Against annihilationism

(This is the first of two posts on [what I believe to be false] alternatives to the Baptist view of life after death.  Please forgive me and let me know if it’s too snarky; and of course please let me know what you think about the issue.)

When I saw the wickedness of man I became an annihilationist, because, unlike man, God is not a torturer.  I once confronted a murderer.
‘You killed them!’ I railed.
‘Why are you concerned for them?  They are gone.’
‘I remember them.’
‘If you think of them, be glad they experience evil no more,’ he replied.
And I witnessed the extinction of the unredeemed.
‘You killed them!’ I railed.
‘Why are you concerned for them?  They are gone.’
‘I remember them.’
‘If you think of them, be glad they experience evil no more,’ God replied.
I did not expect annihilation to affect me.

A – ‘I could not live in heaven with the knowledge that there are those who live in hell.’
B – ‘You will think of those in hell?  Will you not reason their existence away as you do now?’

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  • Jon Coutts  On February 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    oops that was me, signed in as my wife. I am unconvinced that eternal torment or annhialation has anything to do with whether they will be thought of in heaven.

  • gestalttheology  On February 6, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    could you elaborate? what exactly are you disagreeing with? (or are you disagreeing?)

  • Stephen  On February 6, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I’m not an annihilationist, but I’m also not sure if this does justice to the argument that an annihilationist would likely make. Isn’t a torturer worse than a murderer on a certain level? While murder is obviously terrible, torture takes a kind of forethought and resolution that is deeply disturbing to anyone with a modicum of morality (even people who would, for some reason, argue that it may be necessary in extreme circumstances). So, I can see an annihilationist saying, “Yes, it is awful that these people are annihilated, but how much worse would it be if they were still suffering?” And, to that, I don’t think that it is sufficient to say, “Well, their situation wouldn’t be perfect in your scheme,” since it would obviously be a whole a lot better than continual torture.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t good arguments for believing in eternal damnation instead of annihilationism, but I don’t think that they could be based on making God look better for eternally punishing people; I just don’t see how that could work.

    • gestalttheology  On February 6, 2011 at 6:54 pm

      Sure, Stephen. I guess I’d still press for an answer to what it means to attribute annihilation to God. Not a torturer, but equivalent to a murderer?
      Actually, from that bit I’m most interested in the last line and wondering what an affective response to seeing annihilation would be.

      • Stephen  On February 6, 2011 at 10:00 pm

        I guess I think that affective arguments like that would make the eternal damnation view look really bad (and I’m assuming that this is the Baptist view that you are indirectly promoting over annihilationism?), annihilationism look not-so-great, and some form of universalism look really good. I’m not saying that it’s a bad way of arguing, only that it seems to imply universalism>annihilationism>eternal damnation, rather than the other way around.

      • gestalttheology  On February 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm

        i’d agree. i guess i’m simply interested in asking whether the affective argument for annihilationism works.

      • Stephen  On February 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm

        I notice in another comment that you give a shout-out to my main man, VB. Since you seem open to a (hopeful) universalist position, I apologize if I’ve misunderestimated what you were saying in the post (thinking that you were arguing for the eternal damnation view).

      • gestalttheology  On February 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm

        I believe Balthasar takes eternal damnation (as a possibility) seriously. Indeed, perhaps his view only makes sense if we take it seriously.

      • Stephen  On February 8, 2011 at 3:36 pm

        Yes, that is an accurate understanding of Balthasar. He always seems to hold to extreme positions, even when they are contradictory. Only by taking the reality of judgment and damnation seriously can we approach understanding what salvation from death and sin is. I think that Mysterium Paschale is a really good book for understanding how Balthasar thinks that we have to experience death and resurrection with Christ (in prayer and liturgy, especially) in order to know what lies after death.

  • flowers in these weeds  On February 6, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Sorry I should have been more clear. Or refrained from comment until I was more clear what you were saying. I did find it an intriguing perspective. It seems to me that either way in our imagination we’ll be offended (at first) by the outcome of the unredeemed and then (for some reason) will get past it, understand, or what have you. If I’m getting that right then I guess I confess along with you that, yes, whatever the case (be it universalism, annhilationism, or eternal torment) we’ll see or at least be able to trust the justice in it, even though it escapes us now. And outside of being dogmatic about any of those views I think we ultimately have to take the justice of it as a matter of faith, entrusting that to the Judge. In the meant time we do try to understand and have a “view” — and I guess I don’t see the imagined eventuality of us being okay with eternal torment or even annhilationism as much of an argument for them. I suppose I tend to imagine such scenarios and take it as an argument against those views though, so I should allow for others to do the same if they can.

    Let me know if I’m way off base here though. Forgive me for being abrupt earlier. I should have dwelt on it a bit. Aside from double predestination this is the topic that I tend to have the immediate gut reaction to, whether I land with that gut reaction or not.

    Good for you for bringing it up. I tend to not want to touch it.

  • Nick Jackson  On February 7, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    I don’t want to misrepresent your argument, but are you saying that an annhilationist says that annihilation is better than eternal torment, because in heaven and the New Jerusalem, the torment of others would distract us? From there are you arguing you that in heaven we will ignore the fact that people are in hell as we ignore it now?

    If I have not misunderstood, there seems to be a key component missing here. If we do not consider and mourn of “the damned” now that is only because we have a fallen unsympathetic nature. God desires justice, but does not want to see anyone day, and I believe he has great mounrning for all who are lost. If I have not misunderstood you, then you are saying in heaven we will not care that people are being tortured, as we don’t care now, and that’s good.

    I am an annihilationist, and when our views are challenged we sometimes don’t reason as well, so I hope I have not spoken out of that place in me.

    I am curious to see further posts on this subject. Perhaps not from an emotional perspective (though I would not want in our Western left-brained culture to write off emotion) but maybe from a reasonable Biblical perspective.

    • gestalttheology  On February 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm

      Nick, thank you for your honest and measured comments. Thanks also for stopping by!

      The second little piece, yes, was geared toward the argument that states ‘I won’t enjoy heaven if I know there are those in hell.’ I think it is good to mourn ‘the damned’ and better to hope for them. I was trying to suggest that perhaps annihilationism for some is a way to short circuit their concern for the reprobate.

      I’m not sure how much more I’ll be saying on annihilationism in particular, regrettably. Regarding it: I find biblical evidence to suggest hell; I find arguments about non-existence reasonable; I hope with Balthasar for the redemption of all. Also, eternity is the thing that scares me the most in (this/the next) world, so I find myself wanting to be an annihilationist, but I can’t in good conscience. Sorry if I’ve tantalized you without promising more discussion (beyond of course, this comment thread).

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