Heaven and Hell

Q/A Friday: Is God Present In Hell?

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.

Questions

If you have a question you would like to submit to our blog to be answered in the future, please it to charlesheck@cox.net or pose your question in the comments section of this post.

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Q/A Friday: Why Should We Study Hell?

First, we should study hell because Jesus talked about it often. There are approximately 1500+ verses that are recorded in the Gospels coming from Jesus’ lips where He is formally teaching on a subject. The other 300-400 verses that record His sayings are just declarative statements of His movements, greetings. Thus, about 8% of His preaching was on hell and impending judgment. If you think that is a small percentage, you will find that He speaks more about hell than our relationship to the Bible, how we worship, and sexual purity. Jesus is not silent about hell and no other author in Scripture even comes close to speaking about it as often. Why does Jesus speak about hell so often? Because He is the Savior of the world. He wants people to know what He is saving them from. Jesus speaks in greater detail and frequency about hell, because He is sending people there. No one speaks with more authority about hell than Jesus, and as His spokesmen we cannot be silent either.

Second, we should study hell because it magnifies heaven. What makes hell awful is how wonderful heaven is; what makes heaven incredible is how terrible hell is. They contrast one another in extremes, and thus, magnify one another as well. Heaven and hell are polar opposite and one magnifies the other. We want to get and feel the full brunt of hell and get a whiff and a full taste of heaven. One magnifies the other.

Third, we should study hell because it deepens our appreciation of the Savior’s sufferings on the Cross The cross was the center of God’s wrath on earth. And that description of Jesus on the cross is what hell is also like. When you see the terribleness of hell, you can have a better understanding of sympathy for the sufferings of Jesus on the cross. God’s wrath is seen in it’s extremeness at the cross and will be endured for eternity in hell. On the cross, Jesus endured the wrath of God poured out on Him for every sin of every human ever committed past, present and future. In hell, those that reject him won’t experience salvation paid for on the cross.

Fourth, we should study hell because it encourages us to proclaim the Gospel with regularity. There is no more urgent task than the proclamation of the Gospel. If you had an endless supply of a guaranteed cure for cancer in your home, would you not spend every waking minute administering it to cancer patients in local hospitals or in your family? You would do everything you could so save people with the very remedy they need. Man’s central need is for Jesus’ redemption from sin. And we know exactly what it takes to understand and embrace that. To not warn people about danger is unloving.

Questions

If you have a question you would like to submit to our blog to be answered in the future, please it to charlesheck@cox.net or pose your question in the comments section of this post.

Randy Alcorn, On the “Why” of Hell’s Existence

Image result“Many imagine that it is civilized, humane, and compassionate to deny the existence of an eternal Hell, but in fact it is arrogant that we, as creatures, would dare to take what we think is the moral high ground in opposition to what God the Creator has clearly revealed. We don’t want to believe that any others deserve eternal punishment, because if they do, so do we. But if we understood, God’s nature and ours, we would be shocked not that some people could go to Hell (where else could sinners god?), but that any would be permitted into Heaven. Unholy as we are, we are disqualified from saying that infinite holiness doesn’t demand everlasting punishment. By denying the endlessness of Hell, we minimize Christ’s work on the cross. Why? Because we lower the stakes of redemption. If Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection didn’t deliver us from an eternal Hell, his work on the cross is less heroic, less potent, less consequential, and thus less deserving of our worship and praise.” (Randy Alcorn, Heaven, pg. 25)

Jonathan Edwards, On the Happiness of Going to Heaven

edwards-jonathan-preaching“The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean. Therefore it becomes us to spend this life only as a journey toward heaven, as it becomes us to make the seeking of our highest end and proper good, the whole work of our lives; to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why would be labour for, or set our hearts on, any thing else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness.”

Jonathan Edwards, The Christian Pilgrim

Think Heaven

The Wednesday feature of the Worldly Saints blog is a Scriptural meditation whereby I take a verse or passage I have been pondering lately and seek to edify my readers with it’s promises, encouragements, warnings, rebukes, etc.

 

We were created with a desire for something far better than this current world; we were designed for a longing for something more. But here is a question: “How do we fuel that desire? How do we keep it’s torch lit?” There are certainly times with the flame doesn’t burn as strong as it should.

Here is an overly-simplistic answer: think about it more often. Colossians 3:2-3 reads, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

This calls us to place our affections in the right location. This does not mean that we become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good; it means we look at earth from heaven’s point of view because this is our real home (Phil 3:2). We are being told to think the thought of God.

