People are strange. Church-going, good-hearted and pious people are strange also. Not long ago I read a piece on “torture” in a military setting. The writer was understandably opposed to it because it is so unlike Jesus Christ, he said. He wanted to know (rhetorically) if we could imagine Jesus torturing anyone. I suggested in light of the doctrine of eternal conscious torture that that’s exactly what we say Jesus plans to do and will do—unceasingly, throughout endless ages.
Multitudes of us who vigorously oppose any form of corporate punishment and who strenuously oppose the death penalty under any circumstances are willing to take up baseball bats against those who just as vigorously oppose the doctrine that says God will engage in torturing sinners, ceaselessly throughout the never-ending ages.
The reason most of us believe the doctrine of eternal conscious torture is because it’s what we have been taught, generation after generation. That’s no crime, don’t you know; but even a doctrine that has a long tradition behind it should be examined in light of the full biblical witness and rejected [or at least doubted] if the evidence for it is lacking.
Connected with that there are a handful of texts used to support the view—only a handful, and in my view they aren’t adequate for the job. I’ve looked briefly at some at various places on the site. The upshot of it all is this: many of us think that if a person disputes the doctrine of ceaseless and eternal conscious torture that he/she is opposed to justice being done. That makes no sense.
Many of us oppose the death penalty as barbaric but we also think that if God chose to exercise the “death penalty” on the impenitent (by destroying them completely) that it wouldn’t be sufficient punishment. The sinner must be tormented every moment forever or justice hasn’t been served. It wouldn’t be enough that after resurrection for judgment if God then put the impenitent to death permanently—he must torture them forever.
Eternal punishment isn’t enough; there must be eternal punishing.
Of course one of the arguments against the death penalty is that it’s known that some innocent people have been put to death and many have been put to death for trivial reasons. Those thoughts need to be given serious considerations but it’s mainly the alleged inhumane nature of the death penalty that's stressed. This (to me anyhow) seems strange in people who also think that a divine “death penalty” would be too merciful and therefore unjust—only ceaseless torturing would do.
Jesus would preside eternally over that and engage in “burning” sinners?
Somewhere down in us, despite the handful of texts and the long tradition of the doctrine, we feel there is something sinister about it; so even many of us who hold it try to “doctor” it. It isn’t literal burning, we say, in order to make it more palatable to the mind, and then we hurry to say something like, “But the reality is just as bad as the figures and images used.” [If we don't say something like that we're afraid of being thought heretics or "soft on sin".]
There are two things we feel we’re stuck with: Unending torture of some kind and the fact that it’s God who ceaselessly inflicts it.
Alongside the poor textual support of it, it’s these very things that should make us doubt the truth of the doctrine.