What Is the Destiny of the Wicked?
WHAT is the destiny of the wicked? That is a question that doubtless many asked upon hearing of the capture of the Nazi criminal, one Eichmann, who had been responsible for the death of millions of Jews and who boasted that he felt no regrets. Will such a man, after his execution, suffer eternal torment in a burning hell? Or does death end all? What destiny does God’s justice decree for such men?
Of this we may be certain: justice will be done. Why? Because God exists, and of him it is written: “I, Jehovah, am loving justice.” Therefore the Scriptural principle holds good: “Whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”—Isa. 61:8; Gal. 6:7.
Thus God’s Word assures us that “the righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” But “the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”—Ps. 37:29; 9:17, AV, Dy.
This, however, raises the question, Just what is this hell into which the wicked are turned? According to the late Pope Pius XII, hell is a real place of eternal torment. Elucidating his remarks for us, a popular Roman Catholic publication states: “There is nothing doubtful in the words of Christ, the Son of God, about the reality of hell. He plainly said that it is the place to which the unrepentant sinners will be condemned forever, that there ‘the worm dieth not, and the fire is never extinguished,’ and that ‘it is far better to go into heaven blind, maimed and lame, than with two eyes and two hands and with two feet to be cast into the depths of hell.’ . . . And he gave no comforting assurance that only a very few would be condemned to hell; rather he spoke of the throng to whom he would have to say: ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.”’ This view, it might be added, is also held by many Protestants.—Mark 9:43-48; Matt. 25:41.
But can the torturing of multitudes throughout eternity be harmonized with what the Bible tells about our heavenly Father being just, merciful and loving? Even the laws of imperfect men forbid cruel and unusual punishment. Is God less just and loving than his imperfect and sinful creatures?—Ex. 34:6, 7; 1 John 4:8.
Further, if Jesus’ words regarding the destiny of the wicked are to be taken literally, is it not passing strange that, while the Bible tells us of God creating heaven and earth, it says nothing about his creating a place of eternal torment, nor of a purgatory, for that matter? When was hell created? Before any of God’s creatures sinned, or only thereafter? And where is it?
The question also is raised as to what it is that goes to hell. Certainly not the physical body, for it returns to the dust. The soul? But what is the soul? Is it, as claimed by Augustine, an immortal spiritual substance, created by God at the time of the conception of a human, and which at death goes to heaven, purgatory or hell?
Not according to God’s Word. It tells us that when God created man he “came to be a living soul,” also that because of sin no man is able to “deliver his soul from the hand of the grave.” Thus also Samson prayed: “Let my soul die with the Philistines.” Yes, plainly we read: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.”—Gen. 2:7; Ps. 89:48, AV; Judg. 16:30; Ezek. 18:20.
What is generally overlooked is that what God placed before Adam were not the alternatives of life in heaven and life in eternal torment, but life (existence) and death (nonexistence). God said nothing about Adam’s going to heaven, but only that “in the day you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and bad] you will positively die.” And so when Adam and Eve disobeyed, God did not sentence them to an eternity of torture but to nonexistence: “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” God used Moses to put the same alternatives before his people: “I have put life and death before you.” And so we also read that “the wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life.”—Gen. 2:17; 3:19; Deut. 30:19; Rom. 6:23.
This is logical, reasonable and just. If life is a gift, as the Scriptures state, it can be refused. Were man born with an immortal soul, he would have an eternity forced upon him with an ultimatum of obey or suffer torment forever. That would show about as much love as would be shown by a young man who would offer a young lady an engagement ring with the alternative of blowing her brains out!
Then how are we to understand the words of Jesus quoted above in support of eternal torment for the wicked? As figures of speech, as indeed they must be in view of their context. When Jesus spoke of plucking out an eye or chopping off a foot or hand, did he mean for us literally to perform mayhem upon ourselves, and would we then throughout eternity dwell in heaven with but one eye, one hand, one foot? Of course not! Since these words are to be understood figuratively, or as symbols, so must Jesus’ references to the worm not dying and the fire not being quenched. The same is true of his parable of the sheep and goats. Even as he was not referring to literal sheep and goats but to sheeplike and goatlike people, so he was not referring to literal fire but to firelike complete destruction.
The false religious teaching that eternal torment is the destiny of the wicked blasphemes God and turns honest persons away from him. But the truth honors him and shows him to be wise, just and loving. Those who love and obey God will receive his gifts, chief of which is life. Those who do not, the wicked, will be extinct, without life.
In this space age God is again putting before all mankind the alternatives of life and death. Fulfillment of Bible prophecy shows that we are living in the days Jesus likened to those of Noah. Even as Noah and his family survived the Deluge because of knowing and doing God’s will, so today only those who know and do God’s will will survive the impending destruction of Armageddon. To help you toward that end is one of the purposes of this magazine.—Matt. 24:37-39.