Fudge’s book, as evidenced by its title, maintains that the fire of God’s final judgment does not endlessly torment but completely consumes. What Gerstner terms “the conservative attack on hell” should properly be called “the conservative endorsement of conditional immortality,” i.e., that eternal life is the gift of the immortal God to mortal men, conditional upon faith in the death-conquering Christ, not the intrinsic possession of immortal souls, who will eternally live in heaven or hell. Conditional Immortality is the belief that immortality is found in Christ, not Adam; received through a second birth, not the first; and bestowed on bodies that will rise, not inherent in souls that never die.
It is not an attack on the Biblical hell, but against what is genuinely believed to be the erroneous interpretation of the traditional dogma. Gerstner correctly said “conservative” because he recognized that Fudge and the many others endorsing conditionalism are firm believers in the fundamentals of the faith, including the Divine inspiration and final authority of Scripture.
According to White, Gerstner’s “forte is to follow the implications of a theological point to its logical conclusion” (From the Foreword). Gerstner’s “theological point” is that unbelievers deserve ENDLESS torment, and endless torment is what they’ll receive: “The issue is really eternal versus non-eternal suffering” (p. 67). To Gerstner, anything else is not sufficient, and anything less is not “just.”
On par with most defenders of endless torment, Gerstner avoids debating the subject from the positive angle of immortality only in Christ: “that WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM should not PERISH, but have EVERLASTING LIFE” (John 3:16); “I GIVE unto THEM (my sheep) ETERNAL LIFE, and THEY shall never PERISH” (John 10:28); “The wages of sin is DEATH, but the GIFT of God is ETERNAL LIFE through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Gerstner proposes to defend perpetual torment as opposed to extinction (annihilation), not to explain why those who perish never do, or why those who are never promised immortal bodies continue to exist in conscious torment, or how those who are supposed to be consumed, burned up, destroyed, and to die the second death are “kept alive eternally” (his own words- p. 82; Cf. pp. 71, 184). So “eternal death” (pp. 5, 25) is also “eternal life,” albeit in misery, not in bliss.
As is evident by the title of his book, the author does not use perish in its “usual, literal” sense, though he admits what that sense is (Cf. pp. 172, 173), and readily understands it thus (“perish the thought,” p. 130). But to Gerstner, perish, by its “contextual meaning” indicates “eternal perishing” (p. 173), though he never explains how the contrast to “everlasting life” in John 3:16 in the context of Israelites dying of snake bite changes the meaning of perish to “eternal perishing.” And how does anyone eternally perish, i.e., perpetually continue in a process of perishing without ever doing so? Granted, Repent or Never Really Perish, but Always Be Perishing would have been a gangly and awkward title for his book.
Irrelevant? Though Gerstner brings up the question of the immortality of the soul, particularly in response to Philip Hughes’ The True Image, he dismisses it outright:
…the natural immortality of the soul question is irrelevant here. God can make it and the body immortal if He
chooses, everyone admits. The only question is whether He does so choose. I have shown that a holy and just God must make the sinner’s body and soul immortal in order that he receive his deserved punishment. If the sinner died, God’s justice would die with him. Anyone, therefore, who admits that God is holy, just, and omnipotent logically admits that the punishment of evil persons will be everlasting” (p. 72).
Gerstner has rested much of his case on this “only question”- whether or not God will choose to “keep the impenitent sinner alive forever” (p. 71). Thus he builds his case on the assertion that “a holy and just God must make the sinner’s body and soul immortal in order that he receive his deserved punishment.”
From this “must” issues four points within two themes emphasized throughout Gerstner’s book (i.e., God must BECAUSE):
THE JUSTICE OF ENDLESS TORMENT
1. Unbelievers justly deserve endless torment.
2. God’s holiness compels His wrath to endlessly torment the impenitent that justice may be served.
THE INJUSTICE OF EXTINCTION
3. Extinction is no punishment.
4. The impenitent would welcome, not fear, extinction.
1. Sinners Deserve It!
Gerstner’s points are philosophical, not Scriptural. For instance, he offers no textual evidence that unbelievers deserve endless torment. Instead, he continually repeats these two theoretical premises, summarized on p. 214:
1. “A little sin against an infinite God is infinite.”
2. “But even if the punishment were finite it would go on ‘infinitely,’ unendingly, because the sinner continues to sin in resenting it” (he admits this point is “conjectural” on p. 74).
Saying so makes it so? It is no exaggeration to say Gerstner emphasizes this theme of deserving endless torment. It is as if he supposes that continually asserting that endless torment is the sinner’s just desert will of itself win the argument of it being endless; i.e., “They deserve it, so it must be,” and as a corollary, “God is holy, so it will be.” Say it so much that it must be so. Again, his words are: “I have shown that a holy and just God must make the sinner’s body and soul immortal in order that he receive his deserved punishment.”
As you read the following quotes, keep in mind that Gerstner’s idea of hell is one of both infinite and increasing suffering (“It will never, ever end, or even be diminished; rather, we shall show, it is likely to be everlastingly increased”- p. 67).
What are the wages of sin? Eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Every solitary one of us, every solitary fellow human being is fit for hell (italics mine in all quotes, underlines are his). p. 5. Note: Thus Gerstner proposes this equation: “death” (Rom. 6:23) = “eternal death” = “hell” = “endless torment.”
In and of ourselves, we deserve hell… There’s no such thing as the problem of pain! You tell me how excruciating it is and I’ll still look you in the face and say there’s no problem. Why? Because we’re sinners. We deserve the eternal wrath of God… How can God be holy and this world be wholly sinful and there be anything but pain? p. 6.
What does the divine Threatener require to avoid hell, which, as sinners, we all deserve? p. 19.
The sinner is threatened with the horrible hell he so justly deserves unless he accepts Christ’s undeserved salvation. p. 21.
Even now, while the evangelical is singing the praises of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, he knows that multitudes are suffering the torments of the damned… The true Christian, aware of this, is happily, exuberantly, gladly praising the Judge of the Last Day, Jesus Christ, who has sentenced to such merited damnation millions of souls. p. 32.
Yet I do note Stott’s self-contradiction that in the name of justice he faults a just, eternal punishment in favor of a totally unjust non-punishment. p. 62.
If the impenitent sinners were assigned to their own abode, their suffering would be everlasting if God were the Punisher, because He could and would keep the impenitent sinner alive forever because impenitent sinners do not repent in the next world. Punishment never changes people’s attitudes… So God’s punishment would go on forever because the sinner continues to sin and incur God’s punishment. p. 71.
We have shown that the soul’s punishment must be eternal. p. 73.
We have seen that the fact that God is punishing the sinner shows that the punishment must be everlasting. God is everlasting and the sin of man for which he is being punished lasts forever. Sinners exist forever to be punished forever… Fudge himself claims that sinners will be punished in hell according to their guilt. He does not notice that that implies eternal punishment. p. 74.
A second argument for the everlastingness of punishment is that the impenitent remain sinful still, Rev. 22:11, and so must be unendingly punished. Third, if the heinousness of sin is relative to the dignity of the person against whom it is committed, it is infinite and must be punished infinitely (everlastingly). p. 77. Note: Here again is a summary of his two philosophical points of sin against the Infinite and infinite sinning.
And a sin which eternally remains on the record, eternally unforgivable, must be eternally punished if God is eternally just. To be sure, Orthodoxy finds the Bible to teach that all unrepented sins are eternal in that sense… Eternally unforgiven sin must be punished eternally. p. 83.
Unlike pure annihilationists, he (Fudge) does require some punishment of the wicked. We have already shown how right that statement is and that it spells eternal punishment. p. 89.
…we have already seen that this repayment and retribution must be eternal… p. 166.
What this whole lengthy discussion of Fudge really proves is that mere terms themselves do not settle the argument between temporal and eternal duration. The question is what the texts say that God will do. That is not settled by mere word studies but by the contextual meanings of the words. Also, theological ideas are relevant. Morally speaking, God can only punish infinitely, as shown. That means in hell eternally, or on the cross in the infinite sacrifice of the Son of God. p. 173.
I repeat, that “wrath and anger, trouble and distress” infer God’s judgment which, in the nature of the case, must be unending in the world to come. p. 175.
The wicked’s sins, too, will be revealed – as unforgiven! And all their deeds rewarded with endless punishment. p. 189.
But you must know by now that it is not blind intolerance to say that those sinners who live and die without their sin’s guilt being removed and its power broken must go to hell (which to Gerstner means must be endlessly tormented). p. 193.
This is the reason heaven rejoices in, rather than weeps over, hell. Heaven sees that this is where God punishes those who deserve to be punished in exactly the degree they deserve, eternally. p. 201.
Hell is the place where vice is given exactly what it deserves as far as that is possible. As we have seen, it is not possible for a finite being to receive the infinite wrath he deserved. So he must go on suffering forever because he will never have paid the “last cent” he owes. p. 202.
As I mentioned in Chapter 1, there is no “problem of pain.” The only problem is the “problem of pleasure.” Dreadful as it is, it is not surprising that God sends sinners to hell. The problem is why He does not do it sooner. Why does God let a hell-deserving sinner live a minute… p. 210.
This was a terrible but holy wrath. God was using His omnipotent power but according to His perfect justice. Man was affected but he deserved it. It was no more, no less, than he deserved. p. 213, 214.
