Is God In Hell?

[Jonah 1:]17. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. ... O God, what a great miracle this is! Who can really comprehend how a man can survive three days and three nights within a fish, in the middle of the sea, all alone, without light and without food, and in the end return to dry land again? ... Who would believe this story and not regard it a lie and a fairy tale if it were not recorded in Scripture? God proves here that He holds death and everything in His almighty hand and that it is an easy matter for Him to help us even in indescribable and desperate situations. This seems incredible to us. He is present everywhere, in death, in hell, in the midst of our foes, yes, also in their hearts. For He has created all things, and He also governs them, and they must all do as He wills. This story is recorded for our sakes, and God’s omnipotence is here displayed so forcefully to induce us to trust and to believe Him, whether we find ourselves in the grasp of death or in the hands of our enemies. (Martin Luther, “Lectures on Jonah,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 19 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1974), p. 68)

The question of “divine substance” in the soul came up once at Luther’s dinner table. ... Luther said: “God is not bound to a locality. He cannot be excluded from any place nor can he be limited to or locked in any place. ... He is in even the lowliest creature, in a leaf or a blade of grass, yet God is nowhere.” Since there were apparently some professional theologians present, the question arose whether God is everywhere potentialiter or substantialiter [in power or in substance], as a question of whether God was a potential or an essential ground. Luther: “I answer: in both ways in each creature. The creature acts by virtue of its qualitas, its qualities, but God acts...essentialiter, from the depth of his essence.” The recorder of the chronicle continues: “When someone said: ‘That I don’t understand,’ he answered: ‘Don’t you believe that God is at the same time present on the cross and in the virgin Mary’s womb? In either case it is impossible for our reason to believe. In the same way that God can be lodged in the virgin’s womb, he can also live in every creature.’ Another person said: ‘Would God consequently be in the devil?’ ‘Yes, certainly in substance even in Psalm 139[:8a] says: “If I make my bed in Sheol, thou are there”.’” (Bengt R. Hoffman, Theology of the Heart [Minneapolis: Kirk House Publishers, 1998], p. 84. The “Table Talk” quotations are from WT 1; 101, 27-37.)

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