Thoughts on hell

A post by Robert over at Mulled Vine got me thinking about the subject of hell. I believe that the Bible should be interpreted literally whenever possible, but this is one of those places where I do not think a literal interpretation makes sense. Many people do teach that hell is a place of literal fire, but I tend to think otherwise. First of all, how could the fire be literal if hell is a place of complete darkness (Jude 1:12-13)? One of these descriptions must be figurative, because they both cannot be true in the literal sense, as literal fire produces light.

Second, the Bible fairly clearly teaches that there will be varying degrees of punishment in hell. If everyone is being burnt in fire it seems to me that everyone would be experiencing the same amount of suffering. Are some people just going to have their fingers burnt and others their whole body? I’d say this is another indicator that the fire is not literal. (Not to mention a spiritual body is unlikely to be harmed by literal, physical flames.)

Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city! (Matthew 10:15)

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:21-24)

And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47-48)

Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29)

The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. (Revelation 20:13)

There is also the fact that fire often symbolizes judgment in other passages. Moreover, in Revelation 20:14 it says that Death and Hades will be cast into the “lake of fire.” How can a state or concept such as death be cast into a literal flame? The Bible clearly teaches that hell is eternal, but I think that it is safe to say that it will not be somewhere where God is actively punishing those who chose not to be with him in heaven. Rather it will be a place without love or any other characteristic of God. Consequently, it will be a place of sadness, shame, regret and unending sorrow. I think the suffering experienced will be just as much a natural consequence as it is a punishment.

Further reading:
Everlasting Hell and Its Rivals
A Refocus on the Atonement and Eternal Punishment
Why Are Afterlife Ideas Missing from the OT?

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6 Responses to “Thoughts on hell”

  1. childlife says:

    I think with our limited finite sets of experiences, that we are incapable at this point in eternity of understanding the intricacies of both heaven and hell…

    I Cor. 13:9-12 “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I thought like a child, I talked like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

    I’m not sure our interpretation much matters on this particular subject – other than to correctly interpret that there is a hell, it does exist, it will be infinitely unpleasant, and failure to acknowledge God for who he is will ultimately land you there. As you said, eternity spent in the absence of God. That’s all I really know.

    I think this was where you were heading with your last paragraph… If so, I couldn’t agree more!

    Blessings to you Casey!

  2. casey says:

    Well, childlife, you said it better than I did. That is, indeed, the point I was trying to get across. :)

  3. Mulled Vine says:

    I tend to agree but fire is a very consistently used “metaphor”. Heb 10:27 being the most fearsome of the lot in my opinion.

    1 Cor 3 has always intrigued me since its from the perspective on a saved person.

    For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

  4. Kansas Bob says:

    Nice job Casey … very thought provoking and bible based!!

  5. King's Kid says:

    Dear Casey,

    The subject is the Lake of Fire, which death and hell will be thrown into, Rev 20:14 And Death and Hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

    ….how could the fire be literal if hell is a place of complete darkness (Jude 1:12-13)? One of these descriptions must be figurative, because they both cannot be true in the literal sense, as literal fire produces light.

    First of all, how could God take the dust of the ground and fashion a man from it breathe into it the breath of life; how could He create the Universe and all that in them is?

    Second, the Bible fairly clearly teaches that there will be varying degrees of punishment in hell. If everyone is being burnt in fire it seems to me that everyone would be experiencing the same amount of suffering.

    Would you give me scripture rederences for the above statement, please?

    It seems clear to me that all reactions to the Lake of Fire will be the same.

    Isaiah 66:24

    Matthew 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30,

    Mark 9:44, 9:46, 9:48

    Luke 13:28

    I did not go to your link “Why are afterlife ideas missing from the OT? Did you will read Jude 1:14-15 it speaks of one from the Old Testament that knew of our future to come.

    Peace

  6. casey says:

    Sorry, King’s Kid. If you’re not willing to read the post itself, I have no time to discuss it with you. The references you requested are right there in the post itself in plain view.