That Gerstner is emphasizing and building upon his theme of endless torment as deserved, is evidenced by these introductory phrases in the above larger quotes: We have shown; we have seen; we have already shown; we have already seen; as shown; you must know by now; as we have seen; as I mentioned. That he is predicating endless torment on it being deserved is indicated by these phrases: fit for hell; we deserve hell; we deserve the eternal wrath of God; the horrible hell he so justly deserves; such merited damnation; a just, eternal punishment; the soul’s punishment must be eternal; the punishment must be everlasting; the impenitent must be unendingly punished; must be punished infinitely (everlastingly); must be eternally punished; retribution must be eternal; must be unending; rewarded with endless punishment; exactly the degree they deserve, eternally; exactly what it deserves; must go on suffering forever; hell-deserving sinner; no more, no less, than he deserved. Read back through the above phrases and note how often Gerstner says “must.” Must is a demanding word, particularly so in jurisprudence, and the subject is the sentence of Divine Retribution as revealed in Scripture.
Is this the sophist sand? But WHERE IS ANY SCRIPTURAL SUPPORT for eternal suffering for temporal sinning, for endless torment for limited transgression, or for an infinite existence in agony for a finite life of wrongdoing? Where is any Scriptural jurisprudence that indicates that the sinner MUST be punished infinitely? Who says he must, God or Gerstner? Cite the precept from the statutes, or the precedent from the case histories of God’s bar if it be so. Prosecutor Gerstner fails to produce any evidence for his assertion from either the language of the Divine Law, or from any precedent recorded in the Divine History. Rather he leans for support on unfounded philosophical axioms. For example: Morally speaking, God can only punish infinitely. Or, It is not possible for a finite being to receive the infinite wrath he deserved. Or what about this heinous indictment against the Creator of the lilies and Guardian of the sparrows: Sinners exist forever to be punished forever. Is this the sophist sand that our defender of endless torment would build his case upon?
The only text Gerstner cites is Romans 6:23. “What are the wages of sin?” he asks. “Eternal death (Rom. 6:23),” he avers. He adds eternal (without any textual or exegetical support whatsoever) to the verse again later: “And the wages of sin is eternal death, Rom. 6:23” (pp. 24, 25- italics mine). Thus while making his only attempt to suggest Scriptural support of the justice of endless torment (the wages of sin), he feels it necessary to impose the word eternal into the text (which to him does not mean eternally dead, but eternally dying, whatever that could possibly mean). And well he should, for he understands that death itself as the wages of sin is flatly contradictory to his horrible dogma.
What is the comprehensive coherency of Scripture on the subject? What do all of the relevant texts consistently teach? The wages of sin is DEATH; the end of those things is DEATH; the soul that sinneth, it shall DIE; sin, when it is finished bringeth forth DEATH; he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from DEATH; etc.
Now what of the justice of the loss of life as the punishment for sin? Gerstner maintains it would be most unjust- not, mind you, because it would be too severe, but because, as we will see later from his own words, death (an actual final end of life) would not be any punishment at all, and therefore justice would not be served. But what saith the Scripture? Every transgression and disobedience received a JUST recompense of reward (Hebrews 2:2). Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which do such things are WORTHY OF DEATH (Romans 1:32). Gerstner’s redundant assertions that unbelievers deserve endless torment are not only unfounded verbiage, they directly contradict the plain language of God’s law book.
2. Holiness Demands It!
So Mr. Gerstner has foisted his foundational premise- that the impenitent must be, and therefore justly will be, endlessly tormented- upon the reader with only theoretical reasoning to support it- they deserve it, either because they have sinned against an infinite being, or because they will infinitely sin. Also, he repeatedly declares that it is God’s holiness that demands such endless retribution for sinning against the Infinite and/or for infinite sinning. To Gerstner, therefore, God’s holiness is the impetus that compels His wrath. Thus, torment must be endless because it is what the sinner deserves, and it will be endless because God’s holiness will see to it:
We deserve the eternal wrath of God… How can God be holy and this world be wholly sinful and there be anything but pain? p. 6.
If God annihilates a sinner, unjust as that would be, it would terminate the sinner. Fudge’s sinner can never be terminated by a holy God because he goes on sinning and must go on being punished by a holy God who will never clear the guilty, Ex. 34:7… I have shown that a holy and just God must make the sinner’s body and soul immortal in order that he receive his deserved punishment (Bird: You have said - you have not shown). If the sinner died, God’s justice would die with him. Anyone, therefore, who admits that God is holy, just, and omnipotent logically admits that the punishment of evil persons will be everlasting. p. 72.
Increase in sinfulness and punishment is conjectural. However, everything implies it and nothing prevents it. That is, these unchanged sinners who hate God will hate and curse God for the punishing. That certainly increases their sin and incurs more punishment. Their guilt, in other words, is constantly increased and so their deserved punishment. Nothing implies this increase will ever cease because God can and, as a just and holy God, must continue being a just and holy God who will, as He can, continue punishing according to the degree of guilt. p. 74.
The sinner dies forever or God, the righteous Judge who will not clear the guilty, dies forever. p. 75. Note: Gerstner’s idea of “dies forever” is “that sinners keep earning the wages of sin forever – and receiving them forever,” therefore, the sinner never really dies at all, but is ever dying, whatever that means.
More strictly speaking, all sin must be punished in Jesus Christ or in the sinner himself. This sin will never be punished in Jesus Christ and must therefore be punished in the sinner, OR GOD IS NOT A HOLY AND JUST GOD” (all caps his). p. 83.
To be wholly just or wholly unjust would be the question for the conditionalists’ ever vacillating, ever unstable, ever miserable deity. p. 91.
I do not deny that Orthodoxy sees a godly joy in heaven’s contemplating hell not because of the misery of the damned, but because of the justice of God in the inflicting of that misery. Likewise, God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11), but in the holiness, righteousness, and justice revealed in their deserved eternal death. p. 151.
Morally speaking, God can only punish infinitely, as shown (Cf. p. 123- “immorally, I must add”). That means in hell eternally, or on the cross in the infinite sacrifice of the Son of God. p. 173
A holy God will never clear the guilty whether they have heard, or not heard of a Savior… He is a righteous God who will not clear the guilty. Innocents will never be condemned. Infants are not innocent. p. 193. Note: It was difficult to resist not including this quote. Remember that Gerstner’s “forte is to follow the implications of a theological point to its logical conclusion,” not to follow the wording of a Biblical text to its Scriptural conclusion.
God would not be holy and just if He punished you as if His Son had not “descended into hell” for you. Hell is the place where God’s wrath burns forever… p. 201.
All glory to God for His holy anger. p. 214.
In summary to this point, we see from Gerstner’s own words his emphasis upon point 1 mentioned above: Unbelievers justly deserve endless torment. His presentation of this point has been to persistently assert it, basing his contention on two philosophical premises without any Scriptural warrant whatsoever (disregarding his shameless, but shameful, imposition of “eternal death” in Romans 6:23). He also stresses in connection with these premises, that the holiness and justice of God demands that the punishing be endless.
Logically Admits? Thus he asserts from these premises that the guilt of man is such that he deserves endless torment, and the character of God is such that He will make sure man gets what he deserves. Gerstner is so sure of this premise that he presumes, “Anyone, therefore, who admits that God is holy, just, and omnipotent logically admits that the punishment of evil persons will be everlasting” (p. 72). This contention is not one bit logical, and even less Scriptural. It is assumptive postulating at best, and arrogant posturing at worst. How does anyone admit that “the punishment of evil persons will be everlasting” by acknowledging that “God is holy, just, and omnipotent”?
His preface to his therefore (“Anyone, therefore, who admits”) is “If the sinner died, God’s justice would die with him.” Here Gerstner certainly uses died and die in their primary sense- to no longer live, to cease to exist. He is speaking in contrast to being made immortal (im- not, mortal- subject to death). God’s Word says “the wages of sin is DEATH,” and “sin, when it is finished bringeth forth DEATH,” and “the soul that sinneth it shall DIE” and “he that converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from DEATH” and that the lake of fire “is the second DEATH.” But Gerstner says, “if the sinner died, God’s justice would die with him.” God says the sinner will die; Gerstner says he won’t, and if he did then God’s justice would die with him. According to Scripture, God’s justice is that sinners die. Selah.
Perhaps Gerstner slipped when he used the word died, but it only came natural because his use of it reveals it’s natural, primary, and clear sense. He confuses it three pages later by saying “The sinner dies forever or God… dies forever” (p. 75). On page 72, if the sinner dies, then God’s justice dies with him. But now if the sinner doesn’t die, then God does. Here he obviously means continues in a process of dying, but really only adds to his confusion by asserting that the sinner is ever dying but never dies. But he really doesn’t mean dying but living in continual conscious torment, for by page 82 he has completely confounded his use of terms by asserting that those who receive eternal punishment are “kept alive eternally.”
Thus, according to the learned doctor John, one must continue to live to continue to die, thus everlasting death is also everlasting life. But according to the record of a certain unlearned apostle John the contrast is between everlasting life and perish (John 3:16), everlasting life and shall not see life (3:36), everlasting life and death (5:24), eternal life and perish (10:28). “This is the record,” the apostle writes, “that God hath given to us ETERNAL LIFE, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son HATH LIFE; and he that hath not the Son of God HATH NOT LIFE” (1 John 5:11, 12).
Were doctor John still living, he would surely explain to us that the apostle John means something entirely different by life than its natural and primary sense employed by the doctor when he said “alive forever” (pp. 52, 53, 71, 82, 95, 184). In other words, life means conscious existence when Gerstner uses the word, but not when God does. When God uses it, according to Gerstner, it means a blissful existence, because sinners are also living and alive, and alive forever, so “eternal life” is also given to the sinner. Rather, Gerstner may say, the sinner is “kept alive forever” for “a holy and just God must make the sinner’s body and soul immortal in order that he receive his deserved punishment.”
