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What is Eternal Conscious Torment? Part 2
The more philosophical side to the most well known view of hell.
Last week I covered the scriptural case for the traditional view of hell known as ECT. If you missed that, I’d recommend clicking on the link in the description and starting there. It was a flying summary of the passages most used to talk about hell and some will be discussed briefly amongst the theological arguments around the view that, for simplicity sake, I’ll call the philosophy of ECT. If you haven’t watched the introduction video, you might want to do that as well. I don’t hold to ECT any more but the aim of this video is to show the 6 strongest/most common arguments for ECT and It may come across as if I am arguing for the position as if it were my own - at least that is my intention as I want to discuss the strongest arguments for ECT rather than a strawman.
1. This has been the majority view of the church for 2000 years. Great men of God have taught this view explicitly.
This could be called the argument from tradition. ECT is very clearly the majority view of the Christian church since Jesus died and rose again 2000 years ago. People that I highly admire and respect for their devotion to God, clear teaching and massive brain power hold this view. People like some of my family, CS Lewis, Tim Keller, John Piper, Charles Spurgeon, Francis Chan, RC Sproul, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias (interestingly I haven't read many women who have a clear teaching on hell - I am very open to suggestions!), many of the church leaders across the family of churches I’m part of and many others who have had a positive impact on my own faith over the course of my life. Though I hold to a reformed view of Christianity which says that scripture alone should be our authority, this cloud of witnesses holds a great weight behind it. Any disagreement I have with regards to hell comes second to the fact that I hold these men and women who teach faithfully across the world as brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Sin is a crime against an infinite God which requires infinite punishment
Albert Mohler Jr states this in his chapter in the book ‘Hell Under Fire’ that:
‘the traditional doctrine of hell argues that an infinite penalty is just punishment for sin against the infinite holiness of God. This explains why all sinners equally deserve hell, except for salvation through faith in Christ.’
Many who defend the traditional view emphasise the seriousness of sin against a holy God. I am not in disagreement with them in that sin is serious and God is Holy. I completely agree that for any human to come into the presence of a Holy God, something must be done about our sinful condition. The penalty and punishment and what constitutes justice is what this channel is discussing.
The traditional view, based on the comparison of eternal life with eternal punishment of Matthew 25, says that only an ongoing punishment will suffice. Some clarify this need for ongoing punishment by stating that those in hell continue to sin and so there will always be a requirement for punishment. This is not argued by all traditionalists though it is hinted at in Christopher Morgan’s chapter of Hell Under Fire.
The separation view of ECT, which is held by Tim Keller and CS Lewis would argue along similar lines in that we choose our way away from God until there is no goodness left in us. We degrade until we are no longer anything but a wretch causing our own demise. Whatever traits we have that are selfish and whatever we place above God will become our obsession and in turn lead to our eternal death. We simply cannot turn away from them to move towards God and instead walk further and further away from God becoming smaller and smaller and darker and darker until we cannot really be seen any more. If you want a more interesting story around this, read CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce.
A big part of this argument is to defend that as Jesus is the infinite God incarnated, become human, he alone could exhaust the eternal nature of sin and so bear the punishment that all sinners deserve.
3. Spiritual death in this life links to spiritual death in the second death
There are several passages in the bible that state that people who are living in a way that rejects God are ‘dead’ but are still walking on the earth. This is true of Adam and Eve as the warning they were given for eating the forbidden fruit was that the day they ate of it, they would die. They were on earth for a good number of years after this so this shows there is some element of death that doesn’t necessitate actual death as we know it.
Ephesians chapter 2 is also a good example of what is often referred to as spiritual death. Those who are far off or separated from God are referred to as ‘dead in their sins’ and yet are alive physically. This is quite a consistent argument from multiple passages that humans can technically be ‘living in death’. It is important because it is also used to link to interpreting a specific passage in Revelation.
Revelation 20:14-15 says:
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Notice that the lake of fire is called the second death.
Those who defend ECT often point out that throughout the bible, death is used metaphorically to represent separation from God. This then means that John is using that understanding as well because he wouldn’t contradict Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 25:41-46 which was discussed in last week’s video but is the passage where Jesus talks about eternal punishment for those who are not right with God.
So if we can ‘live in death’ in this life, one can be punished with death and still be experiencing torment and agony, which leads to the last idea that I’ll cover here.
4. Punishment must be experienced
A small argument which is often heard but isn’t necessarily one of the strongest arguments for ECT is that punishment must be experienced for it to be punishment. If for example, someone is snuffed out of existence, they no longer experience the retributive or restorative aspects of punishment. Many argue that non-existence is more of a reward than a punishment and isn’t too dissimilar to what atheists want anyway. There are varied ways of arguing this point but it will come up again in later videos so I won’t labour the point here.
5. The good news is only as good as the bad news is bad
I can’t defend this one well so I’m not going to spend much time on it. This has been defended by people I respect as sound Christians with a big audience and yet they don’t seem to notice how karmic rather than Christian this is. You can see a link to one example of this here. It gives license for imaginations to run wild and basically makes the punishment in hell as sadistic and tortuous as you like. It doesn’t take long to find what I mean on youtube for graphic depictions of skin being flayed and people calling it justice… it is a bad argument and I hope I don't have to go into too much detail for people to see why.
6. You are going to live eternally somewhere, it is your choice if it will be heaven or hell.
This could be the direct quote from many traditionalist preachers but is my own take on a John Piper quote which you can see the link here. This assumes that the soul is eternal, be it innately eternal (every soul cannot be destroyed even by the creator of all things) or eternal as God’s gift or through his power. The bible is clear that only God is immortal so many have to jump through hoops to get to the innately eternal perspective. Many just state that God gives immortality to all and cite 1 Corinthians 15 to back it up – we’ll look at that chapter in detail another time but the chapter defends the resurrection of Jesus as the pointer to the resurrection of all with new incorruptible bodies and the defeat of death. Whether the chapter is for all people even for those who will face punishment is to be looked at another time – but the traditional view often assumes that yes, those who do not believe in Jesus will be resurrected with a new incorruptible body, be judged and then experience torment for eternity because their new body cannot be destroyed.
Have I missed a strong argument for ECT? I use to hold this view but it has been a few years since I tried to defend it. If you have a stronger argument do let me know in the comments below or on YouTube and I’ll consider top comments in future videos. If you’re hoping for clarity on the view that I hold, well, that will be in the next video.