The Omnipresence of God in Hell
By Eric Landstrom
Thomas Oden noted in his systematic theology that the infinite is that which has no end, no limit, and no finite boundary, thus that which is infinite cannot be measured or timed by any finite standard. Infinity, rightly conceived, can belong only to God alone. By definition that which is infinite cannot be applied to any finite creature, even though the creatures themselves may participate in the infinity of God. Thus notions of infinite time and infinite space tend to be self contradictory and confusing because space and time, being finite, cannot be extended infinitely. It is only when infinity is attributed to God alone that the concept has precise, plausible, and a consistent meaning.
Space and time are transcended by the infinite God, making terms like beyond and trascended inexact and usable only in a metaphorical sense. God is both infinitely near and infinitely far, yet speaking in this way we do not imply that God is finitely localized in one place, be it here on this earth, heaven, or hell (Oden, The Living God).
Omnipresence is God's method of being present to all ranges of both time and space. Although God is present in all time and space, God is not locally limited to any time or space. God is everywhere and in every now. No molecule or atomic particle is so small that God is not fully present to it, and no galaxy so vast that God does not circumscribe it. But if we were to remove creation, God would still know of it, for He knows all possibilities, whether they are actual or not.
But some disagree saying that God is not aware or present with those who are in hell and that he is also unaware of the transpirings within hell's boundaries. To this idea, we say no, for God is everywhere present and knows all things, even those who are removed from his blessings an dwell in the confines of hell. Thus because God is everywhere present, we argue, he is definitely aware of hell and its contents and for this very reason has broken off all fellowship with it's occupants, His blessing are departed, His wrath is ushered in. Yet, God in His infinite mercy, allows the occupants to continue to exist rather than to snuff them out because of their intrinsic value: for something is greater than nothing, having life, no matter the condition, is better than having no life. Thus God's presence in hell works both to sustain the occupants and through the anguish of personal sin, those before his holy presence are punished.
Thus, we affirm that lake of fire is before God, that God is present within it and present within it's occupants. Nevertheless, we deny the idea of process theology, or that of eminence, the idea that creation emanates from the being of God because it doesn't differentiate clearly enough that the creation is not God. Hence, hell is a state that is in the presence of God, but not in a state of a blessed presence.
The lexical definition of the word commonly translated presence from Rev. 14:10:
enopion, in the face of (literally or figuratively):-before, in the presence (sight) of, to.
Let us give answer to the skeptic
Many have questioned God's own omnipresence in the lake of fire. Some think that the lake of fire, called hell, is appalling because of the absence of the presence of the Lord. Hell is hell, i.e., tormenting, dark, depressing, and the like, because God is not there. But if we were to say that God is not immanent before the lake of fire, then we must say that God is not omnipresent-or "everywhere present." That would limit God's omnipresence by saying He is not in hell. That produces another question: "If God is love, how can a loving God be in the lake of fire? I always thought those in hell wanted God to be present there since they are 'separated' from Him?" The Scriptures show that God, on His judgment seat, says this in sending wicked rebellious sinners to hell: "Depart from Me you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared or the devil and his angels..." (Matthew 25:41). Some attempt to interpret the word depart as, "depart from my very presence because I am not there." But the Bible does not interpret itself in that same way. Psalm 139:8 states, "If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there." God is present before and within the lake of fire or God is not omnipresent. How can we reconcile this? By understanding that Matthew 25:41, in its proper context, means, "departing" from the blessed and glorious presence of God in eternal bliss, not "departing" from God all together. God is in hell at this very moment. Hell is hell because of the consequences of sin. Hell is hell because God's glorious presence is there in contrast to the depravity left by sin. The condemned would do anything have five seconds of relief from the glory of God. They would give anything for God to depart from them for a moment so they could rest from their eternal pains, but there is no rest for the wicked. All those in the lake of fire deserve every measure of righteous judgment for their sin that they perished with.
The difficulty of grasping the Lord's presence in hell can be understood by realizing how God is described by Scripture to be present throughout His creation. By witness of the Scripture, God is said to be present to bless, to sustain, or to punish. King David speaks of God's presence to bless: "Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psalm 16:11). Yet all things are sustained by the Lord's presence so that they both exist and function as the Lord allows. "And he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Col. 1:17). In this sense the Lord our God is everywhere present and to this the author of Hebrews agrees, writing of Christ that He is "upholding all things by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3). The third way the Lord is present is described by this unsettling passage delivered through the prophet Amos:
Amos 9:1 I saw the Lord standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered.
Amos 9:2 Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down:
Amos 9:3 And though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them:
Amos 9:4 And though they go into captivity before their enemies, thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them: and I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good.
Similarly Isaiah 59:2 reports that "your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear," as well as Proverbs 15:29 which declares: "The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous." Within the context of God's omnipresence, this doesn't say that God is not present whatsoever, but that He is not making His presence known by delivering blessings upon his people.
Therefore to summarize: God is present in every part of his creation--hell included--yet God acts according to circumstances of each particular place. Most of the time God is present to bless when His presence is spoken of in Scripture, but this is not true in every case, for clearly He is present to sustain as well as punish if needs be.
Herman Bavinck writes of God's omnipresence: "When you wish to do something evil, you retire from the public into your house where no enemy may see you; from those places of your house which are open and visible to the eyes of men you remove yourself into your room; even in your room you fear some witness from another quarter; you retire into your heart, there you meditate: he is more inward than your heart. Wherever, therefore, you shall have fled, there he is. From yourself, whither will you flee? Will you not follow yourself wherever you shall flee? But since there is One more inward even than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from God angry but to God reconciled. There is no place at all whither you may flee. Will you flee from him? Flee unto him" (cited by Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, p. 81).
Thomas Oden, Systematic Theology, Prince Press Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, Zondervan Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue, Intervarsity Press Norman Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Book
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