Skip to comments.What does Jesus Mean by the Fire of Hell?
Posted on 05/21/2014 3:55:37 AM PDT by markomalley
In the Churchs Liturgy of the Hours, in the Office of Readings, we are getting close to the great culmination of the Book of Revelation where the victorious Christ is united with his bride forevermore. Penultimate to this great victory, is the casting down of Satan into fiery hell the sealing over the great abyss.
Central to the imagery of the Hell, is fire, along with some other unpleasant things such as worms that never die etc. We do well to ponder these images, but also to be careful about them. For while many take them literally, they are probably meant to be understood more richly. To be sure, most of the Fathers and tradition understand the fire of Hell to be an actual, a physical fire, it remains a question as to what effect would physical fire have on fallen angels who have no physical bodies? And while fallen human souls will eventually have their bodies, it seems hard to imagine how physical fire can affect their souls prior to the resurrection of the bodies of the dead. Hence, fire and other physical descriptions most likely speak also a to deeper spiritual realities.
Lets take a look at the excerpt from the Book of Revelation, and also some other descriptions of our Lord regarding Hell. Perhaps we can ponder what some of the images are trying to teach us of the nature and reality of Hell, for those who choose to live there by rejecting the Kingdom of God and its values.
Next I saw a large white throne and the One who sat on it. The earth and the sky fled from his presence until they could no longer be seen. I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne. Lastly, among the scrolls, the book of the living was opened. The dead were judged according to their conduct as recorded on the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then death and the nether world gave up their dead. Each person was judged according to his conduct. Then death and the nether world were hurled into the pool of fire, which is the second death; anyone whose name was not found inscribed in the book of the living was hurled into this pool of fire. (Rev 20:11-15)
A Pool of Fire is a dramatic metaphor. So dramatic in fact that it causes many moderns to reject the teaching of Jesus on Hell outright. Even many who are otherwise believers in Jesus reject his consistent teaching on Judgment and Hell by either conveniently forgetting it or by some artful theories that deny he said it or that he was just trying to scare people who live is less mature times. Some who do not believe in God say this teaching is one of the reasons they do not believe. I have addressed many of these objections elsewhere. But for our purposes here lets keep the focus on what the metaphor is likely teaching us.
First to be clear, the metaphor of fire and also or worms is a very consistent feature of Jesus descriptions of Hell. For example:
Allow these to suffice. Jesus in his description draws rather heavily from Isaiah wherein God says of those who are unrepentant: And they [the faithful] will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind. (Isaiah 66:24)
But though traditional does largely see the fire as indeed a physical fire, we must still ponder the deeper reality of this fire. For fallen angels without bodies (and for whom the fire was prepared) do experience its pain. But how? And so too for fallen human souls (at least before the resurrection of the body), how is the fire experienced and to what does it point?
Perhaps a remark by Origen can assist:
Wonder not when you hear that there is a fire which though unseen has power to torture, when you see that there is an internal fever which comes upon men, and pains them grievously. Origen (quoted in the Catena Aurea at Mat 25:41)
And thus we gain some insight into the inner fire that rages in the fallen angels and the souls of the damned. For even now we often speak metaphorically of how our own passions can burn like fire. We speak of burning with lust or of seething with anger, or being furious (fury being related to the word for fire). We speak of the heat of passion, and of boiling over with anger or seething with envy. Even good emotions like love can burn like fire if they are not satisfied. How our passions can rage like fire in us if they are not slaked and satisfied by the only One who can truly satisfy us.
And as for worms, worms that die not, according to Jesus, we often speak of being devoured by our passions or consumed by them. There is less consensus on the worms being physical, but surely here too, physical or not, they speak to a deeper spiritual reality as well.
And thus the fire of Hell, though physical, speaks also to deeper spiritual struggles. We were made for God, and God alone can satisfy us. To choose anything less than God is to remain gravely unfulfilled and to be burning with a longing that has finally refused to seek its proper goal. Thus one burns (whether fallen angel or fallen soul) with desire but has rejected the one thing necessary to satisfy that desire. The fire seethes and the fury grows.
Bishop Sheen once told a parable of frustrating Hell must be since the one thing necessary was lacking:
There is not a golfer in America who has not heard the story, which is theologically sound, about the golfer who went to hell and asked to play golf. The Devil showed him a 36-hole course with a beautiful clubhouse, long fairways, perfectly placed hazards, rolling hills, and velvety greens. Next the Devil gave him a set of clubs so well balanced that the golfer felt he had been swinging them all his life. Out to the first tee they stepped, ready for a game. The golfer said: What a course! Give me the ball. The Devil answered: Sorry .we have no golf balls. Thats the hell of it! (Three to Get Married, Kindle Edition, Loc. 851-57).
Yes, thats the hell of it, to lack the one thing most necessary. And oh the fiery fury and the seething indignation it must bring to have definitively rejected the only One who could ever satisfy the fire of our desire.
Finally St. Thomas, or the Thomistic tradition adds the insight of the fire as burning in the sense that it limits the fallen angels and fallen souls:
But the corporeal fire is enabled as the instrument of the vengeance of Divine justice thus to detain a spirit; and thus it has a penal effect on it, by hindering it from fulfilling its own will, that is by hindering it from acting where it will and as it will .that as the instrument of Divine justice [fire] is enabled to detain [a spirit] enchained as it were, and in this respect this fire is really hurtful to the spirit, and thus the soul seeing the fire as something hurtful to it is tormented by the fire. (S.T. Supplement, Q 70, art 3, respondeo)
In other words there is a seething indignation that must come from a fallen spirit who is hindered and can no longer live the lie of following its own will in order to find satisfaction. Such apparent satisfaction is a lie for it is rooted in will rejection of God and the values of Gods Kingdom. The fire is a limiting fire that truthfully attests to the fact that nothing outside God will satisfy, and that roaming about seeking satisfaction in anything other than God must now end. The fire burns and is unquenchable for only God can quench it. But the fallen souls and fallen angels have forever refused Him.
