Can mankind who are made in God’s image be destroyed?
I was recently interviewed about my book, Eternity: Heaven or Hell?, by Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date. We discussed what has become a very controversial topic among many Christians, and that is the duration of time those in Hell will spend. Eternal or limited? I share from the Bible why I am convinced that Conditionalism is the biblical view of final punishment. Tempers can flare over this topic, so I ask you to read this interview in blog format as a good Berean, testing the Scriptures to see what God will teach us.
The Image of God
Chris Date: Ok, now let’s sort of turn the tables and I will play the Devil’s advocate on a few points in challenging you. In summarizing the Traditional View of Hell, early in your book’s chapter, you point out that Traditionalists sometimes argue that since man was made in the image of God and the image of God cannot be uncreated, therefore man must exist forever. You talk about the issue of immortality, but I don’t think that I saw a response to this argument about the image of God being unable to be uncreated. How do you respond to that? Just how could a person created in the image of God be completely destroyed?
Dr. Reagan: First of all, we are created in the image of God, but we are not gods. I’m not a god. You’re not a god. We are not going to become gods, unlike the Mormons who teach that they will become gods. We are created in the image of God. And, since God is spirit, that certainly doesn’t refer to our physical being just because He is spirit. It refers to our immaterial nature. It refers to our mental creation in that we have free will and reason that relates to our morality. That we have a moral compass as a conscience, giving us a sense of right and wrong. It refers to the fact that we are social beings and we are created to fellowship with others.
The Word says point blank that mankind is not immortal. First Timothy 6 says, “God alone is immortal.” First Corinthians 15 says, that the saved will not become immortal until the time of the resurrection. The idea of the immortality of the soul is an idea derived from Greek philosophical thought. It was brought into Christianity when Christianity began to convert Greek thinking people to Christianity. But, it is not a biblical thought.
Chris Date: Yes. I think people misunderstand what it means when someone says something like the image of God can’t be uncreated. I think they are misunderstanding what it means when it talks about Man being created in the image of God. It means in certain respects that we are created like God. An image isn’t a tangible thing that can’t be uncreated. It’s a way of explaining that we are like God in certain respects, though with the exception of the immortality part.
The Character of God
Chris Date: You mentioned earlier difficulties that you have with the Traditional View and its belief in an eternity of suffering seemingly to you to impugn the character of God. You point out that the Traditionalists will sometimes argue that since sin is an offense against an infinitely holy God that sin is therefore infinitely odious and therefore deserving of an eternity of punitive suffering. How then do you think that a finite period of suffering can account for what is allegedly the infinitely heinous nature of one’s sins?
Dr. Reagan: Chris, the very first time I ever heard that argument it came across to me as a theological contrivance, and it still comes across to me as a theological contrivance. It seems to run counter to the Bible’s clear teaching that there are degrees of sin and so therefore there will be degrees of punishment. That’s really about all I can say about that.
Chris Date: I’ll add a little bit then to what you and I both think. We must understand that annihilation didn’t following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. We also know that annihilation is an eternal punishment in the sense that it is eternal in the results of being a punishment.
Dr. Reagan: Absolutely.
Chris Date: So, it seems to me that annihilation in a sense is an infinite punishment and therefore could account for even if this “eternal sin” argument wasn’t a contrivance, though I also think that it is. But, even if it weren’t and if we did want to admit that finite sin does deserve infinite punishment, that too is what annihilation achieves.
Dr. Reagan: It certainly is, and that’s a good point. Thank you for making it.
Chris Date: You’re welcome.
Another difficulty that you say you have with the Traditional View in your book is that Revelation describes Hell using the phrase the “Second Death.” Traditionalists often respond by saying that death has various meanings in Scripture, one of which is spiritual death and separation from God. Some even go so far to say that death never means extinction in the way that we Conditionalist argue concerning the Second Death. How would you respond to this argument? Isn’t it more biblical to understand the Second Death as eternal spiritual death and separation from God?
Dr. Reagan: I think just as death is a cessation of existence in this world, the Second Death refers to a cessation of existence in the eternal world. Again, in Matthew 10:28 Jesus says that the body and soul can be killed in Hell.
Chris Date: Yes, but Traditionalists would of course push back at that and say that death in this life isn’t a cessation of existence, particularly if they are dualists. They are going to say the body dies, but it doesn’t cease to exists, and the spirit lives on after death.
Dr. Reagan: It certainly is a cessation of existence in this world. My mom and dad are both dead and I don’t see them, and I don’t have any fellowship with them.
Chris Date: Okay, so yes, I think there is something to that argument. It could also just be argued that death is the cessation of life, and the cessation of life that is only extended to the body is the first death, which is extended to both body and soul in the Second Death.
In the seventh and last segment of Rethinking Hell’s interview of me concerning the Conditionalist View of Hell, Chris and I will discuss a few common questions and answers concerning judgment.