IS HELL LITERAL FIRE?
Christians hold different views on Eschatology, and one of them, is their view on the Lake of Fire, or the eternal burning of sinners after the Final Judgement.
We may have objections to this view based on an eternal state of constant suffering as ‘just’ punishment for a limited life of evil.
Every righteous human would reject the idea of eternal punishment for 100 years of sin, so through history, theologians who support this idea, base it not on the personal sins, but on the eternity of GOD, who can never be satisfied or compensated for our offenses. But however difficult and discussible this idea must be, the doctrine is based not on philosophical arguments, but on Scripture, assumed to be infallible revelation from on the matter.
“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”
“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
“Then He will say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
These are but a few of the remarks relating to the final punishment of the unsaved, which goes even more objectable if salvation from this torment is entirely based on GOD’s election, making the condemned, who never requested to be born, totally unable to save themselves from this unavoidable end.
Here we will not discuss the literal meaning of the Lake of Fire, but the nature of this fire, despite being eternal.
THE FIRE OF HELL
When JESUS made the first references to this fire, it was in comparison to the fire of the rubbish tips of the Hinnom valley in Jerusalem, where the rubbish of the poor would be disposed of in always burning fire piles, called GEHENNA, and from where the name came to be:
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna”
This comparison was made to create a parallel of the low value of evil humanity, who eventually would be disposed like the garbage of Jerusalem, in the always burning fire of the Hinnom valley.
The idea of eternal fire, born from the always burning rubbish fire tips of Hinnom, initiated the idea of the fire of the spiritual Gehenna being eternal, but JESUS also added to it, by declaring it would be ongoing:
“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire”
Many have discussed that the eternity of the fire cannot mean eternal suffering because the allusions to people being thrown down to the fire, seems to be a temporal fire always ending in destruction, meaning, stop of conscious existence.
(Matthew 10:28; John 3:15; Matthew 7:13)
However, only one verse of the Scripture seems to make clear that the suffering is eternal, making instead the references to destruction, a condition of separation from GOD’s life, instead of unconsciousness:
“And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
But about the fire, which is the main element of torment in the afterlife for the reprobate, there are also strange allusions about it:
“The rich man also died and was buried, 23and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’”
In this parable, the rich man, being in the middle of the fiery torment, somehow manages to hold a decent conversation with Abraham, and even intercede for his brethren alive (Luke 16:27-28).
How can a man being engulfed in flames, talk to anyone, except scream in pain out of his mind?
Since this is the only reference in the whole of the Bible when a person speaks from Hell, and it is told in a parable, which makes not necessary every detail to be accurate to the hard reality it speaks bout, the only conclusion would be to either consider the Fire of Hell to be metaphorical, or the conversation being metaphorical to illustrate the unchanging condition in the afterlife, either for good or for bad.
If the conversation is metaphorical, then the conclusion is that in reality, every person condemned will be out of their mind in pain, unable to think, in constant state of maximum pain, possibly even more of what we would feel if we were going to put our hand in the fire.
But if the fire is metaphorical, it would make better sense to the mercy of an eternal GOD.
The fire of Hades in the first place, as the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man portrait, cannot be physical fire, since it is the soul of the rich man who is burning, not his body. Therefore, it must be a representation of the amount of suffering equivalent to fire on earth. And also, it is assumed that it may be bearable, if we give literal value to the conversation between the rich man and Abraham.
However, this is changes when the Lake of Fire is open to take humans in body and soul (Revelation 20:15).
Then the fire must be physical, as well as spiritual, to torment its inhabitants in physical body (humans) and spirits (Demons).
As much as we may find this penalty too cruel, or too exaggerated for a limited human life, or unworthy of a gentle GOD, that is a different idea, but not according to the Christian scriptures.
But according to the NT, if the hell of fire is literal, it would indicate an unspeakable suffering for all the condemned, even made worse if not human have a say over their condemnation or even their birth into this planet.
But that it can be literal, it can.
GOD invented fire, and also created the possibility of evil humans burning other living creatures in this world. Then if it is possible on this planet, made thus by GOD, and GOD also burned people on earth before, as punishment for their sins (2Peter 2:6), then it is possible that GOD had invented this punishment for the arrogant demons, especially Satan who willingly would accept his condemnation and needs such a punishment due to his resistance to GOD.
The Bible says that the Lake of Fire was never intended for humans, but only for demons (Matthew 25:41).
But since we have been warned of the existence of this place, willful sinners would be sent there, to share in the destiny of those who have rebelled against GOD, and whom they decided to follow.