Hell Is Not Separation from God

"Hell is not horrible due to alleged implements of torture or its temperature. (After all, it is described variously in Scripture as 'outer darkness' and a 'lake of fire.') Whatever the exact nature of this everlasting judgment, it is horrible ultimately for one reason only: God is present." - Michael Horton

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ScottS's picture

I agree (and have long held to) the overall premise of Horton's article, that eternal judgment is not a "separation from God," but rather a particular experience of His very presence eternally, as he put it, God's "inescapable presence forever with his face turned against them."

But I think Horton misses a number of details that further his claim. Indeed, the first detail is that there is a distinction between "hell" (which I equate with the Greek term Hades) and "the lake of fire" (I believe also referred to by the Greek term Gehenna in some passages). It is the latter that is the eternal punishment (into which hell itself is cast, Rev. 20:14).

Second, I believe this statement misses hitting on a key few points:

Hell is not ultimately about fire, but about God. Whatever the exact nature of the physical punishments, the real terror awaiting the unrepentant is God himself and his inescapable presence forever with his face turned against them.

Evidence strongly suggests that the eternal immersion in fire is directly related to this presence of God that Horton is advocating for, so it is a false dichotomy to say "not ... about fire, but about God." Just as God is love (1 Jn 4:8, 16), the Bible is equally clear that God is a consuming fire (Dt 4:24, Heb 12:29). His burning countenance relates to how He jealously manifests His holiness within creation (against idolatry, Dt 4:23-24; against those counted unrighteous, Isa 33:14-15; those not showing reverence to Him, Heb 12:28-29; compare also Exo 24:17). So the "exact nature of the physical punishments" is very much like immersion in fire, that is the point of the various statements.

And this leads to the third point, that Horton misses 2 Thess 1:9 as a key verse to also support this. In trying to "reconcile" that with Rev 14:10, he still (wrongly in my opinion) takes 2 Thess 1:9 to refer to a "separation from" (he states "cast away from") God, but while the Greek preposition ἀπό (apo) followed by a genitive (ablative) object often indicates the idea of separation, grammatically it can also refer to either cause or means. And so could be translated "the eternal destruction by means of His presence and the glory of His might," which fits with other parts of the Bible's revelation about God's destructive, holy presence against the unholy, unrighteous.

It seems to me Scripture points to the presence of God being the very cause/means by which the now (in eternity) raised from the dead, immortal, unrighteous, unholy unbelievers suffer eternally immersed in the fire of His wrath because they are not prepared (being still and forever unrighteous because of the lack of faith) to face the Holy countenance of God, yet they are fully equipped by their resurrection be immortal; and the combination of such holy fire and immortal body is an eternal destruction (ever burning, but never being consumed).

This tortured state of being is in part what God desires to save people from.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16