Hell Is Not the Absence of God
When I was young child I used to envision Hell as a place burning with fire and brimstone located at the center of the earth where a bearded, goat-like man, wearing a red leotard and carrying a pointy trident, would continually poke me in the bum and tell me to get back in the fire – if I was bad in this life. So when I would hear that Jesus defeated death and sin and descended into hell, I pictured Jesus going down to that burning place, taking the trident away from the devil and poking him in the bum.
When I got a bit older I thought that Hell was just the absence of God. But that is not correct either.
So, what is Hell?
Allow me to quote Rev. W. Bredenhof:
“When we say that [Jesus] descended into hell, we mean that he bore the wrath of God against our sins on the cross. When he was on the cross, he was experiencing hell in our place. He was forsaken by God. He cried out those words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Forsaken here does not mean abandoned. Jesus was not abandoned by God on the cross. People are not abandoned by God in hell. They are not forgotten by God and ignored by him. That might come as a surprise to some of you, but let me explain. Hell is not the absence of God. Rather, it is the very real presence of God in his just wrath. In hell, God is present to give sinners what they deserve. Eternal death is a punishment inflicted by God on the wicked and unbelieving. When Jesus suffered on the cross, he endured this wrath of God against our sins. He died bearing the full weight of the hell we earned. This is why we speak about his descent into hell. The significance of hell is not that it is a place as such. The significance of hell rests in what happens there and what happens there is the punishment of the wicked by the just wrath of God. That’s what happened to Christ on the cross and that’s why we describe his sufferings as his descent into hell. “
~ Wes Bredenhof, from the sermon: “Good News! The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”