Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Is Hell in the presence of God?

I'm preaching this Sunday on 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.

In ESV, v. 9 reads "they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might." Most translations follow the same idea.

But "away from" is simply apo in Greek. Apo can mean all sorts of things. It can mean away from in the sense of separation. Indeed BDAG, the main lexicon, gives this sense for 2 Thess 1:9. It can also mean from in the sense of source or origin, thus God is the agent of this destruction. It could even have a causal sense. Apo prosopou might then indicate that it is the presence of God which actually causes the destruction: "from the face of God."

As evangelicals, we're used to saying that Hell or our punishment is to be shut out of God's presence, completely and finally, so losing every good thing of common grace - love, friendship, food, happiness etc.

Yet, Jonathan Edwards suggested some 250 years ago that eternity for both believers and unbelievers will be "in the immediate presence and sight of God." Indeed, it is the presence of God which makes Hell Hell. He is so hated by unbelievers, and his glory and holiness so unbearable, that it is in the presence of God that they find the greatest torment.

Any thoughts?


James Oakley said...

Read in the light of Numbers 6, and other verses, I would want to see a distinction between "away from God" and "away from God's face". For God to turn his face away from us is the opposite of the Aaronic blessing whereby God turns his face towards us. The latter, he gives us his shalom. The former, he removes it. Then we call on Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and see this is a covenant curse. God actively withdraws his face, such that the blessing that comes from being part of his people is replaced with the curse that comes from being his reprobate people. In a sense, all humanity is reprobate, because all were made in his image.

Or, one could proceed systematically. If hell were a place where God is not, without any distinction, what are we saying of God as creator at that point? We then have to say, with the open theists, that hell is a place outside of God's control - he does not know the future of hell. That doesn't preclude a mass-breakout. Such might seem unlikely, but can God be sure if he is not there in any sense - including having no knowledge of what is there?

Once we then say that God is present, but we need to distinguish, we end up moving towards my first paragraph.

Just my two minutes worth of thinking on the subject.

Daniel Newman said...

I've been unhappy with the idea that hell is being shut out from God's presence and common grace &c. for a while.

I like the suggestion that apo prosopou might mean away from God's face in the sense of away from God's blessing. That would certainly dovetail with the images of hell as exclusion from the wedding feast we get in the gospels.

I think Revelation 14.9-11 is helpful here, which also makes it clear that eternal destruction means punishment forever, not punishment for a while and then not existing forever:

"And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name."

Michael Dormandy said...

Thanks, Neil. I'd be interested to hear the results of more detailed thinking as to whether or not apo could be causal here. I wander why the translations seem to go for spatial?

Anonymous said...

Or, shifting the emphasis to another part of the verse, the ESV translators have rendered olethros "destruction" but it can also be rendered "death". Taken with the use of mot tamut in Gen 2:17, olethros, like apolumi, could be read literally as "death by execution."

Daniel's "eternal destruction means punishment forever, not punishment for a while and then not existing forever:" softens this understanding and misrepresents the wider evidence for eternal destruction meaning execution immediately following last day judgement. Hell, then, is time spent between mortal death and judgement in prison (hell), on remand, wailing and gnashing teeth.

In this sense, apo is locational, as their execution will take place away from God's presence and glory.