Question: What is the nature of "endless" or "eternal" punishment?

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Question: What is the nature of "endless" or "eternal" punishment?

The Book of Mormon seems to indicate that the suffering of the wicked will go on forever without end

The Lord often uses the phrases "endless punishment," "endless torment," and "eternal damnation" to describe the type of punishment that will be administered to the wicked. It is natural to assume, given our understanding of the words "endless" and "eternal," to believe that punishment would continue forever. In fact, the Book of Mormon states:

1 Nephi 9:16

And assuredly, as the Lord liveth, for the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end.

This certainly initially appears to support the idea that the Book of Mormon indicates that the suffering of the wicked will go on forever without end. In fact, Alma's son Corianton was concerned about the nature of this punishment.

Alma 42:1

And now, my son, I perceive there is somewhat more which doth worry your mind, which ye cannot understand—which is concerning the justice of God in the punishment of the sinner; for ye do try to suppose that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery.

The Lord clarified the meaning of these terms to Joseph Smith in a revelation given in March, 1830

Alma's response to his son emphasized the need to repent in order to satisfy justice, but he did not elaborate on the exact nature of the punishment that would be administered if one did not repent. The natural concern is the idea that people would be "consigned to suffer throughout all eternity for what was done during the few years of mortality." [1] Fortunately, the Lord clarified the meaning of these terms to Joseph Smith in a revelation given in March, 1830.

DC 19:4-12 states:

And surely every man must repent or suffer, for I, God, am endless.

Wherefore, I revoke not the judgments which I shall pass, but woes shall go forth, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, yea, to those who are found on my left hand.

Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.

Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.

Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.

I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.

For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—

Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.

Endless punishment is God’s punishment.

The Book of Mormon does provide indications that the use of the words "endless" and "eternal" indicate the nature of the punishment rather than its duration, thus contradicting the claims made by the critics. The Lord, through modern revelation, provided clarification on the meaning of the terms "endless" and "eternal" when used to describe punishment. Thus, Latter-day Saints understand "endless punishment" and "eternal punishment" to mean "God's punishment," since "endless" and "eternal" are two of God's names. Likewise, the term "eternal life" can be interpreted to mean "God's life" in the same manner.

Notes

  1. John L. Clark, "Painting Out the Messiah: The Theologies of Dissidents," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11/1 (2002): 16–27. off-site wiki