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Very few Christians would deny the concept of salvation by grace—that our lives are saved not because of what we have done, but simply as a gift from God. This is the very essence of Christianity. Author C. S. Lewis once remarked that grace is a belief unique to the Christian faith. Christianity alone dares to claim that God’s love is unconditional, a gift to anyone who has the faith to accept it.

Paul told Timothy that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), and the apostle John said that “whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). God’s grace and His love are so intertwined that they cannot be separated.

However, there is one deeply entrenched popular Christian belief that, paradoxically, goes against everything we know about the love of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s the concept of the immortality of the soul and the conclusion that naturally derives from it: that all those who refuse to accept Christ as Savior will be tormented in the fires of hell for eternity.

An infinite punishment?

What would eternal torment achieve for God, for His redeemed children, or for those who haven’t accepted God’s saving grace?

Those who deliberately reject God’s gift would have cause to hate their tormenter more. But neither could those who accept the gift of grace rejoice, for it would cause them great sorrow to know that a brother, a sister, or a friend who rejected God was suffering eternally.

Consider 1 John 4:8 again: “God is love.” Jesus also commanded us to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) and, because I believe He practices what He preached, He would love His enemies too.

Where does this leave the teaching of eternal torment in hell? It’s simply a contradiction about God, whose very nature is infinite love and kindness. God does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Some years ago, at a church ministers’ meeting, I heard someone declare that “sin is infinite; therefore it warrants an infinite punishment!” Another suggested that eternal torment is a “living death.” But it’s impossible to be dead and alive at the same time. Sin cannot be infinite. Infinity has no beginning and no end, but sin began in heaven with an angel called Lucifer. Living in God’s presence, he became jealous of God and rebelled. Thrown out of heaven, he now roams our world as the devil.

The Bible teaches that when the world ends at the conclusion of the millennium, fire will devour the devil and all his followers (Revelation 20:9). Death itself will be thrown into the lake of fire (verse 14), and we will end up living in a clean and peaceful universe.

Note the word devour. How can something remain to be tormented eternally if it has already been swallowed up, which is what the word devour suggests?

Similarly, those who choose not to accept God’s gift of grace will perish. They will simply cease to exist, not remain burning in hell infinitely. The penalty—the fact that they will cease to exist—is eternal. The pain and suffering won’t be.

Your choice

In God’s loving wisdom, and because of His infinite love, He gave free will to all His children, both angels and humans. He gave us the freedom to choose between right and wrong, the freedom to choose whom we will love, serve, and worship.

He could have programmed us to obey His every requirement without question, reciting, “We love You, Father,” without ever knowing what love really means. Instead, we have the ability to choose whether to be saved or not. God has not predestined us to be saved whether or not we want to be.

Some people assume that Romans 8:29 refers to predestination for salvation: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

However, this verse simply means that God knew us all before we were even conceived. It has nothing to do with whether we will be saved.

God gave us free will to help us understand how important His love is. He wants us all to accept Christ as our Savior, but He will not violate our freedom of choice.

Our God is not a cruel tyrant. It is up to each of us to choose where we will spend eternity—alive with Him in heaven or dead for all eternity in oblivion.

Eternal Torment?

by Jim Beyers
From the November 2012 Signs