuming fire. (He 12:29) It’s a fearful thing to fall into His hands (He 10:31), yet there’s no better place to be.
Fear of suffering eternally in Hell should move us (Jud 1:22-23) to seek the Lord earnestly, striving to enter the Way(Lk 13:23-24), until we know we have eternal life. (1Jn 5:13) The infinite cost of failure here makes any other outcome entirely unacceptable to the rational soul.
But is Hell, the second death, actually eternal? What if, as some teach, Hell has an explicit finality to it, where souls don’t suffer forever but are rather extinguished, annihilated, such that they cease to exist? Wouldn’t that be more consistent with a loving God?
Annihilationism is the claim that as the wicked are destroyed (Mt 10:28) they cease to exist, that spiritual death is final and complete, an eradication of body, soul and spirit, producing a state of non-existence. The motive is to frame God as more reasonable and compassionate when eternal torment is not perceived to be justifiable. (Ro 11:33) After all, how could a loving God torture souls eternally?
To begin, observe that we can destroy something without annihilating it, say, by smashing a computer or a car and rendering it inoperative, incapable of fulfilling its intended purpose, forcing its components into an altered, unusable state.
Similarly, in death (separation of spirit and soul from body) spirit, soul and body continue to exist; none are annihilated. (Lk 16:22) So, verses including death and destroy do not, in themselves, imply Annihilationism.
Further, Annihilationism assumes sin has a finite degree (making infinite punishment unjust) and no benefit in eternal torment (making it unnecessary). But if Man’s unchecked sin is indeed infinite, in both intensity and duration, and if eternal suffering would bring glory to God, prompting worship in the righteous by uniquely revealing the nature of both God and Man, then Annihilationism is problematic. To verify this, let’s search the Scripture.
The Word states, as clearly as anything can be stated, that most souls will suffer consciously for eternity. (Re 14:11)This is not surprising, since we all, when left to ourselves, love darkness rather than light, because our deeds are evil. (Jn 3:19) This is deeply offensive and dishonoring to God. What should He do about it?
Conventional teaching has been that God angrily casts the wicked into a furnace of fire (Mt 13:42), consigning them there forever because they did not believe on Him in earthly life. (Jn 3:36) This punishment seems so harsh that many struggle to understand how this could possibly be consistent with God’s love and mercy, even if we see it in Scripture. Can anyone truly deservesuch an end?
How can God impose this kind of fiery punishment for eternity and yet be loving and just? It is impossible to rightly understand these kinds of things without the proper context; as with many other theological problems, the resolution lies in a full comprehension of the nature of Man.
Everlasting, infinite punishment would only be unjust if the wicked were not infinitely so, if their rebellion were finite in either intensity or duration. Yet, Annihiliationism would explicitly hide this reality from us, such that we could never experience the timeless nature of either God or Man. But isn’t this God’s explicit purpose in Creation, to reveal and glorify Himself? (Ro 9:22-23) If so, how then might eternal punishment reveal and glorify God?
When God has suffered the indignity of our sin long enough, suppose all He does is simply unveil Himself (Is 25:7), showing us all Who He is and what He is like, unfiltered, exactly as He is. (Re 20:11) This will distill every place in the universe down to only one: the immediate presence of Almighty God. Infinite depravity will then begin to fully and intimately engage with infinite holiness, justiceand love.
This simple unveiling of God changes everything. Whatever is in God and of God is fulfilled and completed (Col 2:10), home at last, while all outside God is incapacitated (Mt 15:13), shaken to the core (He 12:27), unable to function as designed: destroyed.
As this climactic event unfolds, a permanent standoff develops: the wicked remain opposed to God and at enmity with Him (Ro 8:7), while God remains infinitely holy, just and loving. These two natures are entirely irreconcilable; they cannot abide in harmony together, not even a little bit. Each side is absolutely intolerable to the other (Pr 11:20), and they clash with unfathomable violence and intensity. God’s indignant fury fills the wicked with terror(Na 1:6), yet there is no place to hide. The damned begin to suffer the real, ultimate consequence of their rebellion, destroyed by the very glory of the God they despise (2Th 1:9), the inevitable result of their own willful choices and nature.
Since God does not change (Ja 1:17), the only way this stalemate will ever end is if the wicked find it within themselves to repent and turn to God (Je 13:23), otherwise their punishment will indeed be everlasting(Mt 25:46), infinite in both degree and duration, according to their own nature. (Is 33:14)
So, as the wicked stubbornly continue in their unbridled rebellion, drowning in inextinguishable holy fire (Mk 9:43-44), they put their hatred for God on universal display (Ps 21:9), permanently showcasing themselves before God’s throne for the righteous to observe and contemplate. (Is 66:23-24) They are held by the cords of their own sin (Pr 5:22), in perpetual shame and everlasting contempt. (Da 12:2)
In this state, what should God do? Must He annihilate His enemies in order to be loving and just?
What if the holy arms of a loving God remain forever open (Ro 10:21), even to those in Hell (Re 22:17), offering mercy and pardon to any who will repent and turn to Him? (Is 55:7) And what if we begin to observe, in age after incredible age, that the damned will never return to God (Ps 81:15), not a single one (Ps 14:2-3), no matter what immense suffering their own relentless, stubborn blasphemy (Re 16:9) continually draws down upon their own heads? (Pr 27:22) If God ever does do such a thing, and the wicked play their hand as predicted, who could ever rightly complain against Him? (Re_15:4)
And if God did annihilate His enemies, how would we ever know how infinitely evil human nature truly is (Je 17:9), when God gives us up to fully pursue our own way?
Perhaps it is only then, as we actually experience eternity itself, that we will be enabled to fathom more and more the infinitude of our God (Ps 145:3), to glory in His infinite mercy (Ps 103:11), to experience the true nature of unregenerate Man (Ro 8:7), and agree that it’s inexcusable. (Ro 1:20) Perhaps this will enable us to begin to perceive the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through His Son (Ep 2:7), as we explore the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Ep 3:8)
The eternal, infinite, willful, voluntarily self-imposed suffering of the damned will be a continual, tangible reminder of what we all are like without God, and what we all deserve. There will be no self-glory in His presence. (1Co 1:29) We will never forget what our Father has done for us. (1Jn 3:1)