What is your reaction when you read the title above? Did you think “Of course not!” Well, if you did then I want to challenge your thinking a little bit.
Maybe you thought “I hope so!” If you want God to be punished can I gently suggest this says more about you than it ever does about God? Perhaps some people get worn down by stuff which just seems to keep happening without explanation. Wave after wave of hardship and suffering come crashing into our lives and feeling bitter towards God is a fairly common response. My answer to the above question may surprise even the bitter people.
You see, I think the answer is “Yes, in a way.”
Yes, God is in Hell. In some sense.
Before you say, “Nonsense!” to my ‘some sense’ let me just unpack a few things from the corners of the box of Christian theology.
What Is God Like?
The key attribute of God to be considered is God’s omnipresence. God is everywhere, He is in every place. The Psalmist wrote these words in Psalm 139:
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
“If I make my bed in the depths” is a reference to the grave. So while it is obvious the writer is saying God is everywhere we should note the inclusion of Sheol – the place of the dead.
God is also omnipotent; He is all-powerful. God acts anywhere because He is everywhere. God has power to affect everywhere because He is there.
Finally, the last ‘omni.’ God is omniscient. He knows everything. While it is possible to understand God’s knowledge apart from God’s power each attribute does seem connected to the others.
So God is all-present, all-poweful and all-knowing.
What Is Hell Like?
Only two things should be said here. The first is that Hell is a physical place. Christian doctrines about the future (these are collectively called eschatology) emphasise the resurrection of all people to eternal, bodily existence. Some people will be in Heaven and the rest will be in Hell. Yet wherever people will be, they will be there with a body. Physical existence requires a physical place for that existence. The physical place of punishment is called Hell.
The second thing which should be said about Hell is it is a place of torment. When Jesus told the story about Lazarus the beggar and the Rich Man in Hell, the rich man was being tormented. The very title given to the place at the end of Revelation – The Lake Of Burning Sulphur – suggests (rather strongly, I might add) torment. Hell is a place of punishment.
Where Does That Leave God?
If God is in every place and Hell is a place then God must be in Hell. However, God has committed no sin nor can He be tempted by sin so God cannot be punished in Hell. Also, since God is all-powerful and thus the greatest being there is no other creature capable of judging God, condemning God or restraining God.
Here, then, is a conundrum.
Which is why I said, “In some sense.”
In order for God to be omnipresent He must be in Hell in some way or another. Yet I am not suggesting, even for a moment, God is being punished or deserves punishment.
In the face of a mystery we should sometimes just accept the known facts and not worry about what remains unknowable. There is a great word for this point of acceptance and ignorance:
This is a word from boating – a nautical term. Sailors used to have a rope which had knots tied in it at specific intervals – a knot at each fathom. In order to test the depth of the water they would lower the rope into the water until it hit the bottom and then they would count the number of knots they had used. This gave them a depth in fathoms.
This process was great for shallow water. What about the ocean though? There would not have been a rope long enough to reach the bottom of the ocean. All that could be known was the water was very deep. Anything else was guessing because the water was unfathomable.
In the Kingdom of God sometimes we come to things which are unfathomable. We should still play out all of our ‘mental rope,’ our capacity to measure God’s truth. However we must be content with the knowledge that the topic is too deep for us.
What Difference Does What We Know Make?
This is, for me, the really interesting part. If God is aware of all everything which happens in Hell then surely this brings some more depth to the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God, knowing the torment which was waiting for people who sinned, loved the world so much that He gave Himself, in the form of His Son Jesus Christ, to save everyone who would accept His love. The King of the Kingdom of God is driven by love for people.
Sadly, the servants of the King do not always reflect this love. Perhaps we could meditate on the horror of Hell and find a source of new appreciation for the love of the Father and a new motivation for rescuing people from eternal damnation.
Now, because I think ending a post with the words eternal damnation seems a bit harsh, please allow me to say, “Goodbye for now.”