Back With More Theology – Oy Vey!

Oh, oh, Hunter, I must have forgotten to ask “Lead us not into temptation” this morning (actually the Jewish version is: ‘Please do not bring us to be tested or humiliated’). And here I was looking forward to a restful day.

Sadly, it is my view that Prof. Beckwith is wrong. Or, conversely, if he is right it is meaningless.

Let’s start from my second point and work back. If God does not have to be in Hell because He does not occupy space, then He is not anywhere else, either, so there is no point to the question.

The premise of the question is as follows. The Scriptural idea of ‘His honor fills the earth’ (Isaiah 6:3) has been traditionally understood by Jewish and Christian theologians alike to refer to a type of presence that, although ethereal, is designed to be a gracing of Creation in a manner that can be defined in terms of Space. Now there is a sort of theological paradox in this, but it is quite clear that Scripture conveys this concept. Indeed it is only because this is true that it is possible to speak of the immanentization of His presence in more concentrated ways in particularized locations, as in ‘And they shall make Me a dwelling-place and I will dwell among them’ (Exodus 25:8).

Since this is a reality, it now becomes interesting to ask if indeed this presence exists also in Hell, pace your sister-in-law. To answer that it doesn’t because the Divine is beyond Space is a tautology and simply not responsive to the query.

If so, what is in fact the answer? First we must say, as Joseph did, ‘(only) the Lord has the answers’ (Genesis 40:8). On the other hand, to the extent that He has revealed glimpses of His wisdom, we are obligated to make our best effort to fathom, just as Joseph, after that introduction, did in fact provide an answer.

Let us approach this matter in stages. Firstly, why would it be problematic for God’s presence to be in Hell? We say that it is everywhere on Earth to some degree, including Jeffrey Dahmer’s refrigerator and brothels in Thailand with 11-year-old boys and girls for sale. It is even in the chambers of Judge Greer, whose life’s prime ambition seems to be the death by starvation of Terry Schindler Schiavo.

So if indeed Hell is a place on Earth, as implied in many verses about Gehenna being underground, then God’s presence would have to be there, barring a drastic reinterpretation of the verse in Isaiah. But so what? That level of presence allows itself to be humiliated by the presence of Evil, that humiliation being redeemed in turn by the ultimate victory of Good. And since you need that ultimate victory to redeem the existence of Evil in God’s Creation anyway, it is but a small step to the idea that it palliates the offense committed against His presence as well.

On the other hand, if we take the verses about Gehenna’s physical reality to be symbolic, and we posit Hell as a spiritual reality that is not bounded by Space, then perhaps we could leave God out of that reality in a spatial sense. But again, this is not saying much, because if Hell ain’t spatial then it ain’t special not to have an immanent presence there.


2 thoughts on “Back With More Theology – Oy Vey!

  1. God and science again…but “get this…”

    Interesting about Isaiah. I have something related if not directly “on theme” with your discussions here, yet it is fascinating and the knowledge, unfortunately arcane.

    I quote roughly from Edwin Burtt’s nearly vanished work on “The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science” (with this title in the 1954 edition, but originally titled “The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science” in the 1924 [original] edition).

    Quite astonishing to me was the revelation in this nearly extinct and almost completely buried tract that the 17th Century scientists such as Newton and Boyle – and Boyle in particular – believed that scientific endeavor should be preceded by Scriptural study (find Burtt and read him). I’ll leave the specifics out. This from the author of Boyle’s Law, and maybe the single-handed removal of “alchemy” out of medieval construct, and into “chemistry”…a real, empirical scientific pursuit!

    My other point is Newton’s (Boyle’s good friend) second edition’s preface to his Principia:

    This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God…or Universal Ruler…the Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but as a being, however perfect, without dominion cannot be said to be Lord God…It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God: a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme or imaginary God. And from his true dominion it follows that the true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful Being; and from his other perfections, that he is supreme, or most perfect…We know him by his most wise and excellent contrivances of things, and final causes; we admire him for his perfections; but we reverence and adore him on account of his dominion; for we adore him as his servants; a god without dominion, providence, and final causes, is nothing else but Fate and Nature…And this much concerning God; to discourse of whom from the appearance of things does certainly belong to natural philosophy.

    Burtt pointed out in easy to read counterpoise that this theistic streak in both men derived in all likelihood or at least ran in parallel with, the spiritualism of their contemporary, Henry More, the English prelate. His insistence of the soul beyond the body was tempered in contrast to the vaguer identity given the same “substance” by Descartes near the same time, which was less mystical and “God-defining” vs. “God-worshipping and believing”.

