As I am writing this post, I am tired. Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. Tired. The last few weeks have been overwhelming to say the least. But through all that has been going on, I have been thinking about this question that was asked of me not long ago: “Is God present in hell?”
When I first heard this question, my initial response was, of course (at least in my opinion), no! The follow-up to my answer is what made me think more deeply: “But isn’t God present everywhere (omnipresent)? The answer to that question is a resounding yes! So the wheels started turning in my mind.
My first thought was to go to Psalm 139:7-8, “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!” (ESV) As a kid, I was usually taught from the King James or New King James, both of which read “hell” instead of “Sheol.” This post is not to debate translation preference. The Hebrew word is Sheol, which is the place of the dead in the Old Testament not limited only to hell, where those without faith in God spend eternity.
This didn’t satisfy my question, especially in light of 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, “…when the Lord is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
That means that God is not present in hell, right? They suffer “away from the presence of the Lord.” It’s important, though, to understand what God’s Word means in this passage by “the presence of the Lord.” What am I talking about?
Well, Psalm 16:11 tells us: “…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” If you know anything about hell, you will know that this is not the case there. I have heard, I’m sure you have heard, or at least you’ve heard somebody say they’ve heard people tell them that they are going to have a party in hell. FALSE! The Bible describes hell as a place of suffering, torment, fire that is unquenchable, worms that do not die, and so on. The farthest thing from “fullness of joy” and “pleasures.”
This is the kind of presence that a child of God enjoys. However, in hell, this presence of God will not be seen. That type of closeness and intimacy is reserved, as Paul infers in 2 Thessalonians, for those who know God and obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
Questioned answered, right? Wrong! Although the presence of God that believers enjoy is not present in hell, God’s presence is felt in another way. I love the way that John Piper puts it: “He is present in all the ways men do not want him to be present and none of the ways that believers enjoy his presence.”
We are now talking about the wrath and judgment of God. Jesus in instructing his disciples in Luke 12:4-5 says, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after have nothing more that they can do. But I warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.” Matthew 10:28 says it this way, “…fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Another passage that points out God being present in hell in this way is Revelation 14:9-11, “If anyone worships the beast and it’s image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of 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…”
So biblically, my answer to the question “Is God present in hell?” has to be yes and no. His presence, like believers experience and will fully experience in heaven, will not be in hell. However, his presence, in all the ways that people do not want it, will be.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments and if you can shed any more light on this thought process and discussion.