But again, Gerstner offers no textual support that God’s holiness demands endless torment. He offers no Scriptural defense of God’s holiness as that part of God’s character that provokes His wrath to endless torment. He does not because he cannot (if that sounds harsh, then try it yourself). Rather, he postulates clichéd assumptions that are philosophical fiction as if they were provable truth: “the sinner dies forever or God… dies forever;” “God’s wrath burns forever;” “holy anger;” “holy wrath.” These phrases are patent to the philosophical phraseology, not the Divine vocabulary; you’ll find them in the contents of Gerstner’s book, not the concordance of God’s. His assumptive postulating is taken to its extreme when he says, “Anyone, therefore, who admits that God is holy, just, and omnipotent logically admits that the punishment of evil persons will be everlasting.” Thus, the ultimate creedal cliché: GOD IS HOLY = (or, thus) TORMENT IS ENDLESS. As is so often the case, the clever fox is a lazy parrot.
3. Extinction is no punishment!
Gerstner then proceeds to avow that extinction is not an “everlasting punishment,” yea, actually it is no punishment at all (underline his, italics mine in the following quotes):
Since punishment itself never produces repentance, justice requires it to go on forever. Even the very expression, “the annihilation of the wicked,” is an outrage against justice, because sin requires punishment, not non-punishment which non-existence certainly is. p. 62.
To be made a non-entity is not even a temporal judgment. A non-entity is nothing. It does not exist in eternity or time. It is nothing. Certainly it is not judgment… The pure annihilationists have the problem with the noun because there is no punishment, since annihilation is no punishment of a being but the extinction of being.” p. 81.
Extinction of the person is extinction of the sin, not any punishment of it. p. 84.
If the wicked person was then annihilated he would have received no punishment. p. 85.
…annihilation is no retribution or punishment, but mere termination of being. p. 90.
A non-existent, annihilated person cannot suffer punishment. Only a living person can undergo punishment, and Christ says it is “eternal punishment.” p. 95.
Jesus says that the wicked go away to everlasting punishment, which cannot conceivably be “total abolition and extinction” which, so far from being everlasting punishment, is no punishment” p. 96.
Serious themes cannot be easily trivialized. Nevertheless, Conditionalists succeed without trying because having eternal punishment equated with annihilation is the greatest trivialization of eternal punishment. As I must keep repeating, annihilation is no punishment, even punishing, if done by God as is assumed in the Bible. p. 98.
Since God will not clear the guilty, apart from repentance and faith in Christ, the impenitent must be adequately punished. But that spells eternal punishment and not temporal punishment such as conditionalism anticipates (Note: Gerstner builds from his primary point Unbelievers justly deserve endless torment: “adequately punished… spells eternal punishment”). Sin against an infinite being has to be realized fully by a temporal being so punishment must go on eternally without ever being fully satisfied. There is no way it can ever end. It is all or nothing. Orthodox eternal punishment or no punishment at all. p. 119.
Fudge leaves no room for his own notion of a temporal punishment following death because, “destroying them not eternally but instantly and utterly” destroys even the temporary punishment of his conditionalistic view. p. 123, 124.
It is supposed to be a contrast between a relatively brief versus endless punishment; not the eternal punishment of the orthodox versus the no punishment of the consistent heretics, the annihilationists. P. 128.
Traditionalists, he continues, “sometimes object that irreversible (therefore endless) extinction is actually no ‘punishment’ at all” (ibid) something this traditionalist has contended throughout this book (saying the conditionalist concept is “virtually” rather than “actually” no “punishment”). p. 152.
Extinction is no punishment at all because it leaves no one to suffer any punishment. p. 153.
But they cannot be sentenced to eternal condemnation by annihilation. They cannot really be rewarded or punished by non-existence. They may be praised by reward or punished by pain. Being moral beings, man must be rewarded or punished. He is no mere animal to be terminated. p. 170.
Shedd argues that they mean eternal perishing, not only because that is compatible with general Bible teaching, but because the context points to punishment, and extinction is no punishment. Therefore, the soul must exist eternally to be punished eternally. p. 173.
Is Pain the Punishment? Gerstner’s insistence that extinction is no punishment reveals his limited conception of the word punishment. To him, punishment requires the sensation of pain; PUNISHMENT = TORMENT, and torment is not possible without awareness of agony, conscious suffering, or pain. He writes, “‘everlasting punishment’, to be punishment must be punishing” (p. 150). I believe this is the essence of his error: PUNISHMENT MUST BE PUNISHING. He does not recognize that punishment can be the result of punishing. Under Moses, death without mercy was the “punishment” alluded to in Hebrews 10:28, 29. Death itself was the punishment, not any pain associated with the process of dying.
