Complete Harmony: contra Annihilationism

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One of Annihilationism's better arguments is that there are several biblical images that portray the final state as one of complete harmony: God has reconciled all thing to himself, he rules over all, etc. Hell must ulimately be empty then, otherwise there are people who are not in complete harmony with God.

The standard counterargument against it is the lake of fire into which are thrown the Anti-Christ, the beast, and death who will suffer for ever and ever. When confronted with this, annihilationists generally point out that there are no people suffering for ever and ever, just these other things (usually taken to be systemic sin structures). When it is pointed out that people are indeed thrown into this lake of fire, they point out that it was intended for the Anti-Christ et al. and not for people. So though it may torture those things forever, it may easily consume a person (the same way that a punihsment designed for an adult might kill a small child).

Now, each part of that parry is fine by itself. But together it doesn't work at all. By conceding that the lake of fire punishes the Anti-Christ et al for all eternity, annihilationists can no longer claim the Complete Harmony argument, since the Anti-Christ et al are hardly in harmony in the final state.

Weirdly, I've only read one paper that calls the annihilationists on this count. Everyone else seems to let them get away with it. I have yet another compromise position that I use to wiggle my way out, but I've yet to see a good annihilationist defense of this point.

Traditionalists typically just assert that hell is harmonious with heaven, even if we don't understand how. All actual explanations of how this is so have seemed pretty weak to me.

How do you guys deal with the Complete Harmony argument?

4 Comments

This reminds me of this discussion. I don't think it's the same problem, but it seems to be a similar kind of problem.

One way to handle this is to think of all things being reconciled to God in terms of all things being made right. If justice is served, then it is right. That happens with those saved because their justice is met on the cross. It happens with those damned because their justice is met in hell. So all things are brought to rightness. Isn't that the traditional way of taking the complete harmony?

One way to handle this is to think of all things being reconciled to God in terms of all things being made right.

This is the traditional way of taking it, but it feels wrong somehow. It certainly doesn't feel satisfying.

If you use traditional definitions, then God isn't reconciled to the people in hell (he is still pouring out wrath on them), the people in hell aren't reconciled to God (they are still in rebellion), and yet somehow there is still reconciliation between them.

Similary, God is reigning in hell, even though the people in hell don't accept his rule. One would think God's reign would be thorough, not just de jure.

Feels like a legal fiction to me.

My take:

The lake of fire is the “second death” (Revelation 20:14) and those who suffer the second death will not be considered part of “all things” i.e. the new heavens and earth. This includes the triumvirate who, as you rightly point out, will be eternally tormented even if no one else is! That means that the Bible clearly modifies "all things" to exclude eternally existing tormented people.

This is nothing new, it is the same with people who die today. Once a person is dead, they are no longer considered to be part of “the world”, and yet they still exist in some form outside of it.

The problem we have is that we expect that the Bible necessarily speaks from God’s perspective when describing these things. To him, perhaps, "all things" means even those suffering in the lake of fire, but to those living in the new heavens and new earth, they who suffer the second death are no longer part of their world. It makes far more sense (and is far more consistent) to consider the Bible to be speaking from a redeemed human’s perspective when it talks about “reconciling all things to himself”.

I see that I made an error.

I said: "the Bible clearly modifies "all things" to exclude eternally existing tormented people."

It should be: the Bible clearly modifies "all things" to exclude eternally existing tormented things, which in my view does not need to exclude people."

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