Colossians 3.2

Paul says “set your mind” which means “to have an inner disposition or to ponder.” The command is to think and seek heaven; heaven should be the believer’s entire orientation. It speaks to the will and the motives. It is like a needle of a compass seeking to find the correct line of direction.

You see, Christianity is rational. We have lost this concept of biblical thinking in our society today John Stott was of the deepest, thought-provoking single men in history. He was asked not too long ago to give some advice to the next generation of leaders as he was reflecting upon his 50+ years of ministry. Here was his response:

“I’d want to say so many things. But my main exhortation would be this: don’t neglect your critical faculties. Remember that God is a rational God, who has made us in His own image. God invites and expects us to explore His double revelation, in nature and Scripture, with the minds He has given us, and to go on in the development of a Christian mind to apply His marvelous revealed truth to every aspect of the modern and post-modern world.”[1]

Both of these men and Paul in Colossians 2 express the heart of our faith: the mind is essential to use for sanctification. Christianity is a thinking religion.

Paul is saying “Think long and hard about heaven; think without ceasing about heaven. Don’t waste your time thinking about meaningless, worldly things. Occupy your mind with heaven.” You can think heaven by reflecting on your own mortality; you can think heaven by reminding yourself that everything in this world will burn; you can think heaven by realizing your decisions today have an influence and impact on the world to come. Think heaven.

Occupy your mind with heaven because Christ is there and since we are “hidden” in Him, we are on our way there. This phrase suggests 4 thoughts:

  • We are safe. Danger is being outside of Christ; peace and safety is being in Him. We cannot be snatched out of His hand (John 10:28). We are wrapped up in Him.
  • We are identified with Him. We are known as followers of Him. We share a common life with the Son (I Cor 6:17); we are partakers of His divine nature (II Pet 1:4).
  • We are satisfied. If we are in Christ, there is no other vice this world can provide to satisfy us. Only He satisfies.
  • We are not meant for this world. The world is not our domain; it isn’t our playground.

We are commanded to occupy our minds with heaven, because Christ is there and since we are in Christ, we too will be there…one day.

This is something old hymn writers understood. Look at how many hymns have a final verse dealing with the resurrection or future glory. We must not only seek after heaven (vs. 1) but we must think heaven.

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[1] Cited from an article by Roy McCloughry, “Basic Stott,” Christianity Today, January 8, 1996, pg. 32.

Hell: It’s Not What You Want (Part 3)

eternalToday, we wrap up our series on hell by looking at a description of hell, the duration of hell and how one ends up there.

A Description of Hell

Hell is real (Matt 10:28; Mark 9:47-48; Luke 16:23-24). Hell is not a fantasy or fable; it is not a metaphor or temporary. It is a real place, as you will see in these biblical accounts where it is contrasted with a real heaven.

In Mark 9, Jesus is teaching his disciples one of the ways they can mortify sin – by cutting off sin at its source – plucking your eye out or cutting your foot off. Jesus says, “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:47-48). Why would Jesus say the person who deals with sin righteously can go to a real heaven, but the one who doesn’t isn’t going to a real hell? He wouldn’t, unless He is referring to a real hell. He references hell as an alternative to heaven because they are both real places.

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the rich man is in a real place of torment and he is looking into a real place of bliss as he sees Lazarus. Even though, this is a parable, these are real places, real locations, and real eternities.

The apostles didn’t make up hell to scare people into heaven; they got hell from Jesus. Jesus didn’t make up hell to make His cross have purpose and because He doesn’t lie; He got hell from the Father and because He is equal to God and knows hell exists. If the Bible teaches hell exists, then it exists. It is a real place.

Hell is painfully loud (Matt 8:11-12; 13:40-42, 49-50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28; 16:23; Rev 14:10-11; 20:10). Jesus told a Roman centurion that hell will be filled with people experiencing a “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:12). To gnash one’s teeth is more than just a teeth grinding but refers to a biting down on an object when one is in an extreme amount of pain. It is a forceful tightening and rubbing of one’s grinders that tries to mask the pain elsewhere in one’s body.

When partnered with “weeping,” you get the idea of torment being inconsolable. Now multiply the sound one person may be emitting from such an experience to the billionth degree. Imagine a place where billions of people are “weeping and gnashing.” Jesus echoes that reality in Matthew 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51 and Luke 13:28.

Jesus and John says those in hell will be “in torment” (Luke 16:23; Rev 20:10). It will be the worst form of torture. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man so desperately wanted a drop of water for relief from the excruciating pain (Luke 16:24). How excruciating does it need to get for a single droplet of water to bring relief?

John adds, “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. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, …” (Rev 14:10-11). The continual smoke is continual torment. The pain from the first moments in hell will be as intense 1,000 years later. It is unending, which explains why it will be painfully loud in hell. Nothing on earth will hurt like hell.

