Hell is eternal separation from God?

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by thegospel, Apr 14, 2010.

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  1. thegospel

    thegospel Puritan Board Freshman

    In a previous thread titled 2 questions about hell, it was mentioned that hell was unbearable because of eternal separation from God. However, how can those who hate God find hell unbearable because the very God they despise is not there?

    I would think that what makes hell hell is that God, in one sense, is present pouring out his wrath, and pure justice, with no mixture of mercy or pity.

    Any thoughts?
  2. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    People may hate God, but on earth His presence is still around them.
  3. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    I have often heard it said that hell is eternal separation from God, but I have problems with that idea. First, from an ontological perspective, there is no "place" where an infinite being is not. Scripture, of course, allludes to this (Ps. 139). Second, as you say, the absence of the most dreaded Being would (one would think) be the least terrible and most preferable scenario. Thus, I think that it is the very presence of Him whose justice condemns and whose wrath torments - and the conscious knowledge that one is "separated" from any hope of respite - that makes hell, well, hell. What is unspeakably sweet and precious to those for whom Christ has suffered substitutionally - the very presence of God - is that which the reprobate earnestly longs to escape.
  4. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    Then I think you are going to need to find a meaningful exegesis for Christ's words in Matthew 7:23, "Depart from Me!" and for 2 Thessalonians 1:9, These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,...

    I think we are helped from the WLC...

    Question 29: What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?
    Answer: The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire forever.

    Question 89: What shall be done to the wicked at the day of judgment?
    Answer: At the day of judgment, the wicked shall be set on Christ's left hand, and, upon clear evidence, and full conviction of their own consciences, shall have the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them; and thereupon shall be cast out from the favorable presence of God, and the glorious fellowship with Christ, his saints, and all his holy angels, into hell, to be punished with unspeakable torments, both of body and soul, with the devil and his angels forever.
  5. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    I agree that we will be eternally separated from the "comfortable" and "favorable" presence of God. What will remain will be most uncomfortable and unfavorable. As the Psalmist said: "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?"

    Sproul makes a similar point: http://www.bible-researcher.com/hell6.html
  6. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    Well, with all due respect, I confess that Dr Sproul is not my regula fidei.
  7. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    Kuyper is helpful here, as he discusses the Holy Spirit. The laws of spirit are not the same as the laws of matter. He speaks of this as he discusses how the Spirit can be omnipresent (spacially), while not indwelling Satan. See chapter 25 of The Work of the Holy Spirit.
  8. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    I certainly wasn't implying that he was mine either. I merely added that (as an edited afterthought) to indicate that my view was not wholly beyond the pale. However, as I suggested, the WLC qualifies the separation from God's presence with the adjectives "comfortable" and "favorable." I have no qualms with that. Yet unless one is willing to concede annihilation, the reprobate must exist eternally somewhere (as the other current thread admits: even another "dimension" is another place nonetheless). Thus, an omnipresent God is, by definition, present everywhere. And to press the issue further, the absence of God would be, to the reprobate in hell, far more desirable than His presence, no? Then to conclude that God "grants" them His absence is confusing, to say the least.

    Thanks, Pastor Brooking, for the reference. I will look into that. (your post appeared while I was writing mine) However, be that as it may, what of the second aspect of the argument - namely, that the presence of God is the very thing most odious to the reprobate?
  9. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    The various senses of 'presence' should be explored. His omnipresence and immutability would seem to indicate that God cannot move, since he cannot go to where he was not, nor cease to be where he is. And yet, God 'leaves' and 'goes down' and such. Such language is surely accommodated to human understanding, but Kuyper's point is that the laws of the spirit world are not precisely the same or even parallel with the laws governing the material world. His omnipresence, while true, is not what is at issue in the teaching about hell. It's God's favor -- or, rather, the lack thereof. He is not 'with' them. Rather, He's against them. However that is conceived, it is horrible. The picture of eternal burning is, probably, an understatement of the torture of never finding the favor of the creator, but moment by moment being reminded of that lack/loss forever and ever.

