I am greatly indebted to Frederick Buechner for many of the thoughts I am about to write.
We often think of hell as eternal damnation in a fiery pit. We see it as a complete separation from God (I even suggested that earlier when I stated that hell is the absence of God). We see it as a hopeless place, a place of no escape, a living hell for eternity. Nonetheless, I don’t think many would argue that life does exist in hell. A hideous, miserable, suffering life. Regardless, that is still life. For life to exist in hell, there must be the presence of the life-giver, which connote that maybe God is indeed present in hell, because we would all agree that God is the giver of life. Not only that, but as we mentioned before, hell is a suffering life. And one thing I do know, God is with those who are suffering. God is with those in exile. So, in a two-fold manner, I find it very difficult to say (now) that God is not in hell. Of all the places that God should be, I would hope and pray that place would be hell. Jesus did say that he came for the sick and not the healthy. I don’t know if we could find a more ill place than hell.
We catch glimpses of this idea of God in the bible. In Psalm 139, David writes of this almost stalker-ish God:
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. . . . Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can 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 settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. (emphasis mine)
Sheol is the Hebrew word used to describe hell. And here, King David is proposing that even in the depths of hell, somehow, God is there, because you are there. God does not want to abandon his/her creation. God wants all to be in perfect harmony with the oneness of God.
The apostle Paul runs with a similar idea of the inescapability of God in some of his work. In Romans 8, he writes:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Somehow, it seems to me, that God’s love may indeed still be fully present in hell. The hope in Jesus Christ still exists. That although hell may be as far away from God as we can possibly get, we as humans, cannot get away from God. God’s love stalks us, like a lion their prey. Buechner writes about this, saying that humans get to hell by abusing the freedom that God has blessed us with. That freedom is retained in hell. Typically, we see hell as a place where anarchy reigns, where human freedom has no bounds. However, Buechner suggests otherwise. He says:
Hell is the bottom beyond which God in his terrible mercy will not let [the damned] go.
God, in his unfailing, unrelenting love, stops humans from utterly destroying themselves with the final boundary of hell. One can get no further away from God than hell. The good news, however, is that even at such a distance, God’s love, hope, and grace are still hovering overhead.