Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Response to CQ--Eternal Burning Torment

In the Introduction to this response to, I mentioned how my mother had gotten a booklet from them, and that later I'd found out that the entire booklet was online at their website. I've since come to realise that the booklet comprises only half of what is in "Study #1" at The booklet that my mother received ends after "Christ Our Full Salvation" and before "New Birth." Never fear, dear reader, I will not skimp out on you! I will give you a response to the entire chapter list that I provided in the Introduction!

What I won't do, however, is bother to reply to's second study on the teachings of Christ. Why? Because I hope that I can demonstrate the fact that this group is not Catholic in this response alone, as well as the truth of the Catholic position, without wasting more time. And, mainly, because this series of responses is for my mom, and not simply against

But anyway, on with the show. As always, CQ's words will be in blue, and my own in white.

Chapter 3: Be Careful of Protestant Teachings
Eternal Burning Torment

Most Protestants believe that the punishment of the wicked is eternal burning torment.

We're still talking about (to?) Protestants in this chapter, and very little is mentioned about Catholicism. While it is true to say that most Protestants believe in "eternal damnation and separation from God in Hell" (and so the Catholic Church also teaches: Catechism of the Catholic Church #1033-1037), however, tries to make eternal separation from God into "eternal burning torment," conjuring up ghastly images of torture and cruelty. According to the Catechism, "The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs" (CCC 1035). Thus, the suffering of Hell is not the infliction of torment, but the absence of all things good. Moreover, the Church makes it clear that God does not so much send people to Hell, but allows them their choice in rejecting Him: "God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a wilful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end" (CCC 1037).

Since this tract seeks to condemn belief in hell, "" is pretty straightforwardly not Catholic. And, since they have misrepresented the teaching of the Church on hell, I am not overly confident in their evidence against it.

In the current climate of thinking it is much less prominently preached but still is believed by many Protestants.

I consider this fact a shame. As Christians, we are called to preach the truth, but often we sugar-coat the harder-to-hear portions, and so millions go without warning.

However, increasingly, Evangelical Christians are questioning it. The basis of this belief is that the soul, some say the spirit, of man is immortal. This belief teaches that the body at death begins to corrupt but the soul continues on its eternal journey. Thus, we would expect to find at least a number of texts in the Scriptures that plainly state that the soul is immortal. Probably the reader will be quite surprised to know that no such text can be found in Scripture. Actually the Bible says the opposite.

Before examining the texts that allegedly contradict the teaching of the immortality of the soul, I want to contend their claim that "no such text can be found in Scripture." If there are no passages describing the soul after death, and especially the soul condemned to hell after death, then what sense are we to make of Jesus' parable of Lazarus and Dives, in Luke 16:19-31? If we have no immortal soul, then to whom did Jesus go, according to 1 Peter 3:18-21 and 4:6? If our souls are dormant until the resurrection, then what did John see under the Altar of Heaven, when he writes, "When he broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of all the people who had been killed on account of the Word of God, for witnessing to it" (Revelation 6:9, emphasis mine)?

Contrary to's assertion that "no such text can be found in Scripture", I could, in fact, multiply examples!

If so, it must be a belief established upon human tradition.

Here, subtly indicates that it is in fact not Catholic with its deriding of "human tradition." However, since Scripture has shown us that the soul survives the death of the body, their assertion is nullified. And yet they continue, claiming in fact that the Bible teaches the very opposite. Let's see:

Here is what the Bible reveals.

Shall mortal man be more just than God (Job 4:17, emphasis added)?
The first thing to note is that Job is considered one of the earliest written of the Old Testament books. In the Old Testament, not only the immortality of the soul, but the very Resurrection which both and Catholics (and Protestants, for that matter) hold in common, were not developed until very late (and not fully so until the advent of Jesus!). Therefore, we would not expect that Job would be able to give us a guided exposition of life after death! What's more, in Job 4:17, it is not Job but Eliphaz, one of his "friends" speaking--one of those three friends whose theology is already askew, which is the whole point of Job! So his testimony can hardly be considered relevant to the case! CatholicQuest might as well have asked Pharaoh's opinion on the matter.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body (Roman 6:12, emphasis added).
While Romans is in the New Testament, and the life-after-death theology has developed a lot, the fact remains that this verse is talking about our "mortal body", not mentioning our "immortal soul." As such, it seems to me, that this verse is completely beside the point.

The Scriptures also tells us that God alone is immortal.
Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever (1 Timothy 1:17).
I do not see this verse saying that God alone is immortal, only that there is only one God, and He happens to be immortal.

The Bible reveals that God's redeemed saints will become immortal only when Jesus returns the second time.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:53,54).
Here there is contradiction. Either only God is immortal, or we will become immortal. For if we can become immortal, then God alone cannot be immortal. If it truly is a clincher point for that only God is immortal, so our souls cannot be, then neither can our mortal bodies ever be.