    Kuyper might be of help to you, Steve, as you wrestle with omnipresence as it relates to Hell -- even though Kuyper isn't really talking about hell at all.
  10. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    I couldn't agree more that God is not "with" those in hell but against them. And I agree that the issue is the favor of God being eternally withheld from the reprobate; that is indeed the most horrible of considerations. Yet the question remains: is it proper to speak of "separation" from God in the sense that this is popularly employed?
  11. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    The question is with the term 'popularly'. It is proper to speak of 'separation' from God in the sense PROPERLY employed. How is it 'popularly' employed? If the idea is spacial separation, then, no, that is not accurate. But this is why I think we need to consider the sense of 'separation' and 'presence'. I don't think the divines were thinking spacially when they composed the catechism.
  12. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    This is precisely why I rarely post here any more. You began simply by stating that you have problems with hell being separation from God. Now, with the introduction of this undefined "popular" view, the target of the question has moved, and is still moving because the presupposition of what is "popular" has yet to be defined; and if defined may even be a point in dispute as to its popularity. I confess that I begin to lose respect for the discussion when the target begins to move with each post; so I apologize, and leave it to those with more patience.
  13. thegospel

    thegospel Puritan Board Freshman

    Revelation 14:10
    9 Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,
    10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.
    New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Re 14:9–10). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    This passage communicates that people will be tormented in the presence of the Lamb and the holy angels.

    So in what way does the one "Depart from Me" and the other enters the joy of the Lord that we see in Matthew 25:21 & 41? Is this departure, a departure from the joy to the torment and anger of God? I agree that exegesis is absolutely essential to understanding hell and God's involvement.

    Another question that comes to mind is. since he created hell how can he not be present there? He created and designed and planned hell's torment to satisfy his justice.
  14. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    I regret your lack of patience; I am not "moving" the target, but clarifying and defining it as I see it, consequent to comments by you and others. That is the essence (or at least the objective) of debate, is it not?

    I said that I "had problems with the idea" of separation; I never said that I had "figured it out." My problems I stated as two: spatial and the justice of God. Pastor Brooking provided a resource dealing with the spatial issue, and I will give that thought. You provided quotes from the WLC that, in fact, seem (to me) to qualify the separation rather than render it absolute. And this gets to the "popular" use of separation that I introduced. The word, in its normal and customary usage, does not seem to apply in this instance. There seem to be these "qualifiers" that make it improper to speak of hell as eternal separation from God, without defining the qualifiers. The whole point is that hell will not be "comfortable" and "favorable" because comfort and favor come from the Lord and those in hell are not objects of His goodness. Yet they are eternally objects of His wrath and justice. This seems to me to indicate His presence in some sense, though certainly not in the sense of being "with" them relationally.
  15. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    If all you want is qualification on the separation, I don't think we are really in disagreement. Spacially considered, it is impossible to be where the omnipresent is not -- that's irrational. But that may be why some are reluctant to qualify the matter further. They may feel like qualifying to exclude the irrational is unnecessary, since it is irrational. But you seem to grasp that the WLC is talking about a relational sort of separation. The Rev. 14 reference noted above gets at what I meant by those deprived of God's mercy and goodness being continuously aware of the deficit. So there isn't real disagreement, as far as I can tell. You are looking for a refinement in the definition, while others are saying that such a refinement would introduce tautology.

    At least that's how I understand the exchange. Do you see it differently? Have I missed something?