After reiterating that “annihilation is no retribution or punishment” (p. 90), he shows how easily he interchanges the word pain for punishment as its synonym: “I must keep repeating that annihilation is an alternative to or substitute for pain, not a form of it… The question is: punishment or no punishment” (p. 91). For Gerstner that means, pain or no pain. He “must keep repeating” this because it is crucial to his heinous dogma that he define punishment as pain, and not allow Scripture to define it as destruction and death. The wicked “cannot really be rewarded or punished by non-existence. They may be praised by reward or punished by pain. Being moral beings, man must be rewarded or punished. He is no mere animal to be terminated” (p. 170). Gerstner has clearly confused punishment with pain.
This is why he refuses to allow that punishment can be everlasting as to the extent of its result, without having to be everlasting in the duration of its process. “Nothing is a greater mockery,” he roars, “of ‘eternal destruction’ than to say that it is an instantaneous or quick destruction that leaves eternal nothingness” (p. 166). To Gerstner, “eternal destruction is endless dying” (p. 92). To him, punishment has to be punishing, and destruction has to be destroying.
But in reality, Gerstner’s idea of “endless dying” is that the sinner is not dying at all- the sinner is fully alive (in the best of health actually) and never dying. According to Gerstner’s view, the sinner’s body is made immortal (not subject to death), and despite being immersed in unquenchable fire and enduring intense pain, the sinner will never die, and thus is not dying at all. What could endless dying possibly mean anyway? How does anyone endlessly die? How is it different from endless living? One has to be alive to die; therefore endless dying is also endless living. The point of my harangue is that Gerstner has not only confused punishment with pain, but also has imagined conscious awareness of pain to be endless dying. So the sinner, his immortal soul in Hades, or his body made immortal reunited with his immortal soul and cast into Gehenna, is more alive than ever, and though conscious of extraordinary pain, is neither dying nor ever will be dead, according to Mr. Gerstner.
Pain is not the Punishment! But he is wrong. Scripture says that the sinner will die, that he will receive the punishment of “everlasting destruction” in the “second death” of the lake of fire. The punishment is the destruction, the death itself, not the pain associated with it. Furthermore, punishment does not equal pain or torment; in fact, it doesn’t even necessarily include pain or torment. Synonyms of punishment are sentence, penalty, consequence, and retribution. The duration of “Capital Punishment,” such as death by hanging, beheading, the electric chair, gas chamber, or lethal injection, is extremely brief, and often with a minimum of pain (if any, as far as the physical sensation of it). Yet it is a punishment, and a capital one at that! If a criminal is sentenced to receive “capital punishment,” the punishment is death itself, not whatever pain may accompany the infliction of death. If the criminal survived the process, he could not say, “I received capital punishment by enduring the pain associated with dying.” No, if he did not die, he did not receive the punishment, no matter how much pain he endured. This reasonable and sensible illustration should clearly show that punishment does not equal pain.
Even when pain is an understood consequence of punishment, the punishment, the sentence or penalty itself, is not the pain associated with it. For example, Cain’s response, “My punishment is greater than I can bear,” admits that grief and sorrow would accompany the carrying out of his sentence, but the grief and sorrow was not the punishment. The punishment was “When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and vagabond shalt thou be in the earth” (Gen. 4:12, 13). To illustrate this further, suppose two men are sentenced to “banishment” as their punishment. Now suppose that one of the men departs, but is glad to do so, and feels no negative emotions, and the other man does not leave, but is overwhelmed with unbearable anguish at having been so sentenced. Which of the two received the punishment?
Sinners will weep and wail when receiving their sentence, but their sentence is not that they weep and wail. Sinners being cast out will gnash their teeth as they see others enter, but their punishment is not that they gnash their teeth. Being burned by fire is painful, but pain in fire is not the penalty for sin. Gerstner has God keeping the sinner alive (“kept alive eternally” – pp. 71, 82) not, as Gerstner imagines, that the sinner may endlessly die (which is nonsense anyway), but that he may continue to feel pain. And why does he so conclude? Simply because he has demanded that punishment be pain. But God’s Word says the penalty is death, the sentence is to perish, and the punishment is destruction. However great the sensation, or long the duration, of the pain associated with the punishment of having soul and body destroyed in hell, being burned up in unquenchable fire, and truly dying the second death, that pain is not the punishment!
A comment is in order at this point on Gerstner’s citing of Exodus 34:7 with the quote “a holy God who will never clear the guilty” (p. 72). Here’s the verse in context: “And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (34:7,8). The passage emphasizes God as “MERCIFUL AND GRACIOUS, LONGSUFFERING AND ABUNDANT IN GOODNESS… KEEPING MERCY… FORGIVING INIQUITY,” yet it is a phrase from this context that Gerstner imagines is an assurance of endless torment to the guilty.
