The Final State Of The Wicked -- By: Vernon C. Grounds

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 24:3 (Sep 1981)
Article: The Final State Of The Wicked
Author: Vernon C. Grounds

The Final State Of The Wicked

Vernon C. Grounds*

We may not share Robert Browning’s robust optimism about human life—

The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings—

but most of us much of the time are moderately cheerful and happy. As Christians we believe with Browning that “God’s in his heaven” and therefore that, while sin makes it impossible for us to add “all’s right with the world,” we are convinced that in the end everything must turn out right for God’s creation. Our relative pessimism regarding the temporal order is engulfed in an ultimate optimism regarding the eternal telos toward which history under divine direction is moving. Seldom, I suppose, do we find ourselves brooding over the awesome doctrine of eternal punishment. Only on rarest occasions and then fleetingly is our mood that of Rodin’s famous statue, “The Thinker,” who sits in mute amazement watching lost souls entering hell. What William Gladstone wrote about eternal punishment in the late nineteenth century is equally true today: It “seems to be relegated at present to the far-off comers of the Christian mind, and there to sleep in deep shadow.1 Except for classroom study or evangelistic preaching, “the final state of the wicked” is a subject that in the privacy of our own minds we repress and in our social interchange prefer to wrap in a shroud of silence.

Yet the British jurist Fitzjames Stephen made this trenchant statement:

Though Christianity expresses the tender and charitable sentiments with passionate ardour, it has also a terrible side. Christian Love is only for a time and on condition; it stops short at the gates of Hell, and Hell is an essential part of the whole Christian scheme.2

Is it? If so, what can be said Biblically concerning it?

As we venture into this forebodingly dark region of theology, let us consult some of the reports furnished by the host of explorers who have preceded us. Their observations are bewilderingly contradictory, but five conclusions have been drawn.

The first is that of sheer agnosticism. It is impossible so much as to ascertain whether there is any such reality as hell because it is impossible to determine what happens after death. Some of these—shall we call them eschatological agnostics?—hold that human beings are nothing but biological organisms that expire and disintegrate like, in Bertrand Russell’s memorable phrase, every other accidental collocation of atoms. A second agnostic group, confident that man in


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