Further, enjoys employing the word "only", when the text of Scripture does not bear that out. Because at the end of time, our bodies will be resurrected and glorified and reunited with our souls, it does not follow that our souls are therefore not immortal until that point. Death indeed will be swallowed up in victory, because the separation of body and soul (which is our first death) will be reversed and overturned, just as it was for Jesus at His resurrection!

Now if the basic premise of eternal burning torment is false,

An "if" that has not been adequately proven.

then it logically leads to the conclusion that this belief is a dangerous myth.

I believe "dangerous myth" is slightly overstating the case. Rather, if the premise is false, then the conclusion is also false. If CatholicQuest is right, and there is no eternal torment, then my belief in one is no "danger" to me at all! On the other hand, if Catholic teaching on the matter is right, but an unrepentant sinner chooses to believe, and think to himself, "The worst that will happen to me if I reject God is death, and I already believe I'll just die anyway, then bring it!" then in truth it would be their belief, which, if false, is "dangerous." But then, CQ hasn't demonstrated a firm grasp of logic thus far.

Yet there are texts which appear to support eternal torment.
If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God...and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever (Revelation 14:9-11).
Here John is describing in graphic, symbolic detail the consequences of rejecting God, alluding to the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah, as well as to Isaiah's prophecy of doom for Edom. That people throughout history have taken this description literally in their descriptions of Hell is neither here nor there.

Why does the Bible teach that we are mortal and yet declare "the smoke of their torment ascends for ever and ever".

First of all, the Bible does not teach the former, and the latter, based on the cited passage, is open to some interpretation.

Protestants hold that the Bible is its own best interpreter. So let us follow that principle.

For the record, as a Catholic, I don't agree with this interpretive methodology--for the self-evident reason that using it, I could demonstrate the very opposite conclusion that comes to. But anyway...

Today the term "for ever and ever" means eternally, without end. But that was not true for the Jews. Frequently they used the terms "eternal", "everlasting" or "ever and ever" when they were signifying "until the end" or "until the completion."

According to Thayer's, the phrase in Revelation 14, "eis aion aion", can indeed mean, "for ever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity." Therefore, again, it is not at all certain that in this instance, the term means only "until the end" or "until completion."

We must always understand what the Bible meant at the time it was written.

We must also keep in mind that the Bible was inspired by the Spirit of God, and that things may mean more than what the author of them immediately knew.

Here are a couple of examples. Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel declared that she was giving Samuel to the Lord to abide for ever at the House of the Lord when she meant as long as he lived.
But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever.... Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there (1 Samuel 1:22,28, emphasis added).
Except that Hannah would have said these things 1000-odd years before John wrote the Apocalypse. So much for understanding what the Bible meant at the time it was written! I mean, heck, these two books were written 1000 years apart, in two completely different languages!

But in fact, in 1 Samuel 1:22, the phrase used is "'ad 'owlam", and again, according to Thayer's, means "for ever, always; continuous existence, perpetual; everlasting, indefinite or unending future, eternity." In the present context, I would think the best fit might be "indefinite or unending future," but even then, the prayer is obviously hyperbolic and figurative in that regard. Moreover, I'm sure it really was the mother's wish that the son would not only live forever, but dwell in God's house forever. Again, her prayer that Samuel would "appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever" is in fact literally fulfilled according to the Catholic position of things!

Clearer still is a text which addresses the judgment of God concerning the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed nearly 4,000 years ago according to the Bible record. But what does Jude declare?
Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them...are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 7, emphasis added).
Jude did not believed that Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities that once were located near the Dead Sea in Palestine, were still burning.

Certainly not. However, that does not forbid the interpretation that the sinful and unrepentant inhabitants are spiritually suffering the same fate eternally, that their physical cities endured in an instant. Compare the New Jerusalem Bible's rendering: "Sodom and Gomorrah, too, and the neighbouring towns, who with the same sexual immorality pursued unnatural lusts, are put before us as an example since they are paying the penalty of eternal fire." In fact, in either rendering, the "eternality" of the fire may refer not to its inextingishable quality, but to the fact that its origin is from the Eternal God. As such, the fire, which comes from the Eternal (God), punished the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Thus, there are three distinct ways of interpreting Jude 7. Why should's interpretation, which becomes an absurdity, be the correct one?

Because humans do not have immortality until Jesus' second coming,

An unsuccessfully demonstrated premise.

then the Protestant belief of the immortality of the soul is false.

In order to be accepted, the premise must actually be demonstrated.

Here are texts which plainly explain what happens to the wicked. The best known text in the Christian world is very plain.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16, emphasis added).
Jesus plainly states that believers in Him will not perish, which leads to the conclusion that the wicked do perish. The wicked perish eternally, they do not burn eternally.

What is the sense of this: "perish eternally"? How does one perish eternally? Die continuously? And what form does their eternal perishing take, if not fire? Drowning? Burial? A never-ending car-wreck? The Church does not teach literally that souls in hell burn for eternity, but indeed, that they perish eternally because they are separated from God!

