The doctrine of hell has been a tender one for believers and unbelievers alike. The notion that a merciful God would send His children into eternal conscious torment for a period of finite blindness, rebellion or ignorance finds many placing themselves in the judgment seat over God or simply running from what they view as a cruel and heartless Creator.
Maybe even worse, there are those who would label themselves as “Christian” who choose to water down the promises of God (specifically, those pertaining to judgment) to assume a more comfortable relativism. They throw out the judgment teachings (along with the notion of sin) and arrive at a place where God can’t possibly hold His position as righteous judge because God is love. Yet this position turns a blind eye to almost the entire Old Testament and Israel’s repeated idolatry-judgment-destruction-repentance cycles. Yes, God is love, but He is also a righteous and holy God of order and justice and law.
I once heard a beloved pastor confidently take the traditionalist position of judgment-upon-death from the platform. This idea seems to not quite fit when held up to the White Throne Judgment we find in Revelation 20:11 where all are called to give an accounting for their lives. (I’m still wrestling with the tension between those two judgment events, as well as the third if a premillennial resurrection is a bodily resurrection and not a reference to the supernatural regeneration experienced by believers, per Revelation 20:5.)
The pastor was so sure of his position I was compelled to ask him about his thoughts on soul sleep after the service. With equal surety, he quickly dismissed soul sleep as having no Biblical foundation. When I contradicted him, he rightly asked for examples. Unfortunately, I had studied enough on conditionalism and soul sleep to recognize these concepts had a Biblical foundation, but I had not studied them enough to teach on them. I alluded to Psalm 115:17 with a clumsy reference to “the dead know nothing” and reassured him there were other Scriptures in support. Though the momentary look of self-doubt on his face told me he took my comment seriously, the bustle of the moment didn’t really allow for a deep dive and we have never reconnected on the issue.
Eventually, I stumbled across this thoughtful writing from a ministry called Wordonly. I have compiled the entire writing into a downloadable PDF for easy consumption and given them full credit for the work. Though a little rough around the edges at times, the evidence this piece puts forth must be considered if one is to stand with intellectual honesty on the debate between conditionalism (the extinction of sinners at the final judgment) and traditionalism (eternal life of conscious torment for sinners after final judgment.)