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One of those attributes of God is his ability to be everywhere at all times. I'm not debating that it is an attribute of his, I'm just wondering how we know that.

I ask, because I've been going through a question of my own recently - If God is omnipresent, how can hell exist? After all, hell is by definition, that one place that God is not. But, if God is everywhere, how can there be a place that he is not?

My favorite answer to that question comes from C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, in which he describes hell not as a place of fire and brimstone, but rather an infinitely empty, substance-lacking smallness. The journey from hell to heaven that his characters make is not from "down" to "up" from rather from "small" to "big" and "weak" to "strong."

I really like using that idea of hell, since it seemingly answers the idea that hell is merely a place that is, itself, so small and insubstantial that it isn't God's lack of presence, but rather its own insignificance that causes God's presence to feel so lacking.

In order to test that assertion, however, I want to make sure that I am correctly stating the postulate - namely that God really can be everywhere at all times. What is its biblical basis, and does God presence exist in hell?

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Perhaps you should think of hell as a state rather than a place. –  Lawrence Dol Jan 4 '12 at 21:09
    
In regard to your accepted answer, how you read Revelation 14:10? –  Caleb Mar 27 '13 at 16:47
    

6 Answers 6

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From a Biblical perspective the answer is no. God is not present in Hell; that is what makes it Hell!

These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power -2 Thessalonians 1:9

The problem is that the term "omnipresent" is not a Biblical term; it is a term used by numerous religions to describe their Supreme Being in a philosophically acceptable way. It has almost come to be accepted as a philosophical given (in modern times) that if there is a God, He must be omnipresent -- even "in Hell."

However, Christians do not build their beliefs on the philosophical conclusions of non-Christians; we build our beliefs on Scripture. Therefore, if a Christian uses the term "omnipresent" to describe God, it is a given that it should be defined according to Scripture: God is omnipresent in the sense that He is present everywhere in heaven and in the physical universe, but not in Hell.

Responses

  • Someone might argue that Hell is a spiritual "separation" from God in which God is still present, but the damned don't receive His love (or something along those lines.) This is a clever solution, but it is not consistent with Scripture. The verse cited above indicates God is not present in Hell.

  • Someone might cite Psalm 139:7–10 as proof that God actually is present everywhere -- even in Hell. However, this verse uses the Old Testament term, Sheol, which is more accurately translated as something like "grave" or "death"; even the righteous were said to go there when they die. David's emotive song simply indicates that even if he (a righteous man in God's sight) were to die, God would be with him. Sheol is not the same as "Hell" (in the modern meaning of the term.) Hell is primarily used today to refer to the lake of fire; the place of final, eternal destruction and judgment.

  • Caleb used an interesting verse (Rev. 14:10) to support his view that those who are in Hell (i.e. the lake of fire) will actually be in the presence of the Lamb for eternity. However, the verse in question does not seem to be referring to Hell (i.e. the final place of eternal torment.) For instance, Dr. Constable, renowned commentator from Dallas Theological Seminary, has this to say:

Their torment will be excruciating (cf. Gen. 19:24; Isa. 34:8-10), but this is not a reference to their eternal torment. Their final torment will be in the lake of fire removed from the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb (19:20; 20:10; 21:8, 27; 22:14-15; cf. Matt. 25:41; Mark 9:43; 2 Thess. 1:8-9). -Dr. Constable's Expository Notes on Revelation 14:10

At the end of the day, any Systematic Theology (whether it be of Hell or of omnipresence) should be based on the complete counsel of Scripture, and not prior commitments (i.e. agendas) and proof-texts. The view that God "must" be present in Hell seems to be based more on prior philosophical commitments than sound exegesis.