Certainly, Paul believed the same message that Jesus taught.
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
The word for destruction in this text is "olethros". According to Thayer's, "The loss of a life of blessedness after death, future misery" and then refers to 2 Thess 1:9 for this meaning. Hence the more favourable rendering of the New Jerusalem Bible, "Their punishment is to be lost eternally, excluded from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength" (emphasis mine). This makes more linguistic sense than "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" (how is one "destructed from the presence of the Lord"?) and also lines up perfectly with the official Catholic teaching on Hell.

Yes, there is an eternal finality to the punishment of the wicked. Their death is eternal. Thus the Bible calls the eternal death of the wicked "the second death." wants this to mean that one is destroyed in the second death once, and stays that way for all eternity. That is how they define "their death is eternal." But that is death. If that is the truth, then the biblical writers would have had no reason to describe "eternal" death. They would simply have said, "they die." There is something logically more to the notion of "eternal death".

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone which is the second death (Revelation 21:8).
So would have us believe that the second death is dying by being thrown into a lake of fire, rather than eternally burning in that lake of fire. Is a God more loving and just to them, who only tortures people for a little while and lets them die, rather than one who doesn't? The problems with this reasoning are two: They are fixated on fire, and they haven't demonstrated that the soul is not immortal and therefore can "just die" in the fire. It is not that God sits there and chooses to prolong the soul's life just to watch it suffer!

Those who believe in eternal punishment usually believe that some humans God created for eternal life and others to burn eternally. Now if we believe in eternal burning torment we have a terrible dilemma because the Bible says "God is love" (1 John 4:8). Surely God could not be a God of love if He brought men and women into this world and then punished them for ever. That would make God a monster beyond anything that human beings could imagine.

Indeed, it would, which is why the Catholic Church rejects that false teaching in paragraph 1037 of the Catechism, quoted above, but here it is again: "God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a wilful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end." Hence, the Catholic Church and can agree on this one thing: God is not a monster. He does not create people for Hell.

Many thinking people have rejected the wonderful salvation of Jesus because they have been taught this fearful deception. One of the best known atheists saw this most terrible doctrine for what it was.
Who can estimate the misery that has been caused by this most infamous doctrine of eternal punishment? Think of the lives it has blighted--of the tears it has caused--of the agony it has produced. Think of the millions who have been driven to insanity by this most terrible of dogmas. This doctrine renders God the basest and most cruel being in the universe. Compared with him, the most frightful deities of the most barbarous and degraded tribes are miracles of goodness and mercy. There is nothing more degrading than to worship such a god. Lower than this the soul can never sink. If the doctrine of eternal damnation is true, let me share the fate of the unconverted; let me have my portion in hell, rather than in heaven with a god infamous enough to inflict eternal misery upon any of the sons of men (Robert G. Ingersoll, 1874, Heretics and Heresies: Liberty, A Word Without Which all Words are Vain).
This unfortunate opinion stems from the misinterpretation that God sends people to Hell. Rather, God bends over backwards to keep us from Hell--to the point of becoming a Man and dying for us, so that we could be saved! God desires that no one perish, but still, He leaves that choice to us. Short of forcing us into servitude to Him, what more could He possibly have done?!

No amount of reasoning could ever reconcile this monstrous belief with a God of love.

To the contrary, if God never justly punished the wicked, He would not be loving to those who were wronged by the wicked and were faithful to God. More, God neither makes us for hell, nor does He send us there--we go, if we go, by our own choosing to reject Him. If we reject Him, we obviously go to the one place He is not--and since He is the source of all life, love, peace, happiness, joy, etc., then to be without Him is to suffer.

Thank God that the Bible gives to us the true basis of God's mercy. I wonder how happy we could be in heaven if we knew a loved one was suffering eternally in excruciating agony in the fire of God.

God promises to wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4), and even promises that the past will be forgotten (Isaiah 65:17)! Thus, it is reasonable that we will not be mindful of those who have rejected God, while in His glory--and if we are, we will rejoice in the true and just judgements of God! However, here and now, it reinforces the need to reach all peoples with the Gospel, so that none of them ever experience this separation from God.

God offers His salvation to everyone who confesses, repents and forsakes the sin in their life. Listen to the words of Jesus,
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

The not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
The anguished words of our loving Jesus, just before His crucifixion concerning the rejection by the Jews of His gift of salvation dispels forever any thought of a cruel and arbitrary God who condemns myriads of hapless human beings without mercy to eternal burning torment.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not (Matthew 23:37).
God is not ruthless, cruel and fearsome. He is merciful, long-suffering and patient. God proved His love by sending His Son to die for our salvation. May none of us reject nor neglect that priceless salvation.

Amen! This is what we believe!

(Category: The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other denominations
Soteriology: The Four Last Things--Hell)


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