Not clearing the guilty does not mean torment, but rather the consistent language of jurisprudence in Leviticus and the entire law is that the ultimate penalty for the guilty is that they “shall surely be put to DEATH” (for example, Lev. 20:2, 9-13, 15, 16, 27; 24:16, 17; 27:29; Cf. Exo. 21:12, 15-17, 19; 31:14, 15, etc.). DEATH IS THE EXTREME RETRIBUTION FOR THE GUILTY. “And it was revealed in mine ears by the LORD of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you TILL YE DIE, saith the Lord GOD of hosts” (Isaiah 22:14). And not clearing the guilty does not mean or imply endless torment, but is limited to visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation. This “visiting” concerns temporal judgment, not the final judgment, and speaks of earthly, not eternal, recompense. In all of God’s law, there is no provision for imprisonment or torture of the guilty. Restitution, substitutionary sacrifice (put to death, mind you, not tortured), or death is what the law demanded. Death, death itself, not the pain of the process, was the severest penalty for the worst of crimes. No, Mr. Gerstner, the guilty will not be cleared; but neither will they be perpetually tortured- truly, they will die!
4. No fear of extinction!
Gerstner’s fourth point is that the impenitent would welcome, not fear, extinction.
Annihilation is what sinners want – to be put out of their misery. Eat, drink, be merry, and die. What could be nicer? No karma, no judgment, no punishment. Mere extinction. p. 88, 89.
They may like to go on in their chosen way a little longer but, at least, they have nothing to fear. Ceasing to exist may deprive them of some pleasure but it also will end the gout. p. 115.
If God were Fudge’s kind of consuming fire, no wicked person need ever fear it or Him. The sinner might not wish to die, but he would have no terror of God’s way of execution… Painless pain. Everlasting burning that destroys before it burns. Everlasting punishment without any punishment ever. p. 118.
The wicked may shrink from death not because of death but because of the possible pain connected with it or after it. That would not be a possibility with Fudge’s “consuming fire.” Many would flee to it, not from it. It is peace forever; not wrath ever. The suicide’s desire. p. 119.
In fact, if they believed what Fudge believes, that would end their weeping and gnashing now. People do, in this world, dread and/or fulminate against traditional hell, Fudge himself being one example. Conditionalists need not do this, because their “everlasting punishment” is the everlasting end of all punishment and suffering. This “hell” puts an end to orthodox hell and all the weeping and gnashing that goes with even the anticipation of it. pp. 133, 134
Knowing that “God’s ability to kill and destroy is without limit” is no terror when the coward is assured it certainly will be limited for him and all the wicked… The text says that one should not fear those who can “kill the body.” One would normally be afraid of being reduced to ‘buckwheat’ by the mob. This fear, according to Jesus, should be dispelled by the incomparably greater punishment of God who can ‘kill body and soul” in “hell.” But Fudge’s God will end all this torment. Logically, one need not fear God at all. Fudge’s text should read: “Fear not Him who terminates all suffering. Only fear those who can kill you in this world. If you can escape them you have nothing to fear in the next world.” pp. 134, 135.
What they concern is the feelings of living people anticipating extinction. They – at least some of them – dread it. They are suffering from the thought of impending extinction, not from extinction. Once extinction comes, all their suffering is over forever. Blessed relief? No, not even that – no feeling; no pleasure; no pain; no nothing. Extinction is the cure of all pain or pleasure, the end of all punishment or vindication. p. 153.
Fudge’s “The Lake of Fire” is going to be a pool for summer vacationers – the death of death. P. 182.
I will confess that it’s hard for me to believe that anyone would take these diatribes by Gerstner serious, but I realize that many do. Though he repeatedly states that eternal torment does nothing for the sinner other than make him keep sinning by resenting it and thus incurring more and intensified torment (see pp. 74, 75), Gerstner is yet determined that God’s holiness demands endless agony, and to Gerstner the sinner must be aware that it is endless, or he would not sufficiently suffer being he would have “the comforting knowledge that some day, relatively soon in contrast to everlasting punishment, it will end” (p. 67). So to Gerstner, it must be pain to be punishment, and it must be endless to be the agony so deserved by the sinner and demanded by the holiness of God.
As the above quotes testify, I am not putting words in Mr. Gerstner’s mouth. Rather, it seemed to me while reading his book that a thug was defending an ogre. He leans upon Jonathan Edwards when he writes, “It is because God is the fire which burns in hell that words can never convey – much less exaggerate – the terrors of the damned” (p. 144). Those “terrors” to Mr. Gerstner have to be sufficient to what he is certain the sinner deserves. It is almost as if the thug wouldn’t dare let the ogre draw back from the full measure of his potential wrath- wrath, that according to Gerstner, must perpetually and purposelessly torture its agonizing victims. Dear John, you knew not what manner of a spirit you were of.
