In describing God, we might begin by saying He’s all powerful, infinitely so, as we say — omnipotent(Re 19:6): He does as He pleases (Ps 115:3); nothing is too hard for Him. (Ge 18:14) He’s the Creator, fashioning time and space ex nihilo, and gives us no indication that this was the least bit challenging for Him; it’s hard to imagine a more immensely powerful act.
We might also describe God as all knowing, omniscient: He is aware of and understands all things. (1Jn 3:20) He’s intimately familiar with all His works (Ac 15:18), not just that they exist, or will exist, but every detail about each one of them: every word that will ever be spoken (Ps 139:4); the number of hairs on every head (Mt 10:30), the names of all the stars (Ps 147:4), He might as well know every grain of sand by name. If He knows such things, it’s hard to conceive of something He might not know.
We might also claim that God is omnipresent, that He’s everywhere all the time. This may seem obvious, given the above; if God created time and space itself, perhaps it stands to reason that He’s ever present throughout all Creation.
Yet this doesn’t appear as easy to prove from scripture; a quick internet check reveals that the many scriptures offered to support this concept don’t quite get us there. What if God created everything to be self-sustaining and then stepped away to let it run all on its own? What scriptures apply here, not just that God is everywhere we are, but that He occupies every space, every possible location?
Scripture describes God the Father as above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ep 4:6) The idea of through all, as in permeating and surrounding everything in existence, seems to get at this idea, as well as above all, which appears to convey transcendence, beyond everything, higher than the highest, lower than the lowest, farther than the farthest, etc. How can one be above all and through all and not also be everywhere — omnipresent? Trying to decouple these phrases and what they convey seems academic at best.
This above all and through all is consistent with the idea that Christ holds everything together: by Him all things consist(Col 1:17), He upholds all things. (He 1:3) To be holding everything together, God must be present in some way, sustaining everything and giving it substance to continue to exist, beholding and observing (Pr 15:3), engaging everything and sovereignly controlling it all. (Ep 1:11)
Yet some might argue that God can’t be in Hell, that Hell must be the absence of God because God is Love. (1Jn 4:16) This may be the strongest argument against the omnipresence of God. What do we say?
What should we expect to happen if love and mercy actually are freely offered in Hell, with open arms and a tender call to repent? (Ro 10:21) Wouldn’t God’s love be continually and vehemently rejected by those suffering there? Wouldn’t the wicked continue to willfully choose their fiery end rather than repent and submit to God? (Re 16:11) and do so every moment for all eternity? (Pr 27:22)
Perhaps the problem in Hell isn’t God at all; perhaps the problem is Man. And perhaps the key to resolving many mysteries we see in God’s character and behavior lies here as well, in the Depravity of Man. (Je 17:9)
The goodness of God ensures His judgements are right (Ps 119:75); the righteous understand that any affliction or punishment He prescribes is perfectly appropriate, faithful and just, more than deserved. (67,71) To resist or complain when God afflicts us is to defiantly reject His goodness and claim He’s inherently malevolent and evil; it’s exalting ourselves above God, arrogant presumption of the highest order (Ps 19:13), insisting we know better. (Ge 3:22)
This includes all those suffering everlasting punishment(Mt 25:46); to believe in God and receive Him from there, from Hellitself, which the wicked should certainly still do (Re 22:17), is to acknowledge that all divine punishments are appropriate in response to offenses and crimes committed against God; the wicked shouldn’t complain against or resist the wrath of God, even from Hell. (Re 15:4) They should exclaim with all Heaven that God’s judgments are true and right. (Re 16:7)
However, the wicked will not do this (Ge 4:13), because the very wellspring of wickedness is the belief that God is not good, that He is unjust. (Ge 3:5) Even to escape the fires of Hell itself, the wicked won’t repent of this sin against God; they’ll stubbornly persist in it. (Re 6:16)
Consider the story Christ tells of a rich man in Hell, lifting up his eyes in torment, pleading with Abraham to relieve him in his misery. (Lk 16:23-24) He plays on mercy to tempt the righteous to do what God will not do, and thereby admit God’s justice is too severe. Yet Abraham aligns with God and refuses, reminding the rich man of his sins against God and Man, having profoundly neglected the helpless in their earthly suffering (21), and of the righteous consequences. (25)
The rich man’s next move is to again beg Abraham to do something else God will not do: send someone back from the dead just to warn his family to flee the wrath to come. (27-28) This is a second attack upon God, directed at His self-revelation, claiming it’s insufficient, again implying His punishments are unjust. Abraham again refuses, pointing out that his family has perfectly sufficient proof of God’s character and expectation: God has plainly revealed Himself in Torah and the Prophets. (29)