And thus the fire of passion forever burns, unsatisfied, and like worms their desires devour and consume them. In a word, Hell is to be forever unfulfilled as one burns with desire but has rejected the only one who can satisfy that desire.
Msgr Pope ping
What did Jesus mean by the Fires of Hell? Uhhhh, the fires of hell?
It seems most obvious to me these are metaphors.
Being of the natural world, we only have natural pain to use as a reference point when describing a world of nothing but agony. It is obvious therefor we would use the strongest images of torture we could muster when describing such a place and for a long time, burning has been considered one of the worst ways to die.
This being said, burning cannot accurately describe hell. Burning is a transformative process through fire by which some element changes state.
Defined thus ~ “to undergo rapid combustion or consume fuel in such a way as to give off heat, gases, and, usually, light”
During burning, said element is consumed through combustion to its greatest possible degree into heat lost to surrounding elements, gases given off, light energy, and more often than not some after product which can withstand the flame but is unrecognizable from the original element.
Notice the finite nature of such a process. Nothing burns forever, for this is almost a contradiction in terms. Even suns do not burn forever. They eventually die and are no longer considered suns.
I take it to mean then, that when we are told of burning in hell, it is merely a dramatic metaphor for a world we are unable to describe accurately in any way due to our limitations of understanding in this natural world. All of this must be understood in the context of what God is, the source of all good in existence. Hell is a world emptied of His presence. We can have no idea what such a world would be like, but you can guarantee it would make the torture of burning feel like a walk in the park. Hell is void. A void for the spaceless and timeless entity, be it angelic or disembodied soul.
Do not be dismayed however, for it works both ways. In the same way as the Biblical description of hell is certainly an understatement, so is its description of heaven. We cannot comprehend the richness and glory of the coming Kingdom of God, and that should make you very happy and eager to be of the Word, follow the Son, and love the Lord your God will all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.
Precisely. It is a location by which we have absolutely no concept, so the Master put it into terms that the Jews of the day would begin to understand, the valley of Hinnom (Gehenna).
Umm, as you might suspect, we Jews have clear, precise tradition and understanding of Gehinom. If you were curious, it more literally translates to ‘purgatory’ and good news-it’s temporary (for Jews... Sorry, you just knew there was a catch right?)
We appreciate your concern however. Thanks.
Jesus gave an account of a rich man, and a begger named Lazerus. The details of this story (which was not a parable) contradict the notion that hell is without fire.
From what I learned, during the first three centuries of the Church, “hell” was a warm place but not eternal. Its “eternity” came later.
Hell is a place eternally without God.
We mustn’t think of this fallen state as if it’s the same as the eternal state. In the eternal state, the Second Law of Thermodynamics will no longer be operative. How else is eternal life possible? God will supernaturally uphold our lives in the eternal state we’re judged to enter. Just as Christ created additional bread ex nihilo, He’ll create perpetual, eternal fire.
The gruesome Knoxville crime the Pastor references in this sermon are the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.
Thank God that He sent Jesus to save me, so I don’t have to be terrorized by thought of hellfire and eternal damnation! It is in my daily morning prayers to thank Him for His grace and mercy to me, a poor miserable sinner.
The problem is not necessarily the fire, it is the ‘burning’. I cannot see anything burning outside space and time in the sense we understand what ‘burning’ is. Those in hell presumably do not have physical forms (they are not given resurrection bodies for example). It seems farfetched to imagine God giving the dead eternal bodies and creating a physical world with eternal fire for them to suffer in.
I would find the idea of simply suffering beyond our human comprehension outside time and space to be a more likely truth when it comes to the reality of hell, and it was written as burning to communicate the highest form of suffering to the Ancient Jews of this period. God could have made a word for this suffering, but it would have been lost on human beings who had no way of experiencing it in their physical reality.
“In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”
I find this to be inconclusive, though it is the best argument for literal fire. However, the rich man is using words to convey his pain, and thus is limited to his lexicon. It is possible that burning in fire is the closest description one can use to describe the agony of hell.
I understand the request to have a water-dipped finger pressed to his tongue to indicate some kind of heat, but in this lies a clue that we are not talking about somebody burning as we understand it. The request itself is strange. On fire, a simple drop of water would have zero effect on your temperature, so why does the rich man ask for a wet finger to be pressed to his tongue? Even this sounds like some kind of metaphor. Why not request a bucket of water to be tipped over him? I find it likely the rich man is grasping in a deluded state, overwhelmed by the pain he is in and trying desperately to draw strings between the world he resides in, and the world he knows.
Years ago at the seminary I had a priest take the exact opposite view. He said that these are so opposed to God that being in His presence would burn more than anything else.
An interesting take on it, but I believe God is not malicious and would not force His love/presence on anyone who did not want it unconditionally. On a side note, David wrote in the Psalms about the presence of God being everywhere, including Hell.
Psalm 139:8 "If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there."
It’s clear that Satan, the antichrist and the false prophet are all thrown into the “lake of fire” and tortured forever, and those whose names are not found in the book of life are thrown into the same place after the Great White Throne judgment.
You’re correct that it might be some sort of unknown torture, but the “rich man” in Luke 16 was wanting Lazarus to bring a drop of water to cool his tongue from the “phlox” (flame) he was experiencing. So it felt like torturous flames to him.
Also, the dead “stand before,” “histemi enopion,” God.
Rev 20:10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Rev 20:11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
Rev 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
Rev 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Rev 20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.