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The translation of the word ἀπό as 'away from' is just an intepretation. This pronoun can mean separation, but also cause. –  zefciu Mar 27 '13 at 12:34
    
Really? I think your missing the point of that verse. How would you interpret this description of hell? "he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb." It kind of sounds like God's pretty closely involved in what goes on in Hell to me. –  Caleb Mar 27 '13 at 14:57
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@Caleb You are free to disagree... although I'm not sure how you can interpret "away from the presence of the Lord" as "in the presence of the Lord". The verse you cited (Rev. 14:10) needs to be taken in context. Judgment by fire for those who are on the earth when the Lord returns is a common theme in Scripture. I don't see anything in that verse to indicate that this is referring to the lake of fire and not the judgment that comes at the Lord's return. –  Jas 3.1 Mar 27 '13 at 18:04
    
I agree proof texting is not appropriate, but presuppositions are something all views, including yours here, work under. It's also based on several points unique to dispensationalism and its resulting eschatology. –  Caleb Mar 27 '13 at 21:29
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@Caleb Fair enough. For what it's worth I am looking forward to your complete treatment, and thanks for taking it seriously. I look forward to learning more about the view you are presenting. If I get time I may review additional credible Evangelical commentaries as well. –  Jas 3.1 Mar 27 '13 at 22:27

In reading your question, I don't think the issue at hand is God's omnipresence at all. Frankly it's not a terribly important doctrine in the first place and while I think one could make a case for it from Scipture, I think it's a little forced. Much more importantly, the Scripture states the reverse quite plainly, that all things are in and held together by God/Christ.

Colossians 1:16-17 (ESV)
16  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

This includes hell. The problem with your question is not the doctrine of omnipresence, but the doctrine of hell. You state:

After all, hell is by definition, that one place that God is not.

But where does that idea come from in the Bible? The problem with hell is that God is there! It is where God pours out his eternal judgement on all things evil. This is a part of his nature and God's wrath will be a very present reality of hell for all eternity. While we can't paint an exact picture of hell, we do have have some fairly vivid and specific descriptions of the way God is involved in punishment:

Revelation 14:9-11 (ESV)
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10  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. 11  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.”

What is different about it there is that it is a place separated from his grace. Neither the general grace that rains on the just and the unjust alike on this earth nor his specific graces experienced by believers will be experienced there. Folks will be separated from those aspects of God. He is only holding back his hand for a time.

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I've changed my question, because you're right - I was basing on faulty assumption. Thanks! –  Affable Geek Jan 3 '12 at 20:55
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Being tormented in the presence of the Lamb (e.g. at His return) =/= remaining in the presence of the Lamb eternally. –  Jas 3.1 Mar 27 '13 at 18:16
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I'm going to assemble a proper treatment of this issue, but it's not going to happen until after Easter. –  Caleb Mar 27 '13 at 21:25
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Still on my list... –  Caleb Apr 12 '13 at 19:32
    
I'd think an analysis of the original text of Revelation 14:9-11 would give us more clue regarding the true/false of this issue. –  Pacerier 17 hours ago

Well, God's omnipresence is logical under the assumption that God created everything, which Christians hold to be true.

If God created everything, nothing can exist out of God will. Things only exist if God wants them to exist.

Anything that exists is automatically "eternal" (in God's reference-frame, as opposed to our human reference-frame) because, as pieces of God will, they cannot be made void (which would require God to forget about them in an absolute sense, which is impossible).

From what I understand, Hell is not a place but more a state of a soul where it consciously rejects God while knowing who He is and of God respecting the soul's will.

I'm sure you already encountered once in your life a person who was proven wrong and still held to his statement despite all evidences and matching refuting testimony. You know how painful it is to see (because you know that this person knows they are wrong) and that it ultimately comes from stubborn pride.

Now imagine the private judgment at the time of death, and a person consciously choosing to reject God's presence rather than humiliate himself and admit that he has been wrong and that others were right. Add to that the perfect knowledge that they are wrong. Add to that the knowledge that the choice has been made once for all and can not be undone. Add to that the knowledge that the are the source of their state because God would have forgiven them everything immediately if they had asked. Add to that the hate that they feel towards God and toward themselves because they know that it's their own fault. Now put them with fallen "friends" that made them become like that.

So I think God "omnipresence" even in hell is not impossible. I would make a difference between actual presence, and relational presence. You can have someone in the same room (or lift/elevator) but ignore it completely. You can have a boss in your company. The company would not run without him, but you may never see him or speak with him. It's relational presence that is important.

About God relational presence:

  • On earth, God presence cannot be felt completely because our limited capabilities.
  • On earth, someone can have more God presence if he truly wants it and God gives it.
  • On earth, someone can do the opposite.
  • In "heaven", God presence will be full, leading to infinite happiness.
  • In "hell", God presence (relational) will be null, with opposite effect.
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+1 for "Hell is not a place but more a state of a soul that consciously reject God", and for an answer that mentions Hell as something different than a physical place in our 3+1 dimensional material universe. –  vsz Jan 4 '12 at 17:27
    
This is a really insightful answer. Good work. –  Lawrence Dol Jan 4 '12 at 21:17
    
Interesting point about the eternality of things - I will have to ponder that. –  Lawrence Dol Jan 4 '12 at 21:28

This is an interesting question, indeed. We speak of omnipresence from the perspective of the physical, yet the Bible reveals that God is outside of the physical universe--God is spirit. He created the physical universe, but exists apart from it. He certainly entered into it as well in the incarnation and the Spirit indwells the spirits of believers everywhere.

"God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24 ESV

The Bible clearly presents God as omnipresent, yet this is quite possibly in a spiritual sense rather than a physical one.

Hell is actually the place where people are specifically separated from God.

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[a] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might... 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV

So, how could God be omnipresent and at the same time be separated from those in hell? It seems that separation does not necessitate isolation. When we experience conflict with another person, we could be standing right next to them, but be completely separated from them relationally. Perhaps the same is true of hell and those who are there. The presence of God need not be absent for there to be separation.

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I'm not sure that being a spirit is a good argument for omnipresence. The Bible talks about spirits in prison, for example. (And as C.S. Lewis has one of his characters point out: "There's nothing specially fine about simply being a spirit. The Devil is a spirit.") –  Muke Tever Jan 4 '12 at 14:25
    
@MukeTever, "imprisoned spirits" might not exactly mean a lack of physical freedom. It's just as likely for it to refer to a non-physical one. –  Pacerier 17 hours ago

I think the premise is inaccurate. "Present with God" is used in the Bible to mean being in Heaven. This does not mean that those who are not regenerate are not also before God in some capacity. In fact, Mike Horton has said in a White Horse Inn broadcast this year that God saves us, essentially, from Himself. Hell is, in my reading, the presence of God apart from the effective work of Christ.

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I'd agree with Caleb here. God exists even in hell. Theologically I am not sure how God is able to be omnipresent, just that it is one of God's attributes.

Scientifically, one theory that holds promise is String Theory which implies that all in the past, present and future may exist at once. And God may be able to exist not only everywhere but at all times! I realize I am possibly muddling things up by bringing science in here, but so be it :)

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Thought the answer strays, the observation that omnipresence applies to time (for God everytime is the present after all), is a good one. String theory is not needed to realize that; philosophical reasoning will take you there also. –  Lawrence Dol Jan 4 '12 at 21:18
    
The link of God's omnipresence to string theory would benefit from a supporting link, for the benefit of all site users. –  Marc Gravell Jan 4 '12 at 22:15
    
(lots of off-topic comments removed) –  Marc Gravell Jan 4 '12 at 22:16
    
Michio Kaku, considered an expert on string theory talks about time travel and parallel universes: youtube.com/watch?v=RnkE2yQPw6s (included this in response to the call for a supporting link). Of course this is not just a theory, it is a theory in progress ... –  Probe Deeper Jan 12 '12 at 19:25

protected by Caleb Oct 5 '12 at 22:29

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