Theories and hot takes abound regarding the nature of Hell, but one thing always remains the same: people claim that Hell is separation from God.
Forgive me, but I have to ask the question: Is that what the Bible teaches?
You see, Scripture is clear that Hell is not necessarily separation from God. Our pictures of Hell are filled with Satan, pitchfork in hand, tormenting us for eternity and we rely on movies’ and TV shows’ depictions of eternal Hell rather than what the Bible teaches.
So let me rewind back to the beginning of that paragraph. Hell is not separation from God. Not in the slightest. Hell is not terrifying because it’s Hell, but because God is there (Matt. 10:28)
There is a saying—and I don’t really know where it originated—that goes like this: We are saved by God, for God, and from God. The ‘from’ is what really makes people uncomfortable. How—or why?—are we saved from God?
Though it’s neglected in much of evangelicalism today, the wrath of God is real. When God saves, He saves people from His righteous, holy wrath. Moreover, when people go to Hell, what they are suffering is not the schemes of Satan but the wrath of God. Hell is not separation from God. God is present in Hell—with His wrath.
That is scary, as it should be. And some Christians might possibly be repulsed by that notion—but do we really believe God delegated the tormenting to Satan even though the Bible teaches God will eventually throw Satan into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10)? Satan will be tormented just like all the other people in Hell.
The only way that the phrase “Hell is separation from God” makes sense is that those in Hell will not experience one ounce, one iota, one speck of God’s mercy, grace, and love. God’s mercy runs out in Hell.
Michael Horton, in a piece at TGC, said this:
And God, who is present everywhere at all times, will be forever present in hell as the judge.
We have to remember God is omnipresent, so He is as present in Hell as He is in Heaven. The only different is this: those in Heaven experience Him as Father, and those in Hell experience Him as Judge.
So, when people die in their sins and go to Hell, the scariness of Hell isn’t the fire, brimstone, or Satan. It’s God and His righteous wrath. It’s the wrath that He poured out on His Son for those who believe in the gospel, but, of course, there are many who don’t believe that. And those who don’t believe will experience that wrath in Hell for eternity.
Friends, is that frightening to you? It should be to all of us. That’s the reality Scripture teaches. So let me say—or write—two things.
One, if you are in Christ, be encouraged and assured. You don’t have to experience that wrath, for it was absorbed by Jesus on the cross. Two, if you are not in Christ—and still remain dead in your trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1)—then you will, one day, experience God’s wrath if you do not repent of your sins and believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ.