A nother logic puzzle

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Wink just posted his puzzle about Enoch's death (or lack thereof) and the biblical statements that all have sinned and that all who sin die. I've got a similar puzzle that I've been thinking about for over ten years now without coming to a sure conclusion about what I think the best solution is. This one is about hell as separation from God and God's omnipresence.

For the philosophers reading this, I'll register my uncertainty in calling these logic puzzles. They're sets of inconsistent (or perhaps paradoxical) triads, and logic shows that they can't all be held simultaneously without modifying one of them from its pure logical form, so it uses logic both to show the problem and to get out of it. When I think of a logical puzzle, I think of something involving the mere form and not the content, but I'll use his term just to continue in the same spirit with a similar title (and because it refers to an inside joke that Wink will get). Some philosophers may not approve, but momentum is hard to resist.

This puzzle is as follows:

1. God is omnipresent and is therefore everywhere.
2. Hell is complete, eternal separation from God.
3. If God is somewhere, then anyone there is not completely separated from God.

I'll admit first off that these are philosophical and theological definitions and not derived from biblical formulations, so some might just question the definitions. If so, how and why?

Now universalists deny that anyone will ever be in hell as I've defined it in 2. But presumably even universalists don't think it's in principle impossible for someone to be in hell, and that's what follows from accepting these three propositions. I haven't arranged it as a true inconsistent triad, but the consequence of accepting all three is, as far as I can tell, unacceptable to virtually all theists. I have a sense of a few possible solutions, but I want to see what others think first.

15 Comments

I'd have to question premise #2 -- I don't recall it being in the Bible at all. Hell may be separation from God in some sense (although even that isn't directly Biblical, merely inferred from the very direct access to God for those in Heaven), but that doesn't mean it's a _complete_ absence.

Does anyone have any support for premise #2?

-Billy

I too think 2 is the troubling premise. I think even some of the "hard hearted theist" as Talbot calls them would object to 2.

To ask the obvious... What about annihilationism?

I guess on your formulation Hell is has to be a place. Kvanvig has an interesting account on which annihilation is the telelogical end of hell, but the mechanistic accounts says some people may never get there. I think that if you grant 2, then annihilationism is the only door left.

I question #2 in the same way Billy does.

God created hell, didn't he? If he did, then it's not "outside" of him. There is probably a sense in which hell is separation from God--God does not intervene in hell, perhaps, or he does not work there as a force for good, or something--but I think it's probably wrong to say that there is a complete absense of God there.

Jeremy,
I'd question #2, also. Or, rather, I would qualify the word "separation". Particularly, I would state it is "separation from God's presence to bless." God is present in hell -- but present to punish, not to bless. He is present to bless -- at least in some respects -- everywhere else. See Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", for example, where, if I remember correctly, he talks about how even on earth, God is restraining wickedness and otherwise blessing even those who hate him and are in rebellion against him. That is no longer the case in hell -- and God also punishes the wicked there.

I also question #2. I believe in the omnipresence of God, even in Hell.

Passages like Isaiah 59:2 are often used to say that he isn't present, but all that passage says is that there is a separation from those in Hell and God and that "your sins have hidden His face from you." "Hidden" does not mean "not there."

As far as I have been able to tell, God is omnipresent, but he doesn't make his presence known to those in Hell.

Hey! I was going to post a variant of this one as my next logic puzzle! My version is as follows:

1) Hell is utter separation from Christ
2) By Christ, all things cohere
3) The human soul is immortal

If you accept (1) and (2), then any soul in Hell will not cohere, thus denying (3).

Neither (1) nor (3) have strong biblical support. Nevertheless, most Evangelicals believe all three. Though when pressed, most give up (1) rather than (3).

I've been flirting with giving up (3), whcih naturally leads to annihilationism. But I suppose in light of recent posts that universalism could get you out of this puzzle without denying any of the three statements.

Annihilationism is one way out of the problem, but we seem to have some differences in whether annihilationism denies 2 or whether it is the only view that can truly affirm 2! I think it's closer to the latter, since whatever sense hell is separation from God, mere existence places one under God's power, and that's not absolute separation. At the same time, 3 is rendered harmless because someone who is annihilated doesn't exist anywhere, so the problem disappears.

