The case being made by the annihilationists we have interacted with has certain presuppositional commitments which affect how they read Scripture. The first entails that we view death as an atheist would – empirically. The second entails that we read Scripture as if these descriptions it gives are meant to describe empirical processes or events. The third is that these descriptions are of the process, not describing the nature of the one who punishes. The fourth is that the nature of God is to be understood immanentistically.
As we dealt with the commentary concerning “Think of how an atheist views death”, we saw that they were actually borrowing from the materialist’s worldview, then trying to fit that into the text. As a result, you have unidimensional interpretations of parables – such as “you don’t want to be fish” – or that “in the end, the man in prison still dies.” You have the “proleptic” account for death spoken of in present or past tense. You have, from that, the already/not yet distinction fused into an single, uneasy mass. Death must, in their view, be taken empirically – think of how an atheist views death! What do you do then, however, with the fact that the atheist is a fool? When you take “brute facts”, or “brute views” and divorce them from the presuppositional commitments that they rest upon, you end up throwing over your shoulder into the abyss of chance everything which doesn’t fit your schema. It’s not a “specimen”? Throw the rascal out!
When we are speaking of worms, or fire, we are on the one hand told that we are not talking about literal fire, or literal worms – but then on the other hand, the results of this fire’s consumption, or eating by worms, is inevitably literal in terms of the empirical reduction to ashes, or until the corpse is no more. We are told on the one hand that what is not meant is a literal pile of corpses – but on the other hand, that the second death is like the first – the reduction to piles of lifeless corpses, who will eventually rot away, and be no more – the effect being the punishment – eternal lifelessness. I’m sure that there will be “nuance” of some sort on this point, and the others – but we have the assertion that this position is “purely” exegetical, with no emotional or philosophical underpinnings. This cannot, however, be true. If you’re doing theology, you’re doing philosophy, and vice versa. They speak of the same subjects. You have a philosophy of death – and so do I. The question is not whether you have an theology OR a philosophy of death – that is simplistic, and irrational. The question is which theology and philosophy of death that you have. Is it the one that accords with the atheistic view? Obviously not, in a superficial way, because an atheist treats death as a merely physical process, with no expectation of judgment. However, think more of how an atheist views death. They suppress the truth that they know about death. They know it’s not merely a physical process – because they know the God with whom they must deal. Yet, this is what they suppress, and deceive themselves about. They know very well that death is not what they say it is. Yet, on another level, they operate, think, and work under the assumption that this is true. Are we to emulate this? Well, if we are to take the Biblical account for the atheist’s view of death seriously, and to take this as our model – what are we left with? Self-deception. Is this what Date & Co. mean by “think of how an atheist views death”? If their case truly was exegetical, I don’t see any other conclusion to reach, do you? However, we know that their case concerning the nature of death is not exegetical. Like the atheist, they will tell us that “all the facts point to this conclusion” – but what they forget is that the facts are not brute facts. Facts are interpreted. The meaning of the facts are what are under discussion, not “facts as facts as facts.”
When we are dealing with “consuming fire” or “furnace of fire,” repeatedly the emphasis is placed on this “consuming fire” not depicting torment, but the reduction to ashes. On the other hand, we are told, the “traditionalist” is literalistic, and takes all of these symbols to mean something literal, when they should not. Unfortunately, we are then told that this same imagery signifies something literal about “consume”, or “fire” – there is a literal sense in which this “consumption” is some sort of reduction to ashes, or to a lifeless state – which is death. The problem with this idea is two-fold. Whatever the “traditionalist” may argue, the text speaks of God as a consuming fire. Since God’s attributes are identical to Him, when it speaks of His wrath as a consuming fire, this is to be expected. When we are given a revelation of what God is like, we are not to take this to be a technical manual on the reduction of chaff, bodies, cities, or anything else to ashes. We are to take this as analogous to the nature of God – as per theology proper. When we are given the picture of God as consuming fire, we are to take this as picturing the irresistible nature of His wrath, and the sovereignty of His judgment.
Notice – again and again, Date, his companions, and their sources pull from OT prophecy to create didactic statements. He is mixing genres. Prophetic books are highly symbolic, as he argues in regard to Revelation. Great! So, why is he remaking the OT prophecies into a didactic teaching on the nature of fire, or of a host of other subjects? He cites things like the burning bush, as examples of fire that does not consume – why does it not consume? God is a consuming fire – but He does not consume His elect. For them, His fire is redemptive, protective, and guiding fire. He is their beacon and their shield – He lights their path, and plants beacons to draw them to Himself. That same wrath consumed our Lord – but it did not reduce Him to ashes. The angel’s coal was a cleansing fire – and so is that of the Spirit. The very wrath of God which consumed our Lord was the fire which cleansed His people. Yet, He gave up His own life. It was not taken. The word of God, to Jeremiah, is like a burning in his bones – he must let it out, that it might do its work. In Ezekiel, and Daniel, the angels burn like fires. It is their brightness, their flaming holiness, that is in view. Christ, when he comes again, will be revealed with His angels in flaming fire. Again and again, we see that fire is emblematic of holiness – it is the holy wrath of God which is depicted by this flame – and His sovereignty by the consumption. There is none that can stand. As the proud cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were burnt to cinders, and smoldered until the time of Christ, so will the resistance of God’s creatures be to His wrath, when the grapes of His wrath are finally readied for the winepress. We can multiply images here, but I point this out to demonstrate – while it’s all well and good to say “here and here and here” these words are used – what is your hermeneutic when you do so? This isn’t meant to be an argument, per se – but a demonstration. What do you mean when you tell us what the Bible means? Which presuppositional commitments are you using to read Scripture with? If you are wearing the “atheist colored glasses” when viewing death, of course you’ll see death materialistically. You’ll see the symbols of prophecy in mechanistic terms, rather than analogous terms, and center the interpretation on man, rather than God. What do I mean by that? When speaking of death, notice how he always seems to focus on the result, and the subject, not the cause, and the object? There is a reason for this.