Hell is dark (Matt 8:11-12; 22:13; 25:30; II Thess 1:9; Jude 13). Jesus says those in hell will be in “outer darkness” (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). How fire and “darkness” can co-exist doesn’t reconcile in my human mind, but I am of the opinion that if God wants to make fire black or darkened in some way, He could. Somehow and someway, hell will have both “darkness” and fire present. The gloom of utter darkness awaits (Jude 13).

The “darkness” could communicate that feeling of separation from God’s mercy. When someone is in a “dark place,” they are saying they are in place where it would appear God is not showing them any favor. So it could be that to be cast into “darkness” would also feel as if God is removing your awareness of His forgiveness and long-suffering and all other related attributes, which is what we see in 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.”

Hell is fiery (Matt 5:21-22; 13:40-42, 49-50; 18:8-9; 25:41; Mark 9:48; Rev 14:10-11; 20:10, 14-15). Jesus refers to hell as “hell fire” (Matt 5:22; 25:41; Mark 9:48). The Greek word is “Gehenna” – the English equivalent of Hinnom. In biblical times, the Hinnom Valley was located SW of Jerusalem. Criminals were buried there; witchcraft happened there; sorcery occurred there. In Jesus’ day, it became a place of burning trash and human excrement – a public incinerator. To read of hell is to read of a place of endless fire (Rev 14:10-11; 20:10, 14-15).

The Duration of Hell

This is clear in the Bible: the duration of hell, like heaven, is eternal (Matt 18:8-9; II Thess 1:9; Jude 7, 13; Rev 20:10). At the end of the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus said, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:46). John says, “He who believes in the son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides in him” (John 3:36). One of the most important arguments here is the contrast with heaven. We cannot conclude, as some do, that heaven is eternal but hell has an end in sight.

God’s wrath will not cease on such a man; it remains. This may be the worst thing about hell – it is forever. If you knew there was an end, there could be some hope in that, but hell lasts for all time. It will not fade away with the passage of time. Those who do not believe in Him will see nothing more than the persisting wrath of God. They will live continually in this state.

Now, this truth does raise a question: is it fair for God to punish sins eternally if they are only committed in a small space of time or life-span? Here are a few responses or support to why it is more than fair.

  • Even a finite amount of sin is committed against an infinite God. We sin against an eternal, infinite God who isn’t measured or governed by times or spans.
  • People are not likely to become sinless in hell. Who is to say that people don’t remain in hell because they continue to sin in hell and rebel against God?
  • The consequences of one’s rejection of Christ are known before eternity is a reality. We all know “the rules of the game” and we cannot complain or get upset them “after the fact.”

With everything we know about hell, it boggles the mind how anyone could wish someone went to hell. We have that response in our culture to people who upset or anger us; we tell them to “go to ______.” The person who says this has no idea what hell is actually like, because if they did they wouldn’t wish that on their worst enemy.

The Path One Takes to Hell

John writes, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). We all have that option of escaping hell, but it is an option that requires faith and obedience to the Lord who created hell. It involves believing in His deity, His redemption, etc. You see, God does not send people to hell. He simply honors their choice. C.S Lewis famously wrote, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”[1] The occupants of hell are there because it is ultimately their decision to be there.

Those that choose anything or anyone but Christ as Lord and Savior will see Revelation 14:10-11 in a real way: “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. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

The choice is simple: you can choose to follow after Christ who took the wrath for you on the cross or you could choose to drink the cup of God’s wrath yourself and waste the cross.

Hell is a tribute to human freedom, because all have the choice or ability to stay clear from there for all eternity.

I want to close our series with a warning from the lips of Jesus. If there is one word that should summarize our response to all of this it is this: urgency. This comes from Luke 11:22-28 –

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’

“And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.”

In the passage we just read, the question was about how many people would be saved. Rather than talking about numbers, Jesus confronted the crowd with their own need to find the one narrow door to salvation. He didn’t give them a numerical value or the population of either heaven or hell. He simply said, “Be urgent.” What he especially emphasized was the need to find that door before it is too late. Don’t worry about how many people will go through the door; worry about the door closing.

Listen, time is running out. There is a time limit on the free offer of salvation. As J.C. Ryle once wrote, hell is truth known too late. Hell is a place of lost opportunity.

[1] The Problem of Pain, Ch. 8

Hell: It’s Not What You Want (Part 2)

In the Middle Ages, there was an Italian poet whose name was Durante Aligheiri, or as we better know him Dante. He is widely known as the most important writer and poet in Italy’s history and one of the most important figures in the Catholic Church. He composed a work in 1814 entitled Divine Comedy, which is a record of a vision he claims to have had taking him through hell, then purgatory and eventually into heaven.

