RPM, Volume 13, Number 10, March 6 to March 12, 2011

Do the Wicked Go to Hell When They Die?

By William Hendriksen

The Bible on the Life Hereafter. William Hendriksen.
Baker Book House. 1959. Pages 79-82.

Read Psalm 73:12-19

A Very Unpopular Doctrine

'Ladies and Gentlemen: The idea of a hell was born of revenge and brutality on the one side, and cowardice on the other. . . .I have no respect for any human being who believe in it. I have no respect for any man who preaches it... .I dislike this doctrine, I hate it, I despise it, I defy this doctrine.... This doctrine of hell is infamous beyond all power to express." Thus spoke Col. R. G. Ingersoll, "the great agnostic."

Pastor Russell used to hammer away at his favorite subject, "The Nightmare of Eternal Torture." As he saw it, this terrible doctrine was being proclaimed by the ministers of the established churches in order to instill fear in the hearts of their people so that they might remain manageable.

Let me add a statement by a Seventh Day Adventist: "To many people, religion is merely a fire-escape. They have been scared into accepting it by hearing descriptions of a place which burns eternally, and into which they have been told they will be cast at death If they do not get religion and go to church."

Objections to the Doctrine of Hell, Together with the Answers

Objection a. God is love. Therefore, the very existence of hell is impossible. "A creator that would torture his creatures eternally would be a fiend, and not a God of love" (Rutherford, World Distress) p.40).

Answer. Love does not exclude wrath, especially for those who stubbornly reject this love. It was Jesus Christ himself, the very embodiment of love, who spoke again and again about the punishment of hell.

Objection b. God is righteousness. Accordingly, he would not visit temporal sin with everlasting punishment. That would not be fair, for the punishment must match the crime.

Answer. It is not necessarily the duration of the crime that fixes the duration of the punishment. Even now a crime committed within a minute may earn a life-sentence. What is decisive is the nature of the crime. An act of treason against one's country is often punished with death. Hence, treason against the highest Majesty, willful rejection of the God of love, merits The extreme penalty.

Objection c. God is righteousness (once more). Hence he would not plunge into the deepest hell millions upon millions of innocent pagans who have never even heard the gospel.

Answer. Since a separate chapter (chapter 20) will be devoted to this subject, it will be omitted here.

Objection d. God is wisdom. Hence, he knows that extreme punishment would not accomplish anything useful.

Answer. What matters is that God remain God! Else all is lost for everybody. God cannot remain God unless his attributes-including his justice-be maintained. "Let justice be maintained though the world perish." Abrogation of this principle would mean the end for both God and man. Now it was the inexorable maintenance of God's justice that nailed Jesus to the cross as the Savior from sin. Moreover, God threatens with the most intense punishment those who reject such a loving and wonderful Savior. When, in conjunction with the promise of salvation for all who accept Christ, this threat is taken seriously, an immeasurable influence for good is exerted upon men. Moreover, God's honor is maintained, and his justice is satisfied. And that, after all, is the thing that matters most.

Objection e. God is omnipotence (and love). Therefore he will not permit Satan to keep in his grasp those whom he (God) has created. A certain minister with universalistic convictions expressed it somewhat differently. He was preaching in a supposedly conservative church, and I was in the audience. His statement was this, "In the end everybody will be saved. I have hope even for the devil."

Answer. God does not use his almighty power to drag men to heaven, in such a manner that their own responsibility would cease. A man who willfully rejects Christ is lost because of his own sin.

With respect to the proposition that in the end all men, demons, and even Satan himself will be saved, Scripture teaches the very opposite (Matthew 7:13,14; 22:14; 25:l0; 25:41; 25:46,; Jude 6).

Objection f. God is the Creator. He has so created us that we instinctively rebel against the idea of everlasting punishment. Hence, this idea cannot be true, for "the voice of the people is the voice of God.

Answer. The rejection of the idea of everlasting punishment springs not' from creation but from rebellion. And surely after the fall the slogan, "The voice of the people is the voice of God" is in need of considerable qualification. Man, prompted by his evil nature, prefers Barabbas to Christ.

Objection g. God is the Revealer. In his Word he does not teach that the wicked go to hell when they die.

Answer. We are now getting to the very heart of the matter. The question is not whether Ingersoll or anyone else dislikes, hates, despises, and defies the doctrine of hell but whether God in his Word has revealed it. This leads us now to the final subheading:

Does the Bible Really Teach That the Wicked Go to Hell When They Die?

Here we must be careful. Very often when Scripture speaks about the eternal destiny of the wicked, it is discussing their final state, that is, their punishment as to both body and soul after the judgment day. Special chapters will be devoted later on to this subject (chapters 46, 47). But here we are only dealing with the question whether the wicked go to hell when they die.

Scripture's teaching on this point, though not extensive, is clear enough. A few illustrations must suffice. According to Asaph, when the wicked die they are plunged into ruin. They become a desolation in a moment. They are swept away utterly by terrors (Psalm 73:12-19). When "the rich man" dies, he descends to a place of torments, from which there is no escape (Luke 16:23, 26). And when Judas committed suicide, he went "to his own place," the place of perdition naturally (Acts 1:25).

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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