Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

Get Instant Access

17. Sometimes theologians have objected that God cannot be "timelessly eternal" in the sense described above, because the moment he creates something, he is acting in time and therefore he must exist in time. (See, e.g., Stephen T. Davis, Logic and the Nature of God [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], pp. 11-24.) But this objection fails to distinguish what God is in his own being (he exists without beginning, end, or succession of moments) from what God does outside of himself (he creates in time and acts in time in other ways). Davis says that we have no coherent notion of "causation in which an eternal cause produces a temporal effect" (p. 21), but that is simply to admit that we do not understand how a timelessly eternal God can act in time; it does not prove that God cannot be timeless and still act in time. Surely here, is often God's good pleasure to fulfill his promises and carry out his works of redemption over a period of time so that we might more readily see and appreciate his great wisdom, his patience, his faithfulness, his lordship over all events, and even his unchangeableness and eternity.

d. We Will Always Exist in Time: Will we ever share in God's eternity? Specifically, in the new heaven and new earth which are yet to come, will time still exist? Some have thought that it would not. In fact, there is a hymn that begins, "When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more..." And we read in Scripture, "And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb...and there shall be no night there" (Rev. 21:23, 25; cf. 22:5).

Nevertheless, it is not true to say that heaven will be "timeless," or without the presence of time or the passage of time. Rather, as long as we are finite creatures we will necessarily experience events one after another. Even the passage that talks about no night being in heaven also mentions the fact that the kings of the earth will bring into the heavenly city "the glory and the honor of the nations" (Rev. 21:26). We are told concerning the light of the heavenly city, "By its light shall the nations walk" (Rev. 21:24). These activities of bringing things into the heavenly city and walking by the light of the heavenly city imply that events are done one after another. Something is outside the heavenly city, and then at a later point in time this thing is part of the glory and honor of the nations that are brought into the heavenly city. To cast one's crown before the throne of God (Rev. 4:10) requires that at one moment the person has a crown and that at a later moment that crown is cast before the throne. To sing a new song of praise before God in heaven requires that one word be sung after another. In fact, the "tree of life" in the heavenly city is said to be "yielding its fruit each when talking about the relationship between God and time, it would be folly to say that what we cannot understand must be impossible!

Davis also falls into another form of the "if God is infinite he cannot be personal" mistake mentioned above (see p. 167). He says, "A timeless being cannot be the personal, caring, involved God we read about in the Bible" (p. 14). But to prove this he just talks about God's actions in time, without ever showing why God cannot both act in time (be personally involved) and be timeless in his own being (be infinite or unlimited with respect to time). Finally, while he mentions the possibility that time was created but will sometime cease to exist (p. 23), he fails to consider the alternative that seems much more likely in view of the Bible's promises of eternal life, namely, that time was once created but will never cease to exist in the future.

Those who, like Davis, deny that God is timelessly eternal, still say that God has eternally existed but that he has always existed in time and always experienced a succession of moments. But this position raises even more difficulties, because it requires that time never began, but stretches infinitely far into the past. However, that does not seem possible, because if the past is infinitely long, we could never have reached this moment. (This objection is one form of saying that an actual infinite cannot exist, a philosophical conception that is explained skillfully by William Lane Craig in The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe [San Bernardino, Calif.: Here's Life Publishers, 1979], pp. 35-53, and, with fuller reference to philosophical responses to this argument, by J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987], pp. 15-34.) cf cf.—compare month (Rev. 22:2), which implies a regular passage of time and the occurrence of events in time.18

Therefore, there will still be a succession of moments one after another and things happening one after another in heaven. We will experience eternal life not in an exact duplication of God's attribute of eternity, but rather in a duration of time that will never end: we, as God's people will experience fullness of joy in God's presence for all eternity—not in the sense that we will no longer experience time, but in the sense that our lives with him will go on forever: "And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 22:5).

4. Omnipresence. Just as God is unlimited or infinite with respect to time, so God is unlimited with respect to space. This characteristic of God's nature is called God's omnipresence (the Latin prefix omni- means "all"). God's omnipresence may be defined as follows: God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.

The fact that God is Lord of space and cannot be limited by space is evident first from the fact that he created it, for the creation of the material world (Gen. 1:1) implies the creation of space as well. Moses reminded the people of God's lordship over space: "Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it" (Deut. 10:14).

a. God Is Present Everywhere: Yet there are also specific passages that speak of God's presence in every part of space. We read in Jeremiah, "Am I a God at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off ? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord" (Jer. 23:23-24). God is here rebuking the prophets who think their words or thoughts are hidden from God. He is everywhere and fills heaven and earth.

God's omnipresence is beautifully expressed by David: Whither shall I go from your Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. (Ps. 139:7-10)

There is nowhere in the entire universe, on land or sea, in heaven or in hell, where one can flee from God's presence.

We should note also that there is no indication that simply a part of God is in one place and a part of him in another. It is God himself who is present wherever David might go. We cannot say that some of God or just part of God is present, for that would be to think of his being in spatial terms, as if he were limited somehow by space. It seems more appropriate to say that God is present with his whole being in every part of space (cf. also Acts 17:28 where Paul affirms the correctness of the

18 18. Rev. 10:6 in the KJV reads, "that there should be time no longer," but "delay" is a better translation for the Greek term xpovoq (G5989) in this context (as in the RSV, NASB, NIV, and NKJV). In fact, the next verse assumes the continuation of time, for it talks of events to be fulfilled "in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel" (Rev. 10:7).

words, "In him we live and move and have our being," and Col. 1:17, which says of Christ, "in him all things hold together").

b. God Does Not Have Spatial Dimensions: While it seems necessary for us to say that God's whole being is present in every part of space, or at every point in space, it is also necessary to say that God cannot be contained by any space no matter how large. Solomon says in his prayer to God, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house which I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27). Heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain God; indeed, he cannot be contained by the largest space imaginable (cf. Isa. 66:1-2; Acts 7:48). While the thought that God is everywhere present with his whole being ought to encourage us greatly in prayer no matter where we are, the fact that no one place can be said to contain God should also discourage us from thinking that there is some special place of worship that gives people special access to God: he cannot be contained in any one place.

We should guard against thinking that God extends infinitely far in all directions so that he himself exists in a sort of infinite, unending space. Nor should we think that God is somehow a "bigger space" or bigger area surrounding the space of the universe as we know it. All of these ideas continue to think of God's being in spatial terms, as if he were simply an extremely large being. Instead, we should try to avoid thinking of God in terms of size or spatial dimensions. God is a being who exists without size or dimensions in space. In fact, before God created the universe, there was no matter or material so there was no space either. Yet God still existed. Where was God? He was not in a place that we could call a "where," for there was no "where" or space. But God still was! This fact makes us realize that God relates to space in a far different way than we do or than any created thing does. He exists as a kind of being that is far different and far greater than we can imagine.

We must also be careful not to think that God himself is equivalent to any part of creation or to all of it. A pantheist believes that everything is God, or that God is everything that exists. The biblical perspective is rather that God is present everywhere in his creation, but that he is also distinct from his creation. How can this be? The analogy of a sponge filled with water is not perfect, but it is helpful. Water is present everywhere in the sponge, but the water is still completely distinct from the sponge. Now this analogy breaks down at very small points within the sponge, where we could say that there is sponge at one point and not water, or water and not sponge. Yet this is because the analogy is dealing with two materials that have spatial characteristics and dimensions, while God does not.

c. God Can Be Present to Punish, to Sustain, or to Bless: The idea of God's omnipresence has sometimes troubled people who wonder how God can be present, for example, in hell. In fact, isn't hell the opposite of God's presence, or the absence of God? This difficulty can be resolved by realizing that God is present in different ways in different places or that God acts differently in different places in his creation. Sometimes God is present to punish. A terrifying passage in Amos vividly portrays this presence of God in judgment:

Not one of them shall flee away, not one of them shall escape.

Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them;

though they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down.

Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search out and take them;

and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.

And though they go into captivity before their enemies, there I will command the sword, and it shall slay them;

and I will set my eyes upon them for evil and not for good. (Amos 9:1-4)

At other times God is present neither to punish nor to bless, but merely present to sustain or to keep the universe existing and functioning in the way he intended it to function. In this sense the divine nature of Christ is everywhere present: "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col. 1:17). The author of Hebrews says of God the Son that he is (continually) "upholding the universe by his word of power" (Heb. 1:3).19

Yet at other times or in other places God is present to bless. David says, "in your presence there is fulness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16:11). Here David is speaking not of God's presence to punish or merely to sustain, but of God's presence to bless.

In fact, most of the time that the Bible talks about God's presence, it is referring to God's presence to bless. For example, it is in this way that we should understand God's presence above the ark of the covenant in the Old Testament. We read of "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim" (1 Sam. 4:4; cf. Ex. 25:22), a reference to the fact that God made his presence known and acted in a special way to bring blessing and protection to his people at the location he had designated as his throne, namely, the place above the two golden figures of heavenly beings ("cherubim") that were over the top of the ark of the covenant. It is not that God was not present elsewhere, but rather that here he especially made his presence known and here he especially manifested his character and brought blessing to his people.

In the new covenant, there is no one place on earth that God has chosen as his particular dwelling place, for we can worship him anywhere (see John 4:20). But now and for all eternity God has chosen the place the Bible calls "heaven" to be the focus of the manifestation of his character and the presence of his blessing and glory. So when the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God, John in his vision hears a loud voice from God's throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them" (Rev. 21:3). We might find it misleading to say that God is "more present" in heaven than anywhere else, but it would not be misleading to say that God is present in a special way in heaven, present especially there to bless and to show forth his glory. We could also say that God manifests his presence more fully in heaven than elsewhere.

