It has been said before God is not present in hell – or that hell is “the nonappearance of God”. But we have a theological problem – God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. David wrote,
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Ps 139:7-10).
David’s son, Solomon, said heaven and earth cannot contain God (I Kings 8:27), which means He is not just in one place. God is everywhere. He is above containment. He fills heaven and earth (Jeremiah 23:24). Omnipresence is God being everywhere at all times with His whole being and all His attributes and not being contained in something or someone.
To say God is not in hell in some form or fashion would be to say God is “mostly present” and not “omnipresent”
So, the question is this: how is God present in hell? It could be said that while God never ceases to manifest His attributes, there are times in our lives when some of His attributes are more apparent than others. For example, when a mother gives birth to His child, the compassion and tenderness of God is clear but His wrath is not as apparent.
Thus, in hell, His wrath and justice are clear, but His mercy and longsuffering are not. It is not that He ceases to be a loving God, but those who suffer in hell are mostly consumed with only the “negative” attributes of God, because they are objects of His justice. They are not thinking about His long-suffering; they are thinking of His wrath.
God doesn’t cease to be who He is; people in hell cease to perceive all of who God is.
Hell is a display of God’s justice, and it glorifies God because it is where He fulfills a promise to punish those who reject Him. God – and His wrath – are very present in hell. It may appear to those suffering that parts of His person are absent but God is most certainly ruling hell.
In hell, God is the ruler and God is glorified because He is able to keep His word to punish rejecting sinners. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:28, “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” Thus, hell is ruled by God.
One Scripture that is used to object to the idea that God is present in hell is II Thessalonians 1:9 – “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” The phrase “away from the presence of the Lord” seems to suggest banishment from God forever.
But, the original word means “in the face of.” When someone, in biblical times, referred to being in the face of God, they were not so much as referring to a physical location as they were referring to a status. To be in God’s face is to be an object of His favor. II Thessalonians 1:9 is about being removed from His favor, which is what hell is.
John reminds us in Revelation 14:9-10 that God is present in hell and those that are there are aware of that fact: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”
R.C. Sproul, the President of Ligonier Ministries, talks about the presence of God in hell:
“A breath of relief is usually heard when someone declares, ‘Hell is a symbol for separation from God.’ To be separated from God for eternity is no great threat to the impenitent person. The ungodly want nothing more than to be separated from God. Their problem in hell will not be separation from God, it will be the presence of God that will torment them. In hell, God will be present in the fullness of His divine wrath. He will be there to exercise His just punishment of the damned. They will know Him as an all-consuming fire.” (http://www.bible-researcher.com/hell6.html)
All of this gives a sense of even more terror in hell. To come to the point of understanding that you can never flee His presence and He is ever before you and you perceive a never-ending wrath – that is the deepest of stings.
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