Normally when I post something on this blog I like to write it and then give it a day or two before I hit "publish post." I do this because I know myself well enough to know that I am prone to getting caught up in the heat of the moment and then writing something that presents a more extreme position than what I really believe. I think that could be said for the last post I wrote. I got caught up in a debate, remembered something I read by R.C. Sproul (which I still agree with) and then posted it. I don't think there is actually anything in my last post that is incorrect. But I do think it might suggest that hell could in no way be described as a "separation from God," and if that is the way it is taken then I think that is wrong.
I'm writing this post after a long day in the hospital and before an early morning in the hospital tomorrow so I can't do the Bible reading I would like to before writing this. But as a corrective to any error that may have been expressed in my last post there is one source to which I go and that is Scripture. In talking to the Ephesians about their state before their conversion to Christ Paul writes, "remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12 - ESV). Surely this "separation" from Christ and being "without God," not only applies to the unconverted in this life but also to those in hell. Also to the Ephesians Paul writes of unbelievers, "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts" (Ephesians 4:18 - NIV). Here Paul speaks of a more specific separation for unbelievers - separation from the "life of God." I think this separation from God also applies to those in hell. But Scripture also speaks of God's presence in hell. Revelation 14:10, speaking of those who received the mark of the beast and are now in hell says, "he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb." So it is obvious that the torment of those in hell takes place in the presence of Christ. So in this way, those there are not "separate" from God.
I think what I was reacting against in the last post wasn't so much the idea that hell is "separation from God," which in some important sense it is, but the idea that hell is only separation from God and nothing more. This idea is not scriptural and I believe it has become popular because it is more palatable to most than what Scripture actually teaches - that hell not only is separation from God in some sense but it is also the positive expression of the wrath of God against those who are in hell.
In the end I think the Westminster Catechism probably puts it best: