How do we come to grips with the eternal destiny of the multitudes that die because of weather catastrophes like tsunamis, or atrocities like the Holocaust?
First of all, we do not decide anyone’s eternal destiny. That is up to the Lord. Second, whether we die quickly (as in a tsunami or a murder), or slowly (as with many cancers), it is our responsibility to live righteously and be prepared for death (Hebrews 9:27). Nor does the Bible speak of a bonus for a violent death. Some questions are posed in ways that are emotionally charged, or carry heavy freight, and that can interfere with our reasoning.
You will go insane if you meditate on hell all day—but we do need to think about it, as it’s a biblical doctrine. How I came to terms with hell reflected in the paper “Terminal Punishment” (available at this website). Here we examine the various uses of “eternal” in the Bible, and see that it is unlikely Jesus taught infinite torment.
My understanding of the Scriptures—which I have taught since the early 1990s—is that no one will be in hell forever, nor is there infinite torment. Hell is eternal in that is it forever irreversible. All that comes to an end when it should come to an end, depending on what people deserve. Whether it is a million years, five years, or one minute, God is in control of that. So, the fate of the lost is eternal.
Let’s return to the original form of the question. As someone put it, God has all eternity to listen to the split-second prayer of a pilot of a plane going down in the flames. Yahweh is a Just Judge, nor does he take pleasure in the death of anyone. (Please read Ezekiel 18:1-32.)