Lou: This question has come up again and again: “If God is as kind as Jesus is, how can He turn and destroy sinners in the end?”
Graham: If all God really wants is love and trust freely given, He can’t say, “You give Me that, or I’ll destroy you.” So that leads me to go back to the Bible and try to understand what He means when He says, “I will destroy.” For example, when the Israelite King Saul committed suicide the Bible said, “Thus God slew Saul” (based on 1 Chronicles 10:13-14). Yet God never laid a hand on him (1 Sam 31:2-5)! And then, of course, there is the cross. Jesus died as sinners will die, yet God did not destroy His Son. So I think we can find a consistent meaning through there.
It’s true that God uses the word “destroy” in the Bible. It is language that we can understand when we are hard of hearing and have to be almost terrified to take God seriously. But if we really want to know what He will do to the wicked in the end, look at what happened to His Son. He died the death of a sinner.
Lou: So what DO the many biblical references about God destroying the wicked mean?
Graham: I particularly want to know what He’s going to do to me if I’m a lost sinner in the end. The Bible says, “He made His Son to be sin, though He knew no sin” (based on 2 Corinthians 5:21), and He died the sinner’s death (based on Romans 8:3; 1 Peter 2:24). So I should go to the cross and watch Jesus die the sinner’s death. The death of the wicked is absolutely devastating, but God isn’t taking you by the scruff of the neck and saying, “Since you’ve chosen not to love Me and trust Me, I am going to kill you as painfully as I know how.”
Lou: Here’s a question that reflects a widespread concern. “Are you saying that God never really kills anyone? What about the Flood?”
Graham: I believe God has put millions of His children to sleep in what the Bible calls the first death. And He promises them all resurrection, something none of us could do if we should take someone’s life. At the Flood, the Life-giver interrupted many lives. None of them are even aware that they are asleep. God will awaken each one in the resurrection, either the first resurrection for those who have trusted God or the second resurrection for those hardened in rebellion (based on Revelation 20:4-6). Yes, I would see God doing that.
But taking away our eternal life in the end, what the Bible calls the second death (Rev 20:6, 14-15)? I believe that destruction is not at His hands. That’s when He leaves us, gives us up to the awful consequence of our choices. And cries as He gives us up, just as He did in Hosea (Hos 11:8). But the difference between the first and the second death and how God acts in relation to them is a very biblical distinction.