Those three stages of his journey comprise the three major sections of his book: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The one that has garnered the most attention of the three is the 1st section of his Comedy and has sometimes appeared re-published as a single work is called “Dante’s Inferno.” In all of extra-biblical literature, you will not likely find a more descriptive and imaginative writing on the occupants and description of hell. There are nine circles of suffering in Dante’s hell – each one getting worse and more terrible. Each circle is representative of different sins. So Dante ranks them in order of more or less evil(s).

As Dante journeys through the nine circles of suffering, he comes across some rather bizarre scenes of torture, suffering, hopelessness, etc. Some of the depictions are fairly close to what Scripture informs us about heaven, while other depictions seem to resemble more of Hollywood’s idea of hell gone wild.

eternalBut there is one scene that, really captures the mindset of one who enters hell. As Dante is about to enter hell, he looks above the cave-like entrance and reads the following inscription for those who are about to enter,

“I am the way into the city of woe. I am the way to a forsaken people. I am the way to eternal sorrow. Sacred justice moved my architect. I was raised here by divine omnipotence, primordial love and ultimate intelligence. Only those elements time cannot wear were made before me, and beyond time I stand. Abandon every hope, all you who enter here.”

As he contemplates those words, Dante says, “These wretches have no hope of truly dying, and this blind life they lead is so abject it makes them envy every other fate.”[1] In other words, any fate is better than hell; so abandon hope if you are coming inside.

Hell is the absence of hope. There is no deliverance. There is no 2nd chance. Once you have entered hell, you will never leave.

The Occupants of Hell

Let’s begin by looking at Jesus’ description of everyone’s eternal options. Look with me at the Sermon on the Mount – “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:13-14).

Every person goes down one of two paths. The narrow path is accompanied by those who know Christ as their Lord and Savior. The wide path is accompanied by those who have rejected Christ. It is wide to accompany more people. In other words, the population of hell will greatly outnumber the residents of heaven. The road to hell is wide because it needs to accompany more people than the narrow road that leads to heaven that doesn’t have as many occupants. The population of hell will be greater than the population of heaven.

Now back to our question of who is in hell. Besides those who have rejected Christ, will there be others in hell? The answer is, “Yes.” Human-Christ-rejectors are not the only citizens of hell. Consider what we learn from the Gospel of Mark. One of the 1st miracles performed by Jesus is recorded here – “And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God’” (Mark 1:21-24).

Where did these demons get that idea? They knew the consequences of their rebellion against God. They expected to be taken by Jesus into hell. They know there this is all headed for them. They are headed to the same hell the rejectors of Christ are headed.

There are other individuals who will be in hell, along human rejectors of Christ and demons: Following the 1,000 year reign of Christ, John tells us the following: “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:7-10).

Satan, the false prophet and the beast will all join all his servants in hell – demons and those that chose his way over God’s.

So you have quite a cast of characters who will populate hell. If Dante were here this morning, he would say not everyone suffers the same in hell. He would say Satan and Judas Iscariot would suffer a much greater punishment for their obstinate betrayal and rebellion than a fairly good person who simply never came to accept the Gospel.

The Master or Ruler in Hell

It has been said before that 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. Willem VanGemeren, who writes in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, draws this conclusion,

“The presence of God is everywhere; hence he perceives all things in all places. Man cannot hide himself from the all-seeing eye of the Lord, whether in the highest heavens, the deepest recesses of the earth, or in the depths of the sea. The psalmist [referring to Psalm 139] is not trying to evade God, but he further amplifies that God’s knowledge is beyond the ability of humans to grasp. The knowledge or discernment of God can never be limited to any particular place.”[2]

God is everywhere. He is above containment. He fills heaven and earth (Jer 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. When you come home with a paycheck to deposit into your bank account, the faithfulness of God is clear but His chastising is not as apparent.

Thus, in hell, His wrath and justice are clear, but His mercy and longsuffering is 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. We shouldn’t be happy that people suffer there, but we should recognize God is glorified in hell because He is able to fulfill His Word. God – and His wrath – is 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 this idea that I am presenting to you now 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.

The original word means and is better translated “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 – 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.”[3]

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. It would seem far more management if He was absent, but He is not absent and He is even sovereign in hell.

Tomorrow, we will wrap up this series by covering these three issues: a description of hell, the duration of hell and the path one takes to hell.

 

[1] Pg. unknown

[2] VanGemeren, pg. 837

[3] “Hell,” http://www.bible-researcher.com/hell6.html