The entire planet suddenly finds itself standing united in its moral outrage against the ISIS crime of burning a man alive. Jordanian pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh perished at the hands of terrorists who executed their captive with fire. What kind of character or moral framework does it require to torture an adversary? Statesmen and news commentators around the world decry this barbarity with words like depraved, monstrous, evil.
It makes me wonder if we as Christians can honorably defend the doctrine of eternally burning hell. It is true that we sin against a God of infinite holiness; some theologians suggest that this does indeed require a punishment of infinite duration. However, eminent scholars are increasingly asserting legitimate alternatives that can be deemed biblically sound. The late evangelical giant John Stott pled for a view he himself admitted was tentative: “The ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment (ECT).” In joining many fellow believers who grappled with the terrorist-like idea of millions of real people suffering endlessly in unspeakable pain, he confessed: “Emotionally I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain.”
It’s foundational to Scripture that God is supreme; he can morally do whatever he wishes. If ECT is his judgment against evil, we must accept it as right and fair and redemptive. But there are solid responses to the Bible texts which appear to support eternal hellfire. The 1992 book, “Four Views on Hell,” is a good starting place.