A friend of mine asked a rhetorical question last night- How could I ever have worshipped or loved a god who tortured people forever? It is an interesting question for any of us who now do or formerly have believed in that type god.
In response to this question I have often heard the following reasoning- Just like my father loved me and I loved him in return even though I feared his punishment for my wrongdoing, so I can love, respect, and worship God despite His threat of punishment. As one who admittedly claimed to believe in the God of eternal punishment at one time, I guess something like that must have formerly been sufficient in my mind. However, when one tries to equate the love and discipline of our earthly father with a divine threat of eternal torment, it is easy to see that the analogy breaks down. If our earthly father burned us as children or killed us and called that discipline, most would reject that contention. Why then would we allow that reasoning to justify God's supposed operation?
In reflecting back, I suspect that I never really thought too hard about this doctrine and its logical implications about God. In effect, I just claimed to believe what my heart said was just too unbelievable to be true. Certainly my actions were never evidently frantic enough to demonstrate that I truly expected God to act so horrendously to most of my friends, family, and acquaintances. What we actually believe and embrace must affect our actions, and such a dramatic belief as eternal punishment should elicit a similarly dramatic response. I never saw that in my life or that of anyone else I personally observed.
In too many cases the idea of eternal punishment seems to be supported primarily as a means to gain revenge on one's enemies. It is comforting to the human mind to think that God will punish those who "get away with murder" in this life. Now whether eternal torment is really justified is another matter, but comeuppance for the very wicked has a natural appeal. It feels good to condemn others and then expect God to deal violently with them.
All you have to do is go to a few church funerals, and you get the truth of what people believe. God is going to do what is right, no matter what we say or have been taught to believe. In the final analysis, people always fall back on God's benevolent nature as supreme. Anything less is too unreal.