Theo 202 S04 Summer 1 06
Critique of The Final End of the Wicked by Edward Fudge
Although I personally think Edward Fudge did a fine job of presenting a case for the annihilationist view of the final end of the wicked, I am probably not the best person to judge. It is "preaching to the choir"—I held the same overall view even before reading his piece.
The strongest part of Fudge's approach is giving the Old Testament view of the destruction of the lost, and then correlating those expressions with how it is described in the New Testament. Although a traditionalist would likely not agree with his conclusions, it would seem difficult to apply many of the perpetual torment scriptures as convincingly as it would in a New Testament vacuum. Considering how tied to Scripture Jesus and His Apostles were, it makes sense they would use phrases derived from the canon as it existed in their day. The discussion of the inter-testament period was also enlightening, although it would have been valuable if there was an equivalent exposition of the early post-apostolic writings. It would seem fair to assume that we could gain some insight into Christ's position on the fate of the wicked by finding out what the early church fathers believed. From a quick mention in Fudge's paper, it appears he believes that only in the third century did the concept of eternal torment become common in the Christian church.
Before listing some areas Fudge avoids, it should be noted that it was not because he could not have spoken to them. Clearly the limitations of the short paper form are the reason for omissions; he has written what some think is the definitive annihilationist book, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment. It is difficult to believe that within its 504 pages there would not be a complete survey.
The biggest area Fudge's paper "missed" was the whole discussion of immortality. He takes it as a given that we are not immortal, and, probably unfairly, quantifies part of the argument for eternal torment with: ". . . NT language on the subject requires us to conclude that God will make the wicked immortal for the purpose of torturing them alive forever without end" (325). (If the "image of God" that man gets includes immortality, then it is not reasonable to say that God makes "the wicket immortal for the purpose of torturing them alive forever without end.") The reason the doctrine of immortality is so important is because if man is immortal, then there must be some place for the lost to spend eternity. Regardless of whether that eternity is a place of fire and brimstone, it would be apart from God—which in-and-of-itself would be considered torture. Thus, if we are immortal, there is eternal torment for the wicked.
Fudge also does not speak to every reference those who disagree with him would list. For instance, what about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-37? All his arguments to discount the eternal torment scriptures cannot apply to what the rich man was experiencing in Hades. Or, as would seem to apply to the annihilationist view, if we all "sleep" until the resurrection, how do we explain Paul's mental wrestling match as to whether it was better to stay helping the saints at Philippi or to "depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23, ESV)? Finally, Fudge's paper did not speak to the eternal weeping, only the eternal gnashing of teeth. His argument for the latter might be applicable to the former, but it does seem to diminish his contention that the New Testament descriptions of hell were almost entirely based on Old Testament ones.
When Fudge's piece came out back in 1984, it likely had quite an impact. It must have energized the debate, and hopefully inspired people to make sure their beliefs were based on Scripture, and not just the "traditions of men." I look forward to reading his complete book at some point to see how he has spoken to the items the space limitations did not allow him to approach.
I believe God alone is immortal (1 Timothy 6:16) and that the saved only enter eternity because He resurrects them and provides them with the river of life (Revelation 22:1). Since the wicked are not immortal, when God removes His life sustaining power from them, they die—forever. As I mention above, if we are not immortal, then there is no "need" for hell (other than as a description of the eternal destruction of the wicked). Fudge does a fair overview of how an annihilationist would respond to most of the eternal torment references, so I would rather focus on some of the higher level considerations that make annihilation more logical, at least to me.
First, what is the use of a resurrection if we can live for eternity in a spirit body? It makes the whole physical existence seem superfluous, and almost argues for the Mormon belief that we all were spirits before living here, and then came down to earn our bodies. Instead, the resurrection is a true hope. For instance, Jesus does not try to give Martha optimism for her brother Lazarus by saying he is in heaven (or will be after Jesus rose), but instead appeals to the resurrection of the saved: "'Your brother will rise again'" (John 11:23). That is far from the presentation you hear at most Christian funerals for the saved brother or sister who has passed on—instead we talk about how they are already with our Lord in heaven. What glory is there in getting an Adamic body if we already are with Jesus in some spirit form?
In line with the discussion of man's physical body is the whole question of what hell would be like. Jesus notes it was "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). Angels are not corporeal (although they have taken on corporal form), so hell would be a place for spirits. Yet, we know even the lost are resurrected (John 5:29). If hell is an eternal conscious place for rebellious beings, does God take the wicked humans' bodies away from them so they can be properly tormented in a hell designed for spirits? Otherwise, if it is (or "also is") a physical place then it would appear that God did create hell for wicked mankind too.
Additionally, the various ways hell is described appear to conflict unless they are symbolic of a non-literal place. Is it a "fiery furnace" (Matthew 13:42) or "outer darkness" (Matthew 8:12)? Is it a place for lost humans and wicked angels, or can immaterial things like death be also thrown into it (Revelation 20:14)? For that matter, Revelation 20:14 says hell itself (Hades) is thrown into hell (lake of fire). Even if we spiritualize death, does not that reference say that death itself is eternally destroyed? Finally, how does God finally do away with sin if He maintains, forever, a place for active sinners to be tormented? For instance, if it is a sin to blaspheme God, can we honestly believe the billions of the lost who are being tortured in hell will not, at least occasionally, say something negative about the judge who put them there? The cancer of sin is never exercised, it is only contained.
Ultimately, for argument's sake, let us assume that the eternality of hell has only to do with the effect of the destruction of the wicked. Does everything else not fit better into place? Is it not easier to explain how God is love? How when He said to Adam and Eve that death kills, it really does? Why the resurrection is meaningful? How Jesus really did suffer the fate of sinners on the cross (separation from God)? How from the ground we came, and back to the ground we go?
Obviously, logic is meaningless without scriptural backing, but Fudge shows that, whether or not one agrees with his conclusions, there are reasonable biblical arguments for annihilation. So, if reasonable argument can be made on both sides, then is not the higher level logical discussion valid? I would argue that if we are not immortal, many more things fall in place than if we are.
Finally, I realize I have not spoken to the two scriptures I said Fudge "missed." With Lazarus and the rich man, there is no way that can be a literal discussion of what happens to the wicked and righteous when we die. For instance, do we honestly believe Lazarus could reach down and touch the rich man's tongue with a drop of water or that Abraham can be spoken to by a person in hell (Luke 16:24)? Jesus is allegorically discussing how our actions on earth have eternal implications, and once we die there is no changing our eternal fate. I have no good explanation for Paul saying he would be with Christ when he died, other than the standard argument that if you sleep in the grave, you have no knowledge of time. Thus, when I die it will, to me, mean immediate reunion with Christ. I realize this explanation is likely not satisfactory to those who believe we go straight to heaven (or hell), but I do think we all have to remember that God is not limited by time (which He created) like we are. Our concepts of eternity, "immediate," etcetera are tainted by our inability to see outside that which restricts us.
Clearly there is much more to be said about this subject. For instance, does the impetus to fulfill the Great Commission decrease if there is nothing horrendously awful to save people from? Perhaps a good subject for another paper…