This reason, to deal with our fourth point, is that in this view, God is rendered immanentistically, not transcendentally. Justice, in their view, is not considered as the nature of God, as such – but it is considered as the various ways in which God can be *considered* just in doing a particular thing. Considered as if God were a man. However, when speaking of God *rendering* justice, we are to see it as God acting – and as we know, God is actus purus – thus, when He renders Justice, it is eternal, infinite, holy justice – and, not so incidentally, singular justice. There cannot be multiple cases where God would be equally just in meting out one punishment, or another one. That which God does is that which He determined to do, from eternity, where He is, a se, and metes out His wrath upon the proper subjects of that wrath in all sovereignty. It is by rebels that His holiness was offended; thus it is on rebels that His wrath falls. Yet these rebels cannot pay that which God’s holiness demands in satisfaction, in time. However, the annihilationist view considers the cessation of a man’s life to be sufficient payment for that offense against this infinite holiness. Again, here we come to philosophy – is philosophy driven by theology, or is theology being driven by philosophy? In Scripture, the worth of a man, even a man made in the image of God, is not that of God. The worth of a man is not enough to be considered satisfaction – or sufficient glorification of His justice – to warrant that this punishment ceases. If this is to be affirmed, the language describing life must be similarly considered – where the effects of the lives of those given mercy are sufficient glorification of that attribute. The lives of the righteous are never said to end, are they not? Well, using the same hermeneutic, the effect of their lives can be said to never end, and to be considered the reward, can they not? If you ignore the same things their position ignores in order to define death as they do, I do believe that you can, indeed, say that.
Note something else, while we’re here. Note that the very terms of the discussion affirm what it is we’re saying about death being parasitic. There is something absurd about defining life as merely “rendered deathless” in the same sense that death is defined as “rendered lifeless.” It is something active, something that is experienced, and continues – has it’s own nature, and properties of it’s own. When you think of “the life of God” in theology proper, we get the analogy for the life of man, in the created order – in Him we live, move, and have our being. Our life is “in God.” Death, however, cannot even define itself apart from the existence of life. It is a parasite. All of its categories are corruptions of the categories defining life. You cannot have “death in God”, can you? Death, by it’s very nature, is loathsome, corrupted life – a lack – which is apart from God, not of Him. Even those dead in their trespasses and sins live, move, and have their being in God – but the life which they possess is a corrupted life – it is death – because they themselves are in opposition – in rebellion – to God, in their very natures. It is that corruption – the cheapening, or lessening of life which shows it to be not of God. Yet, this death is a negative attribute of life – the very use of the term means to have something absent from life. Sin steals from perfection, the righteousness which comes from God, and cheapens it – renders it imperfect – and thence comes death from life.
In Scripture, the punishment declared to be just by the God who is just, is that punishment which condemns them, along with the angels whom they joined in rebellion, to be cast into the lake of fire, the second death, and this punishment is portrayed by torment day and night, forever and ever. In Scripture, the second death is compared to continual contempt, continual corruption of life, continual torment, and is explicitly said to be the fate of all that is wicked. The curse must be fulfilled. This is not all, however. Remember, the second death is compared to the second life. The second life is continual honor, continual holiness, and continual joy – and is said to be the fate of all the blessed. Will be be like the blessed angels – the reprobate will be like the cursed demons. We will live eternally, they will die eternally. As vessels of mercy, so vessels of wrath. Prepared for glory, prepared for destruction. Keep on with Romans 9. Does it say that the use of these vessels ceases, in the one case, and continues in the other? No, it says that one use is honorable, and the other for, literally, dishonorable use. Again, does God’s mercy cease? It is ever in view, and ever set against the backdrop of what? The ever-present backdrop of His wrath. The eternity of God’s glory must be ever-present in our mind. God will forever glorify Himself in keeping the corrupted life – death – of the wicked under punishment, under His curse – as He will forever glorify Himself in keeping the perfect life of the righteous in His grace, under His blessing. The two cannot be sundered, because the nature of God cannot be sundered. Set before us is life and death – blessing and curse. “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?”