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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Is Hell the Absence of God?

In his post on February 20, Filmmaker’s Company Name Rejected Due to Blasphemy Laws, Hemant Mehta rightly (though mockingly) describes hell as "an imaginary concept — a scary one." At the end of the blog, he states, "There’s nothing wrong with Hell" meaning there is nothing wrong with using the word "hell." To a point, I agree with the thrust of the blog--there is nothing wrong with using the word and the action that he is responding to is certainly questionable; however, noting the responses of his readers, I was drawn to how others were responding to this scary "imaginary" concept of hell itself:

"When told that I would be going to hell, I always replied, 'That’s ok. That’s where all the fun people are.'”

"If Hell is the absence of God, then yeah, it seems alright to me, at least at the moment. Though I could do with a sandwich."

"Hell’s a cool place, especially in the summer. It’s about 30 minutes NW of Ann Arbor. And you turn LEFT on DARWIN RD. to get to Hell. There’s a resturaunt/bar, an ice cream stand and a little touristy party store. The local weather people go there every year to do their 'Hell freezing over' story. It’s pretty much surrounded by state parks so there’s all kinds of outdoorsy things to do."

The second quote froze me in my tracks: how did this guy come to the conclusion that hell was the absence of God? Then it occurred to me that I grew up hearing this taught in church--that hell is such a horrible place because God is not there. Suddenly I realized that IF this were the case, then when an atheist dies, he goes to heaven . . . the atheist wins. Was the teaching correct?

Is hell the absence of God? What has God revealed about Himself in the Bible? Though I have already breached the subject of hell in another place, we may now consider further:

First, consider the omnipresence of the Triune God: He is everywhere; that is, He is present everywhere at once. There is no place God cannot be.

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27. cf. Isaiah 66:1; Acts 7:48; Acts 17:24-28 )

Second, consider the omnipresence of Jesus:

"For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." (Matthew 18:20)

"I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)

"No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man." (John 3:13)

"For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11)

"I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades." (Revelation 1:18)

Third, consider the omnipresence of the Holy Spirit:

"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me." (Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23 )

There is no place that God cannot be.

The omnipresence of God is a comfort to the one who is at peace with Him.

"For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?" (Deuteronomy 4:7)

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1; 145:18 )

Consider further how God has revealed Himself to the nations:

"And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top."
(Exodus 24:17)

"For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." (Deuteronomy 4:24)

"Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you." (Deuteronomy 9:3)

"From the LORD of hosts you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise, whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire." (Isaiah 29:6)

"Behold, the name of the LORD comes from a remote place; Burning is His anger and dense is His smoke; His lips are filled with indignation And His tongue is like a consuming fire . . ." (Isaiah 30:27)

"And the LORD will cause His voice of authority to be heard, And the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger, And in the flame of a consuming fire in cloudburst, downpour and hailstones." (Isaiah 30:30)

"Sinners in Zion are terrified; Trembling has seized the godless. 'Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?'" (Isaiah 33:14)

"In fierce anger He has cut off All the strength of Israel; He has drawn back His right hand From before the enemy. And He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire Consuming round about." (Lamentations 2:3)

"For our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29)

For further thought:

Hebrews 10:30-31 "For we know Him who said, 'VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY' and again, 'THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.' It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:30-31)

Remember, by definition a lake is a body of water surrounded by land. One gets the distinct impression from scripture that the Lake of Fire is a distinct place as part of a much larger place. The Lake of Fire is not a place far removed from the presence of the Lord, or from the saints in heaven:

"The LORD says to my Lord: 'Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.'" (Psalm 110:1; cf. Luke 20:43; Acts 2:35; Hebrews 10:13 )

"Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her." (Revelation 18:20 cf. 18:11-20 )

Jonathan Edwards pleads:

"Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do; everyone lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes won't fail . . . .

. . . The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given, and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. 'Tis true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God's vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the meantime is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are continually rising and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God that holds the waters back that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward; if God should only withdraw his hand from the floodgate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.

The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and Justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood." (Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God )

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