  16. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    We may, in fact, not be too far apart ("separated"?) in principle. I guess I would just argue that to define a term in a way that is not usual and customary is not tautological but expositional. Particularly when, apparently, Kuyper is making the case for distinguishing material and spiritual presence. In apologetic discussions, I have had this issue come up in relation to hell and God's omnipresence: when is "there" not "there"? It seems that the relational aspect (where we agree) ought to be more clearly defined than to simply say that hell is eternal separation from God. Just my two cents. I'm not trying to beat a dead horse (I would have used the emoticons there, but they aren't working for some reason!) Thanks for your input, Pastor.
  17. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Thomas Watson:

    In reference to man's possession, hell is separation from God's graces. In reference to man's senses, hell is the unrestrained presence of God's wrath. It seems the word 'presence' is not defined differently, but has different implications within two distinct categories.
  18. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    I guess for practical purposes this means nothing as I haven't really looked into it with regards to Scripture, but these words of Paul Washer immediately come to mind:
    "Hell is not Hell because God is not there; Hell is Hell because God is there."
  19. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    I never cease to be amazed at how clearly and succinctly some can say it, while I prattle on in a rambling effort to say the same thing.

  20. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    I agree - the quote from Watson was helpful. Thanks for that, Pastor Klein. For some reason my "thanks" button is missing!
  21. P.F.

    P.F. Puritan Board Freshman


    You wrote:
    Pastor King pointed out that such a description is both strictly biblical and in accordance with the subordinate standards. You then added new qualifications to the point where "separation from God" would appear to involve a denial of God's omnipresence. That's why it looks to him like a moving target. When we normally speak about eternal separation from God we don't mean that the damned are in a place where God's omnipresence doesn't extend or in a place that God's justice doesn't reach. There may be some very uninformed folks who speak that way, but their problem isn't the fact that they use terminology similar to that of Matthew (which Pastor King pointed out), but simply that they don't understand what the terminology they are using means.
  22. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    While I wholeheartedly subscribe to the standards, the bulk of my ministry involves engaging with those who do not (either non-Christians or broadly evangelical ones). Thus it has been my experience that there are many, many uninformed folks out there who are nevertheless familiar with the idea that hell is where God isn't. This was the motivation for my original comment that the phrase "hell is eternal separation from God" is problematic without qualification. I did not alter my original position; rather I responded to Pastor King who himself introduced new elements that further brought out the problems I have with that terminology. I appreciate the language of the Confession and of Watson (quoted above). That is not, however, the language that I typically encounter. The phrase as it stands, and as it is "popularly" understood is incomplete. Further, my making this case is hardly original - quotes from Sproul and Washer have been mentioned, and Gill has this to say with regard to Psalm 139:

    if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there; which, if understood of the place of the damned, is a place of torment, and a very unfit one to make a bed in, being a lake burning with fire and brimstone; and where the smoke of their torment ascends for ever, and they have no rest day nor night; their worm never dies, and their fire is not quenched; and even here God is: hell is not only naked before him, and all its inhabitants in his view; but he is here in his powerful presence, keeping the devils in chains of darkness; turning wicked men daily into it, pouring out his wrath upon them, placing and continuing an unpassable gulf between them and happy souls: though rather this is to be understood of the grave, in which sense the

    And Spurgeon:

    “If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” Descending into the lowest imaginable depths among the dead, there should we find the Lord. Thou! says the Psalmist, as if he felt that God was the one great Existence in all places. Whatever Hades may be, or whoever may be there, one thing is certain, Thou, O Jehovah, art there.

    They all seem to be saying far more than that God is “in” hell only in a way consistent with His omnipresence, but that He is actively there, in a way most odious to its inhabitants.

    I am trying to disengage from this discussion (really, I am!), but it seems that it keeps returning to the idea of saying “hell is eternal separation from God” when in reality we mean (and I think we all mean) that there is more to it than what those words alone convey. At any rate, those aren’t the words of the Confession. And Matthew’s language must be understood in harmony with that of John mentioned earlier, where it is said that the damned will be tormented “in the presence of” (ἐνώπιον: “in the face of”) the holy angels and the Lamb. Of this, Gill says:

    in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; the latter will be their Judge, and will condemn them to everlasting burnings, and pronounce the sentence on them; and the former will be the executioners of it; they will gather them out, and sever them from the righteous, and cast them into the furnace of fire, and will be spectators of their punishment, and rejoice at it; and the sight of their power and glory will increase the torment of the sufferers. The emphasis is mine, pointing to his implication that the sufferers will be acutely aware of the presence of God.