In this way also Paul's statement about Christ can be understood: "In him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily" (Col. 2:9). In one sense of course we could say that God's whole being is present at every point in space and therefore at every point in every person, not only in Christ. But there are two difficulties with speaking this way: (1) The Bible never speaks about God's presence in unbelievers in a direct way, probably to avoid any connection between God and the responsibility or blame for

19 19. The present participle ^epwv, from ^epw, G5770, "carrying along," in Heb. 1:3 implies that Christ's activity of "carrying along all things" (that is, keeping all things in the universe existing and functioning regularly) is a continual activity, one that never ceases.

evil deeds, and probably also to avoid any suggestion of God's presence to bless, since it is only a presence to sustain. (2) Furthermore, this sense of "present to sustain" is not the sense Paul has in mind in Colossians 2:9. In fact, there Paul does not even seem to mean simply "present to bless" in the same sense in which God is present to bless in the lives of all believers. Rather, Paul seems to mean that in Christ God's own nature is present to bless and to manifest his character in the fullest and most complete way possible.

Our difficulty in understanding how to express the way in which God is present in unbelievers, for example, leads us to realize that although the Bible can speak of God as being present everywhere, when the Bible says that God is "present" it usually means "present to bless." That is, although there are a few references to God's presence to sustain or presence to punish, the vast majority of biblical references to God's presence are simply more brief ways of stating that he is present to bless. When we become more and more familiar with this biblical pattern of speech, it becomes more and more difficult to speak of God's presence in any other way. And perhaps it is even misleading to do so unless a clear explanation of our meaning can be given.

Some examples of the usual biblical means of expression are as follows: 2 Corinthians 3:17: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom"; Romans 8:9-10: "you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you if Christ is in you...your spirits are alive"; John 14:23: "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him," and so forth. All of these verses talk about God's presence and assume that we understand that they mean God's presence to bless.

In a parallel kind of expression, when the Bible talks about God being "far away" it usually means he is "not present to bless." For example, Isaiah 59:2 says, "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God," and Proverbs 15:29 declares: "The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous."

In summary, God is present in every part of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places. Furthermore, when the Bible speaks of God's presence, it usually means his presence to bless, and it is only normal for our own speech to conform to this biblical usage.

Herman Bavinck, in The Doctrine of God quotes a beautiful paragraph illustrating the practical application of the doctrine of God's omnipresence: When you wish to do something evil, you retire from the public into your house where no enemy may see you; from those places of your house which are open and visible to the eyes of men you remove yourself into your room; even in your room you fear some witness from another quarter; you retire into your heart, there you meditate: he is more inward than your heart. Wherever, therefore, you shall have fled, there he is. From yourself, whither will you flee? Will you not follow yourself wherever you shall flee? But since there is One more inward even than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from God angry but to God reconciled. There is no place at all whither you may flee. Will you flee from him? Flee unto him.20

5. Unity. The unity of God may be defined as follows: God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times. This attribute of God has also been called God's simplicity using simple in the less common sense of "not complex" or "not composed of parts." But since the word simple today has the

20 20. Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God p. 164. The citation is reproduced in the book with no indication of its source.

more common sense of "easy to understand" and "unintelligent or foolish," it is more helpful now to speak of God's "unity" rather than his "simplicity."21

When Scripture speaks about God's attributes it never singles out one attribute of God as more important than all the rest. There is an assumption that every attribute is completely true of God and is true of all of God's character. For example, John can say that "God is light" (1 John 1:5) and then a little later say also that "God is love" (1 John 4:8). There is no suggestion that part of God is light and part of God is love, or that God is partly light and partly love. Nor should we think that God is more light than love or more love than light. Rather it is God himself who is light, and it is God himself who is also love.

The same is true of other descriptions of God's character, such as that in Exodus

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."

We would not want to say that these attributes are only characteristic of some part of God, but rather that they are characteristic of God himself and therefore characteristic of all of God.

These considerations indicate that we should not think of God as some kind of collection of various attributes added together as in figure 11:2.

Figure 11.2: God's Being Is Not a Collection of Attributes Added Together

21. Systematic theologians have often distinguished another aspect of God's unity at this point, namely the "unity" found in the fact that God is one God, not many gods. This fact has been called the "unity of singularity," whereas what I have here called God's unity has then been called the "unity of simplicity."

While I agree that God is one God, it can be confusing to speak of two different kinds of unity in God. Therefore, I have not used the term "unity of singularity" or discussed the concept here, but have rather treated the question in chapter 14, on the Trinity.

Figure 11.2: God's Being Is Not a Collection of Attributes Added Together

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Character Building Thought Power

Character Building Thought Power

Character-Building Thought Power by Ralph Waldo Trine. Ralph draws a distinct line between bad and good habits. In this book, every effort is made by the writer to explain what comprises good habits and why every one needs it early in life. It draws the conclusion that habits nurtured in early life concretize into impulses in future for the good or bad of the subject.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment