I think this is a very nice piece by Martin Zender. Even if you/I don't agree with Martin on absolutely every doctrinal detail, I still think this is a very useful article. You may even want to use it as I have to ET believing family members. My poor, dear sister, who has been religiously and otherwise abused, said, "I never understood that. How a God they say loves everybody so much would just send them to hell to burn".Martin's piece:
ludicrous: adj. provoking or deserving derision; amusingly absurd; ridiculous; comical; laughable. —Random House Collegiate Dictionary
Does the doctrine of eternal torment "keep people in line," as many orthodox preachers insist it does? Does the threat of eternal torment "scare people into heaven?" as is commonly taught? Not that I can tell. In fact, the effect is quite the opposite. Allow me to provide this illustration:When a mother tells her child: "Spencer, if you disobey me, you're not leaving your room for the rest of your life!" Spencer laughs. He thinks to himself, "She can't possibly do that, I don't care if she does wear tight curlers all day." And Spencer is correct. Because it is ludicrous, the mother's threat does not deter Spencer's disobedience.Out goes Spencer to burn down the azalea bush.But what if Spencer's mother were to say: "Spencer, if you disobey me, you will not eat supper tonight." The boy turns sober. He thinks: "I know that she can and will do this." It is this, not the exaggerated threats of a rabid mother, that will curtail Spencer's behavior.Thus also with the doctrine of eternal torment. Eternal torment has God saying: "Make one mistake (not believing in Me), and I'll torture you for eternity!"The world knows how ridiculous that is. Witness: Have Christians, for all their trouble and preaching, reformed the world? Okey-dokey, then.
Get real, get Scriptural. Consider poor man, born unconsulted into a world of mortality and sin, thrust as a weak and trembling baby for a few short years into a cauldron of evil that conspires, from the start, to make a criminal of him. And so a criminal he becomes. Because of this, we are told, he is doomed to fiery agony for eternity because—can we utter it?—God Himself has locked him up in stubbornness (Rom. 11:32) and has purposely, for now anyway, withheld the faith necessary to believe in Him (see John 6:44, Phil. 1:29, and Rom. 12:3).The world mocks such an insane concept, and I congratulate the world for it. No Scripture, correctly translated, supports such a concept. Many Scriptures flatly deny it. It would be a joke, were it not preached in all earnestness from pulpits around the world.No, threats of "eternal punishment" do not deter evil. In fact, they increase it. Many turn from Christianity (or don't even consider it), not because they hate God, but because they hear from religious zealots (read: "Christians") that the Bible is supposed to teach such a horrible end to "God's great plan of salvation."Like Spencer and his appraisal of his mother's irrational threats, the world knows that no God worthy of the name would torture any of His creation eternally, especially not after a perfect sacrifice has been made for sin. In this, the children of darkness are wiser than the children of light. And so the world continues in its sin, more earnestly than ever.
Let's try the truth. But what if, instead of telling unscriptural lies about God, preachers and teachers of the Word were to—can we utter it?–study that Word, and tell the world the truth? What if they were to tell unbelievers that their behavior is robbing them, not of eternal life (God sent His own Son to secure that for them), but of eonian life? (It is this word, not "eternal," that is the correct translation of the Greek adjective aionion). What if they tell unbelievers that they will not live during the future, glorious eon of the kingdom reign of Christ on earth? That they will be dead during the last great eon, when God creates a new heavens and a new earth and tabernacles with mankind? What if they tell them that they will rise to be judged at the great white throne, suffering affliction and distress there because of their wicked acts (Rom. 2:5-10), to be returned to death (Rev. 20:14-15) until the consummation (1 Cor. 15:26)? My God, are not these threats enough to satisfy those in Christianity who live to threaten people?But at least these threats, being reasonable and rational (not to mention a witness to the truth), would have a sobering effect on the sinner. The intelligent sinner is likely to say, "Now, this is reasonable, not ludicrous. How singular and unaccustomed I am to such things from the Christian camp. God probably will do this. He loves me enough to save me, but I shall first be separated from Him for the eons because of my acts. Even though I will enjoy eternal life with Him at the consummation, as will all (1 Cor. 15:28), I do not want to miss out on these glorious eons ("eonian life") these people are telling me about. I want to live with Christ during the thousand years. I want to taste of the pleasures of the new heavens and the new earth. Oh, God! Give me this life!"Just a suggestion, nothing more. www.martinzender.com