Would a God of Love Torment Souls?
THE dominant quality of the Creator of man is love. He is the very personification of love. That is why the Bible says: “God is love.” (1 John 4:16) Of this loving God, the psalmist David sang: “Being under his anger is for a moment, being under his goodwill is for a lifetime.”—Ps. 30:5.
The extent of God’s love for humankind is evident from his view of those who transgress his laws. Though their actions make him “feel hurt” and ‘pain’ him, he does not immediately flare up against them in anger. (Ps. 78:38-41) He mercifully extends opportunities for them to change their ways, as he finds no pleasure in having to execute adverse judgment against them. Through his prophet Ezekiel he told disobedient Israel: “I take delight, not in the death of the wicked one, but in that someone wicked turns back from his way and actually keeps living. Turn back, turn back from your bad ways, for why is it that you should die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11) Viewing life as precious, Jehovah God sees to it that warning is given to those who violate his righteous laws.
A case in point is Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria. As reported in the Bible, the inhabitants of that city became so wicked that Jehovah had in mind destroying them. Nevertheless, he gave them an opportunity to abandon their wrongdoing. In his boundless love and mercy he sent the prophet Jonah to them. “Only forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown,” was the startling announcement of Jehovah’s prophet.—Jonah 3:4.
The Ninevites knew that they had made a bad record for themselves. Their God-given conscience condemned them. Though not worshipers of Jehovah God, they were still given to the fear of deities. So when they heard a foreigner, who had no conceivable personal interest in them, declare with boldness their coming destruction, the Ninevites were shocked to their senses. The whole city, including the king, repented in sackcloth and ashes.
Mercifully the God of love spared the repentant Ninevites from the calamity that his prophet had pronounced against them. Jonah just could not understand this. In fact, he became angry. He left the city and built a booth for himself to the east of Nineveh. There he remained to see what would happen to the city.—Jonah 4:1-5.
So that Jonah would come to appreciate the rightness of God’s sparing the repentant Ninevites, Jehovah chose to teach him by means of an object lesson. He caused a bottle-gourd plant to grow miraculously and provide welcome shade for Jonah in his booth. Later, Jehovah appointed a worm to feed on the plant, causing it to dry up. Deprived of the plant’s shade, Jonah was subjected to a parching east wind and the hot sun beating down upon his head. He doubtless began to wonder why the plant had to die, especially since it had been such a blessing to him. Though Jonah had neither planted nor cared for it, he felt sorry for the plant; it seemed a shame that it had to die so soon.—Jonah 4:6-10.
Jehovah God, though, had much more reason to feel sorry for Nineveh. The value of its inhabitants and domestic animals was far greater than that of one bottle-gourd plant. Applying the object lesson, Jehovah asked Jonah: “Ought I not to feel sorry for Nineveh the great city, in which there exist more than one hundred and twenty thousand men who do not at all know the difference between their right hand and their left, besides many domestic animals?”—Jonah 4:11.
Is it reasonable to conclude that a God who has such tender feelings toward humans would, after their death, torment some of them in a fiery hell for all eternity? If Jehovah God finds no delight in the death of the wicked, how could he possibly have any pleasure in seeing people suffer the greatest of agonies for all eternity?
While the Israelites were engaging in the revolting practice of child sacrifice, Jehovah told his prophet Jeremiah: “They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, in order to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, a thing that I had not commanded and that had not come up into my heart.” (Jer. 7:31) If the abominable practice of child sacrifice was something that could never have been conceived by the God of love, how could he possibly conceive of eternal torment for humans who violate his laws?
GOD DOES NOT WITHHOLD PUNISHMENT
This does not mean that Jehovah God will leave wrongdoing unpunished, that he winks at flagrant violations of his commandments. His Word declares: “Jehovah is a God exacting exclusive devotion and taking vengeance; Jehovah is taking vengeance and is disposed to rage. Jehovah is taking vengeance against his adversaries, and he is resentful toward his enemies. Jehovah is slow to anger and great in power, and by no means will Jehovah hold back from punishing.” (Nah. 1:2, 3) “He is wise in heart and strong in power. Who can show stubbornness to him and come off uninjured?” (Job 9:4) Even those professing to be his people but making themselves guilty of transgression will not be shielded from injury, yes, torment.
