a christian perspective on the world today

Does God Torture Sinners?

What would you do if you were on a jury and such a case as this should came before you: a group of children, out for a walk in the country, failed to see a “no trespassing” sign and walked through the garden of an eccentric recluse, picking and trampling on some of the flowers. Breathing vengeance, the owner caught the children and took them into a secret building, where he set up cameras to record the punishment he was about to mete out to them.

The children were put through every form of torture conceivable. Their screams filled the building and beyond. Days stretched into weeks before a search party, out looking for the children, broke into the building and rescued them.

Let us assume this human demon was protected from the outrage in the community long enough to be brought to trial, and the footage he had taken was shown to the jury and spectators.

If you were on a jury trying the case, what would you say? It would unlikely be “Not guilty! The children broke the law in trespassing on the man’s property.

They deserve to be punished.

Let them be returned to the torture chamber and let these films be shown to every child in the land, so all may know the punishment to be meted out to those who trespass! What a just and loving man this is, to set out to teach children to be obedient! Let us place a statue of him in the town square and hold him up as an example for all people to follow in their treatment of trespassers!”

A diabolical God

Though no human jury would return such a verdict, some today charge God with being a million times more cruel. They proclaim He tortures sinners for a thousand million years and more. These men say victims writhe, scream and cry out to heaven for mercy but every cry is thrown back by the unyielding voice of God, who meets each plea with, “Burn on, burn on!”

What blasphemy! How perverted can human minds become that they should charge God with being more diabolical than the devil himself? Small wonder the prophet Nahum exclaimed, “Why are you scheming against the Lord? He will destroy you with one blow; he won’t need to strike twice! His enemies, tangled like thornbushes and staggering like drunks, will be burned up like dry stubble in a field. Who is this wicked counselor of yours who plots evil against the Lord?” (Nahum 1: 9-11, NLT).

Could any language be plainer? If the book of Nahum is part of the Scriptures and the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God, then God is going to destroy the wicked, not torture them eternally.

But God does not leave any great truth in the Bible to hang on one verse or on the writings of one prophet. In Romans 6:23 we read, “The wages of sin is death”—not eternal life in hell fire. Ezekiel says, “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4).

Christ Himself said that both soul and body will be destroyed in hell (see Matthew 10:28). The Greek word translated “destroy” in this text is rendered “to destroy utterly” by Liddell and Scott in their Greek-English lexicon.

The apostle Peter declared that the wicked should “utterly perish” (2 Peter 2:12, KJV). The psalmist said, “The wicked will perish: The Lord’s enemies will be like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish—vanish like smoke” (Psalm 37:20).

In Malachi 4:1, we read that the wicked “will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire, says the Lord Almighty. Not a root or a branch will be left to them.” Obadiah declared that after the wicked have been destroyed, they will “be as if they had never been” (Obadiah 16). The psalmist adds his testimony: “A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found” (Psalm 37:10).

In Revelation 20:5, 9, we learn the wicked, after their resurrection to stand in judgment before God, will be devoured on this earth by fire from heaven. Ezekiel tells us that even Lucifer will be brought “to ashes on the ground” (Ezekiel 28:18). The prophet adds, “You have come to a horrible end and will be no more” (verse 19). Malachi, in referring to the destruction of the wicked, says, “Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things, says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 4:3).

With the fires of destruction completely out, God will create “a new heaven and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13).

He will also “wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

But what of the “unquenchable fire” John the Baptist declared God would use in “burning up the chaff?” (Matthew 3:12). This text is easily understood. Unquenchable bombs are used in war, bombs which cannot be extinguished or put out by immersion.

An unquenchable fire is one that cannot be put out until it has consumed what it is burning. It then goes out by itself when there is nothing left to burn.

Even the “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41, KJV) will give a careful student of the Scriptures no cause to question God’s justice in the destruction of the wicked. “Everlasting” is from the Greek word ainios or aion, a word for which there is no true English equivalent. The root means “space or period of time,” “lifetime or life,” “age,” or “era.” It is similar to our word “ever.” We can say the “ever living God” and mean that God will live on through eternity. But when we speak of an “evergreen tree,” we all know the tree will not be green after it dies or is consumed by fire. The “ever” in both cases is limited by the age of the era of the thing described.

The everlasting fire lasts as long as the wicked do.

When John the revelator speaks of “the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth” (Revelation 14:6, KJV), he does not mean the gospel will continue to be preached in the new earth, where there will be no sinners.

Origin of eternal punishment

So, if the Bible doesn’t picture God as a merciless demon who punishes man without respite through all eternity, where does this doctrine come from?

It was the generally accepted belief of all ancient pagans. Zoroaster taught that hell was unending. The ancient Greeks and the old Germans taught the same, as did the Druids. It is the teaching of the Koran.

The devil worshippers of the Near East, the Yezidis, teach that some will be condemned to suffer forever in hellfire. The Egyptians taught that the wicked would suffer in hell for their sins. And Mithraists, who got their religion from Babylon by way of Persia, taught eternal hellfire. Mithraism, with its everlasting torment of the wicked, became an official religion of Rome around the time of Christ and remained so for 200 years.

In his tome The Mysteries of Mithra, Franz Cumont points out that in the struggle between Mithraism and Christianity, it is difficult to tell which won, for the church adopted many of the rites, teachings, practices and holy days of Mithraism. “The conceptions which Mithraism had diffused throughout the empire during a period of three centuries,” he says, “were not destined to perish with it. Some of them … such as the ideas concerning hell … were accepted even by its adversaries… . Certain of its sacred practices continued to exist also in the ritual of Christian festivals and in popular usage… . Mithraism … was formed in the Orient, from a mixture of the ancient Babylonian mythology with Persian dualism and … afterward absorbed Hellenic elements… . Mystics … were enraptured with the new conciliatory faith which suffered Zoroaster and Christ to be simultaneously worshipped. This renewed, the Mithraic doctrines were destined to withstand for centuries all persecutions, and rising again in a new form in the Middle Ages to shake once more the ancient Roman world.”

The doctrine of eternal hellfire is not of Christian origin. It arose in that universal system of demon worship, which has ever sought to discredit God and misrepresent His justice and love toward humanity. The very heart of demon worship is fear and its worship is directed toward the placation of an angry, merciless god who ever seeks to destroy humankind. Certainly no doctrine more capable of inspiring fear ever arose in demon worship than the doctrine of eternal torment.

Two views of God

We have before us, therefore, two teachings concerning God and His attitude toward sinful humanity. One, based on the Scriptures, declares that God is a God of justice, love and mercy, meting out the death penalty only to those who, by their rebellion and lawlessness, would jeopardise the happiness of others—and their own happiness if they were permitted to live.

The other teaching, which had its origin in demon worship, declares that God is a merciless tyrant who tortures sinners throughout all eternity and who, as unending billions of years roll by, meets every plea for mercy or justice from the sinner with a diabolical sneer, “Burn on!”

Check your religion. Choose which doctrine you will accept.

This article is a reprint from the May 19, 1958 Signs of the Times.
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