There's another solution to the problem that involves neither annihilationism nor universalism, and it also doesn't involve denying any of the three propositions. This will also work for Wink's version of it. I think some of the suggestions have moved in this direction, but I haven't seen it come out explicitly yet, so I'll sit on it for a bit to see if anyone can express what I've been thinking.

Just another thought: If hell is the expression of God's wrath, then there is a sense in which he is everpresent there as long as hell exists. Then, the "day of wrath" is making God's presense real in a way its was not made real previously. It would be, however, the withdrawing of certain aspects of God's nature--the ones that come from his benevolence.

I think it has to have something to do with that. As I suggested in the comments of the previous puzzle, there seems to be an equivocation here, this time on the terms 'presence' and 'separation'. I'm not sure the best way to explain the distinction between the two senses in each case, though.

"There's another solution to the problem that involves neither annihilationism nor universalism, and it also doesn't involve denying any of the three propositions."

I think, technically, I don't really deny 2. But "eternal separation" needs to be understood. As I said above, in hell, it is a people's sins that have hidden His face from them. In this way, those in hell are eternally separated from God, but that doesn't mean that God isn't present. "Separation" often takes on a spatial meaning and I think it is because of this that "separation" is often thought of as "not present." After all, if you and I are separated by a distance, I cannot be in your presence.

But, I don't think that eternal separation means spatial separated. Rather, it means something along the lines of "religious separation." By this I mean that those in hell no longer receive God's blessings. To those in hell, He is present, it is just that His face no longer "shines upon you and [is] gracious to you."

Psalm 139:7-8 (NASB) - "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, behold, you are there."

I'm not sure why we should think omnipresence is about physical location, though. After all, God isn't physically present anywhere. Then what is omnipresence and how is it not supposed to involve whatever kind of presence hell separates from? Richard Swinburne characterizes omniscience in terms of God's power over everything in every creation. God can thus affect all locations. I'm not sure how to characterize God's absence in hell, but I don't think it has to do with God being powerless in hell. That might be one way out without denying any of the three propositions.

I think that omniprescence is, in part, about physical location. From that link I provided above, it says

"Both from a generally religious and from a specifically soteriological point of view the omnipresence of God is of great practical importance for the religious life. In the former respect it contains the guaranty that the actual nearness of God and a real communion with Him may be enjoyed everywhere, even apart from the places hallowed for such purpose by a specific gracious self-manifestation (Psalm 139:5-10). In the other respect the divine omnipresence assures the believer that God is at hand to save in every place where from any danger or foe His people need salvation (Isaiah 43:2)."
That is, the omnipresence of God has religious significance in 2 ways - 1) God is actually near to us - there is no place that he is not there and 2) Because of that nearness, "God is at hand" to be able to bless us and be gracious to us.

Eternal separation, in my view, still says that God is omnipresent in the sense of 1) but that God has ceased to show mercy to those in hell and let them to degenerate in their own sin.

"I'm not sure how to characterize God's absence in hell, but I don't think it has to do with God being powerless in hell. That might be one way out without denying any of the three propositions."

I think that some of the verses I've given don't suggest God is powerless in hell, but that people's own sins have led to God hide his face from them. God is still there (and not powerless) in the sense that he still upholds and is in control His creation, but he isn't there in the sense of bestowing blessings any longer on the people there.

Right, but none of those things are about God's physical location, which is what the doctrine of omnipresence says, on the face of it. So they're not really literal statements of where God is at all, even though that's what the language seems to be about.

Your last paragraph is along the lines I was suggesting. I'm not sure which particular ways of God's not manifesting himself should fall under the metaphor of his absence. Clearly, bestowing blessings will have to be one of them, since it's one of the key elements of the metaphor of God's presence, which is not about God's really being somewhere or not but more about what God does and what dispositions God has toward which people.

As fun as all this logic is, the imortant thing is to ask what does the bible teach. I do not believe the bible is illogical, but I do believe that it sometimes teaches things that are apparently contradictory. Better to find out what the bible says about each of these statements before pitting them against each other

The point was that the Bible seems to teach all of them, but when you put them all together you know that it must not really teach all of them if it's infallible. The trick is then figuring out which one(s) might be unbiblical, and we were doing it via looking at scripture. So I'm not sure what the problem is.

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