In my latest article, I asked a whole host of questions to Evangelicals. That’s it. Just questions. Someone was kind enough to put a dissertation in the comments section, and while I didn’t have time to read the entire tome, I did come across one section that I wanted to comment on today.
Answering my question, “If hell is a place where you are separated from God, then does that mean God is not omnipresent,” this commenter replied:
“I think those who make this statement are generally being careless; the very same would say that this is the place in which God’s wrath is being experienced, and if you are experiencing God’s wrath, you are surely not separated from him – his wrath implies his presence. Perhaps what they mean is ‘separated from God’s love?’ But if they mean God is not present here, they surely are speaking erroneously if they likewise maintain the God is omnipresent. I affirm that he is omnipresent, and thus present in pouring out wrath in hell.”
First off, this individual makes an important distinction between God literally not being present in hell and God’s love not being experienced in it. The former is a metaphysical absurdity while the latter, while possible, seems to either rest on the notion that humans have a type of free will that I find untenable (for more on that, read philosophers David Bentley Hart, Eric Reitan, Ric Machuga, and Thomas Talbott), or on the notion that God is not unlike all the countless other wrathful gods.
So, because of the metaphysical absurdity of an omnipresent God not being in a certain location in the cosmos, let’s focus on the latter: God’s wrath.
I’ve written about this before, but it probably bears repeating. God’s wrath is nothing more than experiencing the consequences of our own actions. My friend and colleague, Dr. Brad Jersak, uses the analogy of throwing a hammer straight into the air and having it land on your own head.
Forget what the fundamentalists say. Forget what the fearmongers say. Forget what the warmongers say. God is love and light, and in God there is no darkness.
Now, I’m certain that someone will retort by quoting the Scriptures that seem to argue in favor of God’s wrath. Luke 3:7. Romans 1:18. Probably plenty of others. But the simple fact of the matter is that I am not going to see these passages in the same way as divine-wrath-justifying Christians do. Maybe John the Baptist was wrong in Luke 3:7. Or maybe the wrath that comes is at the hands of the Romans and not God. Maybe we aren’t reading Paul correctly in Romans 1. Maybe the wrathful gospel is that of the false teachers and Paul doesn’t lay out his theology until Romans 5.
For me, this is where the rubber meets the road: Because the Bible is a messy book, one that is always open to interpretation, I don’t see it as something worth using as a rulebook for life. There are simply too many violent passages that justify all sorts of evil – slavery, genocide, infanticide, misogyny, and so on.
On the other hand, there are a lot of great passages that bring about theological healing. “God is love” is one of them. The Bible never says “God is wrath.” It says “God is love.” Therefore, can we not deduce that if God has wrath, it’s in the context that God is love? In other words, if wrath is an attribute of God – I’m not saying it is, but hear me out – then it’s in the context of the fact that God is the very essence of love.
With this in mind, let’s get back to the last thing the commenter above says, namely that “I affirm that he is omnipresent, and thus present in pouring out wrath in hell.”
Think about the absurdity of this. God is love, but he is busy for all eternity, pouring out his wrath on sinners. Really? What is this wrath if not supra-retribution? What is this wrath if not vengeance? What is this wrath if not the opposite of love?
You see, if there is no healing purpose for this wrath, then what is the point? Isn’t it then punishment for the sake of punishment? You would never do this to your children, so what makes anyone think God would do this to us? Are any of us more merciful than the God who is love?
It makes no sense.
And so, at the end of the day, while metaphysically possible, the view that God is in hell, pouring out his wrath on sinners, is just as absurd. Perhaps not metaphysically absurd, but experientially, and, if biblical love has any real-world truth whatsoever, scripturally absurd.
Again, not that the Bible is my guide, but if it is yours, you’re going to have to read God’s supposed wrath through the lens that your Bible CLEARLY STATES that God is love.
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