The rich man persists in his denial of the sufficiency of God’s provision, insisting that his family would repent and be saved if they witnessed such a spectacular miracle. (30) This is a third arrogant attack upon God, directed at His knowledge of Man: his presumption is that God is misinformed, that we’re mostly reasonable people, his family in particular, undeserving of eternal punishment; we simply lack sufficient warning to live in light of eternity. Yet Abraham remains faithful: God knows Man’s depraved heart and is revealing Himself to mankind accordingly. (31)
What would God do if the wicked softened their hearts in Hell and acknowledged His goodness? If we know God well we know how He’d respond: His mercy is infinite toward those who fear Him. (Ps 103:11)
Why won’t the wicked honor God then, even from Hell? Why would anyone ever deliberately sin against God? This is indeed the true mystery, the mystery of iniquity(2Th 2:7): the desperate wickedness of Man; the godly are horrified by it; we may never fully understand it. (Je 17:9)
In repentance, regardless of our suffering at God’s hands (La 3:9), we admit to receiving the due reward of our deeds (Lk 23:41) and heed God’s warning to flee the wrath to come. (Lk 3:7) This is God’s gift to all who are willing to acknowledge that He is, and that He faithfully rewards all who diligently seek Him. (He 11:6)
Fear of suffering eternally in Hell should move us (Jud 1:22-23) to seek the Lord earnestly, striving to enter the Way(Lk 13:23-24), until we know we have eternal life. (1Jn 5:13) The infinite cost of failure here makes any other outcome entirely unacceptable to the rational soul.
But is Hell, the second death, actually eternal? What if, as some teach, Hell has an explicit finality to it, where souls don’t suffer forever but are rather extinguished, annihilated, such that they cease to exist? Wouldn’t that be more consistent with a loving God?
Annihilationism is the claim that as the wicked are destroyed (Mt 10:28) they cease to exist, that spiritual death is final and complete, an eradication of body, soul and spirit, producing a state of non-existence. The motive is to frame God as more reasonable and compassionate when eternal torment is not perceived to be justifiable. (Ro 11:33) After all, how could a loving God torture souls eternally?
To begin, observe that we can destroy something without annihilating it, say, by smashing a computer or a car and rendering it inoperative, incapable of fulfilling its intended purpose, forcing its components into an altered, unusable state.
Similarly, in death (separation of spirit and soul from body) spirit, soul and body continue to exist; none are annihilated. (Lk 16:22) So, verses including death and destroy do not, in themselves, imply Annihilationism.
Further, Annihilationism assumes sin has a finite degree (making infinite punishment unjust) and no benefit in eternal torment (making it unnecessary). But if Man’s unchecked sin is indeed infinite, in both intensity and duration, and if eternal suffering would bring glory to God, prompting worship in the righteous by uniquely revealing the nature of both God and Man, then Annihilationism is problematic. To verify this, let’s search the Scripture.
The Word states, as clearly as anything can be stated, that most souls will suffer consciously for eternity. (Re 14:11)This is not surprising, since we all, when left to ourselves, love darkness rather than light, because our deeds are evil. (Jn 3:19) This is deeply offensive and dishonoring to God. What should He do about it?
Conventional teaching has been that God angrily casts the wicked into a furnace of fire (Mt 13:42), consigning them there forever because they did not believe on Him in earthly life. (Jn 3:36) This punishment seems so harsh that many struggle to understand how this could possibly be consistent with God’s love and mercy, even if we see it in Scripture. Can anyone truly deservesuch an end?
How can God impose this kind of fiery punishment for eternity and yet be loving and just? It is impossible to rightly understand these kinds of things without the proper context; as with many other theological problems, the resolution lies in a full comprehension of the nature of Man.
Everlasting, infinite punishment would only be unjust if the wicked were not infinitely so, if their rebellion were finite in either intensity or duration. Yet, Annihiliationism would explicitly hide this reality from us, such that we could never experience the timeless nature of either God or Man. But isn’t this God’s explicit purpose in Creation, to reveal and glorify Himself? (Ro 9:22-23) If so, how then might eternal punishment reveal and glorify God?
When God has suffered the indignity of our sin long enough, suppose all He does is simply unveil Himself (Is 25:7), showing us all Who He is and what He is like, unfiltered, exactly as He is. (Re 20:11) This will distill every place in the universe down to only one: the immediate presence of Almighty God. Infinite depravity will then begin to fully and intimately engage with infinite holiness, justiceand love.
This simple unveiling of God changes everything. Whatever is in God and of God is fulfilled and completed (Col 2:10), home at last, while all outside God is incapacitated (Mt 15:13), shaken to the core (He 12:27), unable to function as designed: destroyed.