The desire to live is instinctively intense in all those in whose nostrils is the breath of life (Genesis 2:7; 7:22). Yet a date with death is the common destiny of all the living (Psalm 89:48). Gerstner says that there is no fear of death itself, only “the possible pain connected with it or after it” (p. 119). This is nonsensical and unscriptural. The writer of Hebrews eloquently expresses how Christ came to overcome death (2:14, 15):
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through FEAR OF DEATH were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
There you have it: fear of death- death itself, not just the possible pain attending it. Most of the living would endure intense pain in an effort to continue living- even Christians who believe that death would be the end of their pain- they want to live! Just the mention of the word “cancer” invades the mind with fear, not primarily the fear of what pain may have to be endured while suffering with cancer, but the realization that cancer often means death. “To the normal man death is the object he fears above all others. It is that from which he naturally shrinks. It is that which he most dreads,” so writes A. W. Pink in his defense of endless torment (Eternal Punishment, Petersburg, Ohio: Pilgrim Brethren Press, 1994, p. 30).
The inspired pen of Hebrews also depicts “a CERTAIN FEARFUL LOOKING FOR of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall DEVOUR the adversaries” (10:27). And we are to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly FEAR”- Why? - “For our God is a CONSUMING FIRE” (Hebrews 12:28, 29). And Gerstner seems to miss or ignore the point of Matthew 10:28, which is that we should “rather FEAR him which is able to DESTROY both soul and body in hell.” Job 24:17 speaks of the “TERRORS OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH.” David laments, “the TERRORS OF DEATH are fallen upon me” (Psalm 55:4). Death, death itself, not just attendant pain, is our enemy: “the last ENEMY that shall be destroyed is DEATH” (1 Corinthians 15:26). The Lord told Gideon, “Peace be unto thee; FEAR NOT: thou shalt NOT DIE” (Judges 6:23). God’s Word says being devoured or consumed by fire, being destroyed in hell, and death itself is something to be feared. Gerstner says “not so.” “Eat, drink, be merry, and die. What could be nicer?” According to him, “the wicked may shrink from death not because of death but because of the possible pain connected with it.”
For Gerstner to say that “annihilation is what sinners want… What could be nicer?” is ludicrous beyond comment. Here’s what could be nicer: living! Here’s what could be nicer: eternal life! Here’s what could be nicer: eternal life where “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation 21:4). But to Gerstner, “annihilation is what sinners want,” and if annihilation is what they get, then… They have nothing to fear… no wicked person need ever fear it or Him… no terror of God’s way of execution… Many would flee to it, not from it. It is peace forever; not wrath ever… is no terror… Logically, one need not fear God at all… a pool for summer vacationers.
It would seem that the only possible way that John Gerstner could jabber this jibber is by basing such madness on comparing being permanently destroyed by fire at the judgment with being perpetually tortured with fire throughout eternity. But such a comparison does not remove the very real terror of a mortal person being cast into a lake of consuming fire. But to liken the lake of fire (if it truly ends in a second death) to “a pool for summer vacationers” is pitifully absurd.
To know that God is able to destroy both body and soul in hell should certainly make one fear, but only if destroy doesn’t really mean destroy, according to our champion of “No fear of extinction.” If destroy really means destroy, then “Logically, one need not fear God at all.” If Christ really will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire, if the wicked really do perish, if eternal fire really does turn its prey to ashes, then there is “no terror of God’s way of execution,” according to our defender of endless and intensifying agony. There should be no “fearful looking of judgment and fiery indignation” if it is only going to “devour the adversaries.” There is no need of “godly fear” of a God who consumes. So says Gerstner, but, “not so,” says God. The Living fear not living, and the wicked should fear the judgment in which they will be cast into a consuming fire. As Paul “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and JUDGMENT TO COME, Felix TREMBLED” (Acts 24:25).
“Our God is a CONSUMING FIRE” (Hebrews 12:29; Deut. 4:24; 9:3), and throughout Scripture, when the eternal fire of God has fallen, it always consumed its prey:
THERE CAME A FIRE OUT FROM BEFORE THE LORD, AND CONSUMED… Leviticus 9:24
THE FIRE OF THE LORD BURNT AMONG THEM, AND CONSUMED THEM… Numbers 11:1
THERE CAME OUT A FIRE FROM THE LORD, AND CONSUMED… Numbers 16:3
THE FIRE OF THE LORD FELL, AND CONSUMED THE BURNT SACRIFICE… 1 Kings 18:38
THERE CAME DOWN FIRE FROM HEAVEN, AND CONSUMED HIM… 2 Kings 1:10I HAVE CONSUMED THEM WITH THE FIRE OF MY WRATH… Ezekiel 22:31