Question: Mr. Hunt, a question has been troubling me as long as I've been a Christian...and I've never heard a sensible response. How can God send the overwhelming majority of humanity into everlasting conscious torment? I know there must be punishment and justice, but the traditional view on this seems cruel and not consistent with God's loving nature. Undeserved eternal joy in His presence for believers shows God's love--but never-ending pain and torment from the God who "is love"?
Response: This question bothers many. John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul all taught everlasting punishment (Mt 3:12; 18:8; 25:41, 46; Mk 9:43-48; Lk 3:17; 2 Thes:1:9). If the suffering in the Lake of Fire is not everlasting, then neither is the joy of heaven because the same Greek word for "everlasting" is used for both.
An equally troubling question would be why eating some fruit merited Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden, instant spiritual death, and brought the physical death, disease, destruction, pain, wars, and sorrows that mankind has suffered ever since. Isn't that contradictory and a denial of "God is love" (1 Jn:4:8, 16)? No, it is because of His unchanging love and character.
God is also holy and just. In love, He warned Adam and Eve of the dire consequences of disobedience. To go back on His Word would make Him a liar. Why would we believe anything else He said?
Lets start with "In the beginning God created..." (Gn 1:1). All that followed must be because of Him. Because He is love, He made man in His image so that man could eternally love God and his fellows. God is an eternal Being. Thus, man, made in His image, could never cease to exist. God's loving purpose was that man would forever dwell with Him in intimate fellowship and love-not that he would suffer forever in the Lake of Fire.
God knew what Adam and Eve and their descendants would do-but He did not predestine man to sin nor to be in torment eternally. The Lake of Fire was "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mt 25:41). God "will have [i.e., desires] all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth....Christ Jesus...gave himself a ransom for all..." (1 Tm 2:4-6). Salvation is for "whosoever believeth on him" (Jn:3:16). To forgive Christ-rejecters would undermine both God's integrity and His justice.
No one who spends eternity in the Lake of Fire (and many will) can blame God. They will have sent themselves there. In love, God designed man so that His love would not be "an extra" but as spiritually essential to life as water is physically essential. The analogies of water and thirst are used repeatedly in Scripture: "My soul thirsteth for God" (Ps:42:2); the rich man in hell likened his torment to thirst, begging for a drop of water on his tongue, saying, "I am tormented in this flame" (Lk 16:24). It is obvious that he didn't mean physical water, a physical tongue (his body was in the grave), or a physical flame, but something even more real.
The rich man was suffering from the spiritual thirst that sin's separation from God has brought and that Christ came to quench. But he had rejected Christ, trying to find satisfaction in food, sex, wealth, possessions, position, etc. Jesus told the woman at the well, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst," and He said to the Jews, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink" (Jn:7:37). The final invitation in the Bible is "whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rv 22:17). Clearly, such passages refer neither to physical thirst nor to physical water.
Spiritual thirst results from sin's separation from God. Most people foolishly seek to satisfy that thirst with things of this world. Those who seek after God find true satisfaction in Christ. The central feature of heaven is "a pure river of water [obviously not physical] of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rv 22:1).
On earth, there is much to distract and tempt both saint and sinner, dulling true satisfaction for believers and turning them from God. For unbelievers, that thirst is seemingly satisfied without God-until they die. Separated from their bodies, from all companionship and earthly enticements, they can no longer dull conscience or escape the innate thirst for God. That thirst will torment them eternally with regret and remorse as the horror of their sins is revealed in the fire of God's purity, holiness, truth, and justice.