Are those in hell aware of God's presence?
MOHLER: I think there is a sense in the tenses of verbs related to hell in which hell is clearly not yet as hellish as it will be. Even as believers in Christ who die are not yet entirely in the new heavens and the new earth, they are nonetheless truly with Christ right now. And those who die without Christ are truly in a hellish state right now.
I would look to Luke 16, in terms of Lazarus and the rich man, understanding that we are to take Christ at His word there; that the rich man was, right then, experiencing the torments of Hades from which he cried out.
I want to affirm every single thing that is revealed in Scripture about heaven, hell, and everything in between, but we really have to watch not speaking where Scripture doesn’t speak.
The consciousness of those who are in hell very clearly is the consciousness of those who know they are experiencing the pouring out of the wrath of God. To that extent, they are fully aware of the presence of God. But I don’t know how to factor that in, because God’s absence from hell is also dramatic. So I can’t enter into a psychological analysis of the state of those in hell other than to know they are going to know they are eternally receiving the just penalty for their sin in the outpouring of the wrath of God.
This is where we need to be fully biblical and make sure that we’re not gaining our theology of hell from Dante or some other source. Dante knows more about hell than the apostles did, and that’s a major problem.
VANDOODEWAARD: Thinking further on that, the resurrection of course also plays into our doctrine of hell. There is a resurrection of the just and of the unjust. And so that resurrected reality of those who are apart from and continue in rebellion against God does signify a reality—body and soul—which is certainly an even more fearful reality of complete judgment.
Lightly edited for readability, this is a transcript of Albert Mohler’s and William VanDoodewaard’s answers given at our 2016 National Conference. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.