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Doctrinal Matters: Bible Interpretation

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Hell and the Omnipresence of God

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Q:

Since God is omnipresent, does that mean that He will be present in hell?

A:

The Bible certainly indicates that God is all-knowing and ever-present. “[A]ll things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). Through the prophet Jeremiah, God asked: “Am I a God near at hand...and not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?... Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:23-24). Indeed, God does “fill heaven and earth.” Solomon said: “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You [God]” (1 Kings 8:27). No one can flee from God’s presence (Psalm 139:7). He is omniscient and omnipresent.

The Bible does, however, speak of God’s presence in different senses. God is present on His throne in heaven (Hebrews 8:1; 12:2; Revelation 21:5). Solomon referred to “heaven” as God’s “dwelling place” from which He hears the prayers of His people (1 Kings 8:30). God is present in and among His church (1 Corinthians 3:16). Though God has hidden His face from sinners who have separated themselves spiritually from God (Isaiah 59:1-2), God still fills the Earth with His presence, knowing and seeing everything (Hebrews 4:13; Jeremiah 23:23-24). What’s more, though God is with Christians (Hebrews 13:5), and is ever-present on Earth, God also has made more direct, periodic appearances in spirit or fleshly forms (Genesis 18:1; Acts 9:5,17; Acts 23:11).

The Bible reveals that God is even present in Sheol (“the abode of the dead.... [T]he Hebrew equivalent of the Greek Hades...to which both the righteous and unrighteous go at death”—see “Sheol,” 1986). The psalmist asked, “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” (Psalm 139:7-8, NASB, emp. added). Job declared that “Sheol is naked before Him [God], and Destruction has no covering” (Job 26:6; cf. Proverbs 15:11). Whether one enters into the afterlife on the side of Paradise (Luke 23:43; 16:22) or torments (Luke 16:23), God is there in some sense. He knows all and sees all.

In addressing his desire to leave this present life and be with Jesus, Paul wrote: “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8, emp. added; cf. Philippians 1:23). In one sense, Christ was “with Paul” as a Christian and an apostle (Matthew 28:20; Acts 18:10), in another sense, while here on Earth Paul was “absent from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6). Once again, Scripture refers to the presence of God in different senses.

In the end, the saved will “meet the Lord in the air” and “always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We are going to the place that He has prepared for us and be where He says, “I [God] am” (John 14:2-3). But what about the inhabitants of hell and the omnipresence of God? It would appear that, since God created hell for the devil, his angels, and all of the wicked (Matthew 25:41), and since the Bible makes clear that prior to the Judgment God has some kind of presence in sheol/hades, even though there is a great gulf separating Paradise and torments (Luke 16:26), God’s presence is in hell in some sense. Though on one hand the wicked will be separated from God forever (Matthew 7:23; 25:41), they will never escape His ever-present and everlasting judgment.

REFERENCE

“Sheol” (1996), Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).




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