    In all, I am simply trying to promote the idea that we would better serve those aforementioned uninformed folks by speaking more clearly, sticking to the language of the Confession, and avoiding “short-cuts” that can lead weaker ones to incorrect conclusions.
  23. P.F.

    P.F. Puritan Board Freshman

    It still seems that your objections are not properly objections to the phrase itself but rather to misunderstanding(s) of the phrase. Someone might similarly misunderstand:

    Genesis 4:16 And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.


    Leviticus 22:3 Say unto them, Whosoever he be of all your seed among your generations, that goeth unto the holy things, which the children of Israel hallow unto the LORD, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from my presence: I am the LORD.

    (see also the verse Pastor King provided)

    I am confident you would be reluctant to object to those verses despite the possibility that they could be misunderstood.
  24. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    I did not alter my original position; rather I responded to Pastor King who himself introduced new elements that further brought out the problems I have with that terminology.

    I disagree with this characterization of your original post. What you did was to reject the language of one extreme for the language of another extreme, and only then was confessional language offered for balance.

    This board is supposed to be a confessional board, but so often people here behave as though when reflecting on theological problems and issues, they are the first in the history of the church to wrestle with them, and often express their disagreements in terms of anti-confessional language. The Westminster standards are, to be sure, not divine oracles, but they are very difficult to improve upon.

    Such folk seem to be more willing to state their personal views first before consulting our confessional standards to investigate whether our reformed forebears may have actually wrestled with such difficulties and resolved them in terms of tota Scriptura.

    I pray that our beloved moderators will bear with me in expressing why I find this board so unedifying at times.
  25. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    Of course, I would not object to those verses – or any others! Nor do I object to the language of the standards on the matter at hand. I do, however, object to (or, more properly, am frustrated by) this resolve to say part of the whole truth and then doggedly defend that part. I must admit I am somewhat surprised at the defense of a phrase that, though quite common in the vernacular, is neither to be found in Scripture or the Confession, strictly speaking. What is found therein, however, I heartily endorse!

    ---------- Post added at 02:04 PM ---------- Previous post was at 02:01 PM ----------

    It would seem that it is I who am defending the language of the Confession. My original post was that the phrase is problematic in relation to God's omniscience and in relation to God's justice. Conversely, the phrases as they exist in the Confession are not problematic. But in defending the original phrase, it would seem that you are missing the substance of the Confession at this point.
  26. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    You said in your first post: I have often heard it said that hell is eternal separation from God, but I have problems with that idea.

    I disagree with you, I trust respectfully, and leave it at that.
  27. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Thomas Vincent:

    I think the question at hand is this: who/what is administering the 'strokes of God's vengeance' if God is not present? Is this what you are driving at in the OP?
  28. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    Bingo! Who but God? And Vincent interestingly says that the strokes are delivered "immediately." I am assuming that the "worm of conscience" will be really present, as well.
  29. thegospel

    thegospel Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for the clarification! That is what I am driving at and want to understand. The statement, "that hell is unbearable because God is not there", in my opinion is not clear about the nature of hell and origin of the torment that is endured by those who are in hell. As Vincent has stated that God is the one pouring out the vengeance on the wicked/reprobate in hell.

    My question was lacking clarity and the confusion about the question was my fault. Forgive me for not being precise about the definition of my terms as the Puritans would have sought to be. May we all continue to strive to be 'Precisionists'.
  30. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The frustration is equally shared. If discussion could move away from the somewhat modernist idea that the Standards need "improving" simply by virtue of the fact that we chronologically succeed those who produced them (when the humble reality is that we are far from the godly learning of the past masters), I believe the frustration will be removed and more edifying dialogue will characterise this board.
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