As this climactic event unfolds, a permanent standoff develops: the wicked remain opposed to God and at enmity with Him (Ro 8:7), while God remains infinitely holy, just and loving. These two natures are entirely irreconcilable; they cannot abide in harmony together, not even a little bit. Each side is absolutely intolerable to the other (Pr 11:20), and they clash with unfathomable violence and intensity. God’s indignant fury fills the wicked with terror(Na 1:6), yet there is no place to hide. The damned begin to suffer the real, ultimate consequence of their rebellion, destroyed by the very glory of the God they despise (2Th 1:9), the inevitable result of their own willful choices and nature.
Since God does not change (Ja 1:17), the only way this stalemate will ever end is if the wicked find it within themselves to repent and turn to God (Je 13:23), otherwise their punishment will indeed be everlasting(Mt 25:46), infinite in both degree and duration, according to their own nature. (Is 33:14)
So, as the wicked stubbornly continue in their unbridled rebellion, drowning in inextinguishable holy fire (Mk 9:43-44), they put their hatred for God on universal display (Ps 21:9), permanently showcasing themselves before God’s throne for the righteous to observe and contemplate. (Is 66:23-24) They are held by the cords of their own sin (Pr 5:22), in perpetual shame and everlasting contempt. (Da 12:2)
In this state, what should God do? Must He annihilate His enemies in order to be loving and just?
What if the holy arms of a loving God remain forever open (Ro 10:21), even to those in Hell (Re 22:17), offering mercy and pardon to any who will repent and turn to Him? (Is 55:7) And what if we begin to observe, in age after incredible age, that the damned will never return to God (Ps 81:15), not a single one (Ps 14:2-3), no matter what immense suffering their own relentless, stubborn blasphemy (Re 16:9) continually draws down upon their own heads? (Pr 27:22) If God ever does do such a thing, and the wicked play their hand as predicted, who could ever rightly complain against Him? (Re_15:4)
And if God did annihilate His enemies, how would we ever know how infinitely evil human nature truly is (Je 17:9), when God gives us up to fully pursue our own way?
Perhaps it is only then, as we actually experience eternity itself, that we will be enabled to fathom more and more the infinitude of our God (Ps 145:3), to glory in His infinite mercy (Ps 103:11), to experience the true nature of unregenerate Man (Ro 8:7), and agree that it’s inexcusable. (Ro 1:20) Perhaps this will enable us to begin to perceive the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through His Son (Ep 2:7), as we explore the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Ep 3:8)
The eternal, infinite, willful, voluntarily self-imposed suffering of the damned will be a continual, tangible reminder of what we all are like without God, and what we all deserve. There will be no self-glory in His presence. (1Co 1:29) We will never forget what our Father has done for us. (1Jn 3:1)
When a rich young man approaches Jesus Christ to inquire about salvation, he begins by addressing Christ as “Good Master.” (Mt 19:16) Christ replies, as He often does, by questioning the young man: “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” (17a)
Christ systematically uses questions to help us think through what we’re doing so we can find the truth. This case appears to be no different. What is Christ leading the young man to discover?
Some might claim from Christ’s response that He’s rebuking the young man, admitting that He Himself isn’t good because He isn’t God. If this were true, then a rebuke would certainly be appropriate, but it presupposes that Christ is merely human. So, treating this as evidence of Christ’s mere humanity is classic circular reasoning, a logical fallacy.
If we observe carefully, Christ doesn’t actually assert that He isn’t good, or that the young man’s address is inappropriate; the mere question isn’t a condemnation. Christ simply affirms that no one is truly good except God; everyone else is sinful and depraved by nature. So, is the young man acknowledging the divinity and perfection of Christ, or is he flattering a sinful creature like himself? Christ’s challenge is to awaken: either Christ is God, or He isn’t good.
This question challenges us all, does it not? Many are tempted to describe Jesus Christ as merely a good, moral teacher, perhaps the greatest ever, and nothing more. Yet Christ Himself doesn’t leave us this option: He spoke in ways that were totally inappropriate for a mere man. (Jn 8:12, 19, 23, 29, 58)
So, we’re left to choose: either Christ is God, or He wasn’t good; there is no in-between. This is the most profound choice one will ever make, so choose wisely and fully, and then live accordingly.
Unless we find some clear fault in Jesus Christ, some obvious flaw in His character, it’s exceedingly unwise to presume He isn’t Who He claims to be. (Jn_14:6) A Man who foretells His own innocent suffering and death (Mt 16:21), and claims He will raise Himself from the dead (Jn 10:17-18), and then pulls this off — and actually doesit — has given us more proof than we could ever need.