    We speak of God in these instances in that wonderful free-of-religiosity spirit of the Puritan forefathers in America and in England, Newton and company growing up in the shadow of Cromwell.

    It is amazing that such a sensibility (dare I hazard a “common sensibility”) existed, where one would see Scripture as a prelude to scientific investigation.

    Given that the 18th and 19th Century inheritors of Newton and Boyle chopped off the wonderful and strange beauty of this theistic appreciation of science and “God” (a strange but lovely “Judeo-Christian-scientific-philosophical network”) into a Deistic understanding, which basically goes like this: “well, we have time and space…God’s given us all the miracles we need…he’s rational, let’s chat him up sometimes but get going making products (eventually massively destructive military ones)” and philosophically, “all knowledge derives from men, God’s great (but really an emblem)” which lead to a spritual crisis in the West we are now in deep denial against. I seriously wonder if we should not backtrack a bit and get that theistic approach into alignment with our scientific – as well as product marketing – sensibilities.

    Weirdly, the Deists, said Boyle (a Theist) held that “laws” of Nature were from God. Boyle, on the other hand, argued (with convincing logic I should think) that this was not the case: that “laws” of Nature were those revealed unto men, by his own handiwork, with the aid of God (see the Scriptural approach?). And that God was deeper set back, still: a “force” that still needed to be not only better understood, but worshipped, outright (see Newton’s prose from his preface.)

    For Newton and Boyle made it abundantly clear that their work was merely some sort of tiny dent into the knowledge of Nature. (I ask you to think hard about Boyle’s statement above.) Hagiographers have long turned these humble questioners into massive edifices that look, in these jaded times, like stuck-up, male-dominant coxcombs.

    I thanked Edwin in quiet for bringing into line several hundred different paths of study and thinking, placing it all into perspective at last. He died in 1986 after a lifetime at a Cornell that has long vanished in ways he would have known in the 1920s.

    Who will replace him?

    And note Newton well: (in effect) “without a worship strong, everything becomes Fate, etc., and all those other – I would add – “pagan” mystifications, take over.”

    Better the mystery of our Judeo-Christian God, rather than pagan mysteries? I would say so, if there was a marriage between a belief in God and science on an operational level, once. The thousands of years preceding our last three hundred do not seem like such a joy. And, as Boyle would have pointed out, perhaps God is less rational than us current global inhabitants like to suppose.

    (For more on this, see my e-zine called the Northern Astronomical Review (NAR) Winter 2004-2005 edition)and the article, “Building a platform where other giants could stand”

    Steven Haywood Yaskell

  2. Steven Yaskell’s commentary was quite interesting regarding God and Science. Getting back to the original post regarding God’s presence in Hell, I believe a bit can be learned from the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Rich man is incredibly thirsty and calls out to Father Abraham. While they are in some sense close enough to communicate, Abraham notes that there is an “unbridgeable chasm” between them. Perhaps this chasm is their attitude toward the very living water itself, God/Christ. It is impossible for the Rich Man to have even one drop for, while he needs the water, he didn’t want it during his earthly life and is “fixed” in this condition upon death. He seems to understand Abraham’s unbridgeable chasm remark because he gives up asking for water and then asks if he can warn his brothers, still living on earth. I’ll stop laying out the parable at this point, but what is seen is not a total absence of God (as noted previously He is omnipresent) but an absence of worship (that is, knowing God’s true nature and loving Him for it in awe — the believer has a real relationship with God and knows His true worth and hence is drawn into worthship). A believer like Abraham can be near enough to communicate with someone in hell, yet undisturbed at that suffering because he knows that it is just, and impossible for the non-believer to have a worshipful relationship with God and partake of that living water. To speculate a bit, during this life the rain falls on the good and evil alike ((Matt. 5:45) but the water will be withheld in hell. The opposers will be truly left to themselves. In Luke 11:34 Christ states that when your “eye is evil, your body is full of darkness.” I speculate that those in hell cannot abide to look to God, hence are left with themselves, their own dark sin nature, for eternity. Hence hell is both described as dark and like being in eternal flame. How inescapable when, in a sense, YOU are hell, and how horrible to have an eternity without the Light of God. Though I’m not a Billy Graham fan, a sorta similar commentary can be found at

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