Where God is Not

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Where God is Not

24 August 2022 Hits:1973

I recently had a fascinating theological conversation, and the topic of Hell arose. The person I was chatting with suggested that Hell is a place that is absent of the presence of God. In other words, Hell is a place where God is not.

I asked, how can an omnipresent being not be everywhere? How can an all-pervading, ever-present God be removed from any location?

I won’t go into detail here about the nature of Hell, whether it is eternal or temporal or whether the fires are punishing or restorative. I have written about these things here. And discussed them here and here.

What About This Verse?

In his second letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul wrote, “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (emphasis added). Notice that? Hell is a place that is shut out of God’s presence, a place where God is not.

But Revelation 14:10 appears to contradict Paul, “They will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.” The Lamb is a metaphor for Jesus.

Which one is it? Is there a place where God is not, and if so, how? How does an omnipresent being not be, well, everywhere?

“Presence” in 2 Thessalonians refers to a person’s face. The inference is the face is not smiling. Imagine the times you’ve been with someone who was unhappy with you. How did you feel? That’s what Paul is communicating here. He is not suggesting there’s a place where God is not. The picture is of a place that is absent of joy.

But what if the expression on God’s face is like the look of displeasure a parent gives to their disobedient child? The glare lacks joy, but it never lacks love. 

God is Everywhere

In Acts 17, Paul quotes a sixth-century BC philosopher named Epimenides, who wrote, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” Paul then quotes Aratus, a Greek poet from the third century BC. Aratus wrote in his tribute to the god Zeus, ‘We are his offspring.’ Paul applies both of these statements to the people he spoke to in Athens. His message? God is everywhere. All people are his children. There is not one place where God is not.

David the songwriter penned some stunning words about God’s omnipresence:

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.

The depths (Hebrew: Sheol) refer to where people descend at death. It was later named Hades after the Greek god of the underworld. David states that God is there even if he made his bed in Sheol.

Personal Experience

I am so grateful for the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God that has relentlessly chased me down over the years. I am thankful for my first encounter with God’s love when I was a 19-year-old atheist. Even then, I looked back and could see the work of an omnipresent deity in my life. For the next two years, I did everything possible to escape God. But that’s easier said than done. Where can I go from your Spirit?

And so, at 21, I relented and came home to the Father. Since then, I have seen his persistent presence reaching out to people in all sorts of places. A friend of mine, David, came to faith in Jesus when he chatted with a Christian girl in a gay bar. Gede and Phoebe both had encounters with Jesus in a Hindu Temple. Jesus came to Arif in a dream while he was in prison.

Big God

I hope you embrace my intended message of this blog: God is bigger than you ever imagined. You cannot limit, exclude, or restrict an almighty, all-wise, and omnipresent spiritual being. I’ve heard this preached negatively. Maybe you have too. You know, “God is watching so you’d better be extra careful how you behave.” Instead, let’s turn this into a positive. The God who “is love” is with us wherever we are. There is no escaping his grace. Like Paul said, “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Be encouraged!

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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