Among doubts that confronted me as a Christian were that Christianity offered every soul but one life on Earth, regardless of one’s advantages or disadvantages at birth, and that every soul would receive either eternal reward in heaven for being obediently worshipful of the Trinity or unceasing punishment in hell otherwise, regardless of one’s personal conduct. Why should someone born into poverty, physical handicap, abuse, or disease, of parents (or worse, orphaned) practicing another faith, be judged for eternity according to the same criteria as myself, born into a middleclass Christian family in America? This struck me as inherently unfair for a deity of love and mercy. So, as a teenager I began investigating reincarnation as a possible solution to this dilemma. Though a Catholic priest once told me he knew of nothing in Scripture that precluded the possibility of souls returning to life in different bodies, the orthodox tradition of all churches in Christianity holds that we each have but one life and one chance for salvation.
Further, Bible.org states: “The whole thrust of the Bible opposes reincarnation. It shows that man is the special creation of God, created in God’s image with both a material body and an immaterial soul and spirit. He is presented as distinct and unique from all other creatures — angels and the animal kingdom alike. The Bible teaches that at death, while man’s body is mortal, decays and returns to dust, his soul and spirit continue on either in a place of torments for those who reject Christ or in paradise (heaven) in God’s presence for those who have trusted in the Savior. Both categories of people will be resurrected, one to eternal judgment and the other to eternal life with a glorified body (John 5:25-29). The emphatic statement of the Bible … is that ‘it is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment’ (Heb. 9:27).”
Regarding reincarnation, most Christians seem to be in agreement that souls don’t get a second chance, though Dr Jim B. Tucker, MD, in his book Return to Life, presents several case studies from more than 2,000 collected accounts of children relating their previous experience in another life. However, there is division concerning whether or not souls of unbelievers and disbelievers are forever punished in hell. Some biblical commentators, such as David J. Stewart and Matt Slick, say “hell yes,” there’s eternal punishment for everyone who doesn’t accept Jesus Christ as his/her personal Savior. Others, such as Dirk Waren, argue those who do not deserve the eternal reward of Heaven are not punished for eternity in hell, instead God will completely destroy their bodies and souls, a sentence of eternal oblivion. In either case, unbelievers and disbelievers face a harrowing end, according to Scripture.
According to Stewart: “Repeatedly the Bible teaches that the just and the wicked go to DIFFERENT places in eternity. They do NOT all go to the same eternal destiny. Psalm 9:17 makes this clear, ‘The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.’ If the righteous and the wicked go to the same place in the grave, then Psalm 9:17 would make no sense at all. But it does make sense if you believe the Bible’s teaching of eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire for all Christ-rejecters.” Further verses: Jude 1:7 “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Matthew 5:22 ESV “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Matthew 25:41 ESV “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.” Matthew 25:46 “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
Slick writes: “The teaching that there is an eternal hell in which hordes of mankind will suffer eternal punishment can be a difficult doctrine to accept. We hear so much about God’s infinite love and how He desires that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). However, those who develop their theologies based upon the ‘gentle’ side of God do so with an incomplete picture. … The Bible teaches that there is a fiery hell, a place that Jesus warned people about. ‘And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire,’ (Matt. 18:8). Eternal fire is real. Jesus said it was. ... It is what Jesus came here to save us from.”
Verses that support Waren’s viewpoint of utter destruction rather than eternal punishment: Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 10:28 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 2 Thessalonians 1:9 “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power”
Taking Waren’s interpretation, I’ll grant that “hell” as a place of “eternal punishment” by “fire and brimstone” might be excluded — striking the literal sense of souls experiencing physically, emotionally, spiritually in a prison of excruciating terror and torment, “and they have no rest day or night” — except for those passages in Jude and Matthew. On the other hand, consider that if a human prisoner faces either a life sentence in prison (in solitary or otherwise, with or without torture and deprivation) or execution, one would not make the distinction that the latter is not a “punishment,” even though the condemned man won’t have to endure the remaining years of life in a prison cell. Thus, one can’t deny that Scripture speaks of Heaven for the elect and Hell for everyone else, with “hell” referring to absolute extinction. Further, one can’t deny that the purpose of the Redeemer (death and resurrection) is to provide a means of salvation, a path of righteousness to an eternal reward, while those who refuse to believe are to suffer eternal punishment, meaning eternal absence of consciousness and existence. Since I do not believe in the Bible as the literal Word of God, in Jesus as the risen Christ, in God as the Father and Creator, in the Holy Spirit of the Trinity — “But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation …” — you as a Christian must believe, you must hope and prayer fervently, that I’m deserving of damnation, for if I’m not, then your faith is false — you will be denied eternal reward.
Patrick Ivers is an educator and agnostic. Mathematics is the language of the universe; literature, the articulation of the soul.