We now have to consider a more biblical understanding of damnation. It damnation isn’t eternal torture, just how bad can it be? Should we still be motivated to seek and save the lost? If the damned will simply be destroyed, why bother?
And what if someone is innocent — like a baby — but not saved. Or nearly innocent, such as someone newly accountable. What will be the fate of such a one?
Separation from God
This question returns us to —
(2Th 1:5-10 ESV) 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering — 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
(Mat 25:41 ESV) 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
The first penalty will be separation from God. Now, at first hearing, this penalty doesn’t sound all that scary. What’s the big deal? But in reality no mortal has ever been apart from God in this existence. God is present on the earth — everywhere. Jesus himself holds the world together.
(Col 1:17 ESV) 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
As bad at things can be in this world, the Triune God has always been here, making certain that his cosmic plan for man will be realized. Imagine how bad this world would be if God utterly abandoned it? Think of the horrors of Hitler and Genghis Khan and Pol Pot, and remember that they were all temporary. Imagine how bad this world would be if God abandoned it altogether.
At the end of time, God will perfect his creation by perfecting the unity of heaven and earth and man and God. We will be joined with God. Until then, there’s a separation between creation and Creator, mortal and immortal, but we’re not completely separate. We still enjoy a taste of God’s presence. Sometimes we are able to draw nearer to him — but never as close as we’ll be in the new heavens and new earth. “Heaven” will be living in God’s immediate presence. That will be glory.
Therefore, gehenna begins with separation from God, and as wondrous as God’s complete presence will be, complete separation will be just as horrific.
(Mar 15:34 ESV) 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus — who suffered the punishment the saved deserve — suffered separation from God. And it was supremely agonizing torture.
I don’t think our minds are capable of imagining the pain of such a separation. After all, we can’t imagine the bliss of being with God either. It will be horrific.
But this is a penalty to be paid by the enemies of God. There is nothing in these passages to suggest that those who die in innocence will suffer such a fate. Rather, the verses that speak of separation are speaking of God’s vengeance for sins committed in the flesh. The sinless cannot suffer vengeance. There is nothing to avenge.
Realization of lost opportunities
(Mat 25:44-45 ESV) 44 “Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
(Luk 16:27-28 ESV) 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house — 28 for I have five brothers — so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’
Jesus makes plain that he will explain to the damned why they are damned. They’ll know that they had opportunities to do good, to bring glory to God, and they’ll realize that they didn’t do it.
Moreover, this happens after they witness Jesus granting eternal bliss to those who honored his commands and did good. The damned will therefore know what might have been.
As bad as separation from God will be, knowing that it didn’t have to happen will make the pain all the more severe. When you’ve seen others go to live with God, you’ll be tortured by the knowledge that your own fate didn’t have to be — that eternity with God was within your grasp.
Of course, for those who’ve never heard of God, the pain will be less — which is as it should be. It’ll be those who rejected Jesus who will be hurt the most by this knowledge because they were closest to escaping God’s wrath.
But, of course, an innocent — an infant — will suffer no such pain because she’ll have never had the chance to do better.
(Luk 12:47-48 NIV) 47 “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
(Mat 10:15 NIV) I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
(Mat 16:27 NIV) For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.
(Rev 22:12 NIV) “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”
(Psa 62:11-12 ESV) 11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, 12 and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.
(Jer 17:10 ESV) 10 “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Jesus plainly teaches that the punishment of the damned will be proportional to their sin. God’s vengeance is a matter of justice, and justice requires no less, and the Prophets are to the same effect.
Now, a truly evil man may well suffer many, many, many blows. God is under no time constraints. While everlasting punishment isn’t taught, and the destruction of the damned is, there’s no limit on how long it will take for God’s justice to be realized. The truly evil may suffer for a very long time.
But the innocent shouldn’t suffer at all, even if they aren’t saved.
We still need to seek and save the lost! They won’t be tormented forever regardless of their wickedness, but they’ll suffer horribly — and it’s a suffering we can prevent by teaching them about Jesus.
If anyone of saw a man drowning and had the ability to rescue him, he’d do it. He’d be a pretty sorry person if he didn’t. Even the godless would help! But we Christians know that drowning is just one more path to bliss for a Christian. You see, we realize that life is worth living, and that loss of life is a tragedy — even though we believe those among us who die will go to a better place. And we’d do this even though saving someone from drowing only delays the inevitable.
But this is just the first death, a temporary death. Why are we not all-the-more motivated to rescue the damned from the second death — a death into torment — when we could save that person permanently. This is a true rescue, and yet we struggle to find the motivation. It should be enough that we could help someone make it to God — but the double blessing of rescuing from hell and taking them to God should be an overwhelming motivation.
But as to infants and young children, the analysis is different. A few posts ago, I mentioned that it’s not necessarily true that a child is saved. It is possible that the child simply ceases to exist when she dies. Not only does the child not suffer eternal punishment, the child doesn’t receive eternal reward. It’s possible.
There are more possibilities than heaven and hell. Souls aren’t born immortal, and therefore we can’t just assume that anyone other than the saved will be immortal. And, you know, it might make a difference depending on whether the child has faith in Jesus. It might.