If a person tries to conceal his sin, God will not spare him from the tormenting effect of a guilty conscience. One who experienced this was David. He wrote: “When I kept silent my bones wore out through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me. My life’s moisture has been changed as in the dry heat of summer.”—Ps 32:3, 4.
Attempted repression of a guilty conscience wore David out. Anguish over what he had done reduced his vigor just as a tree might lose life-giving moisture during the intense heat of a dry summer. The torment that David experienced, however, produced good results. It moved him to confess his sin and regain a proper relationship with his God.
Even the severest discipline to which Jehovah God may subject a people is purposeful. It can bring about their betterment. Never does Jehovah God afflict anyone for the sake of deriving personal pleasure. He has no more delight in administering punishment than does a loving father in dealing with a disobedient child. Illustrating the purpose of his discipline, Jehovah declared through his prophet Isaiah:
“Is it all day long that the plower plows in order to sow seed, that he loosens and harrows his ground? Does he not, when he has smoothed out its surface, then scatter black cummin and sprinkle the cummin, and must he not put in wheat, millet, and barley in the appointed place, and spelt as his boundary? And one corrects him according to what is right. His own God instructs him. For it is not with a threshing instrument that black cummin is given a treading; and upon cummin no wheel of a wagon is turned. For it is with a rod that black cummin is generally beaten out, and cummin with a staff. Is breadstuff itself generally crushed? For never does one incessantly keep treading it out. And he must set the roller of his wagon in motion, and his own steeds, but he will not crush it. This also is what has come forth from Jehovah of armies himself, who has been wonderful in counsel, who has done greatly in effectual working.”—Isa. 28:24-29.
Plowing and harvesting are limited. The hardness of the soil governs the extent or intensity of the plowing. The type of grain determines the force and weight of the instruments used for threshing. Similarly, Jehovah God does not forever discipline or punish those who transgress his law. He disciplines them primarily to soften them, to make them more receptive to his counsel and guidance. This illustrates God’s wisdom in cleansing people, getting rid of undesirable traits by means of a treatment that best fits the existing needs.
At times what Jehovah God allows to come upon individuals can be a real torment to them. It may painfully expose their wrong ways. (Compare Revelation 11:10.)
Those who fail to pay attention to the denouncements that Jehovah God has proclaimed through the mouth of his servants experience the tormenting effect of the message. They miss out on the blessings that would come to them if they were to repent and change their ways. However, even in their case, the torment accomplishes a purpose. It reveals that they are not worthy of being spared the execution of God’s judgment.
But could it be said that eternal torment would be purposeful? If Jehovah God were to subject humans to eternal torment, would the tormented ones be benefited? Obviously not. Even if they wanted to, they could not become better individuals and improve their situation. Then, too, the Creator would gain nothing from tormenting them eternally. It would only force him to do something that he does not want to do, namely, to look upon constant suffering, suffering that has no good purpose in view for the one who is made to bear it without any possibility of relief. The prophet Habakkuk wrote with reference to God: “You are too pure in eyes to see what is bad; and to look on trouble you are not able.” (Hab. 1:13) How, then, could God for all eternity look upon the anguish of those who transgressed his law?
Truly it is inconceivable that a God of love would do something that is completely contrary to his personality, ways and dealings.
However, it might be asked, Is this the only evidence against the teaching of eternal torment? Is there not evidence to show that something survives the death of the body? Does not conscious existence continue after death? So will there be torment for that which survives the death of the body? For the answer to these questions, we invite you to read the next article.
[Picture on page 228]
When the Israelites engaged in the practice of child sacrifice, God expressed his disapproval, saying he had not commanded this and that it ‘had not come up into his heart’