The Fire Of Hell

J. D. Conley
January 19, 2014

Recently, I was asked by a preacher friend of mine if the fire of hell was literal or symbolic of the pain caused by separation from God. I began my reply by quoting the rich man, "...for I am tormented in this flame" (Lk.16:24, emp.JDC). I also added some of the Lord's language in His depiction of hell, where, in just six verses, He speaks of "unquenchable fire" five times, (cf. Mk.9:43-48). Then I ended my answer by saying that I certainly did not believe the fire of hell was symbolic of separation from God because sin separates us now according to (Is.59:1,2) and the vast majority of people don't seem to be experiencing any pain whatsoever because if it! My friend, whom I've known for nearly forty years, believes and teaches the truth about hell. Evidently, someone had asked him this question and he was just fishing for answers and ideas about how to respond.

Later on I was talking to my Dad and this same friend had asked him the same question. I told my Dad what my answer had been, and then he told me his. His answer was so astute it made me want to kick myself for not thinking of it. He simply told our mutual friend, "what difference does it make?" My Dad was exactly right. Even though we both believe the fire is literal, does it really make any difference in the end? I mean if it feels like fire, and burns like fire, does it really matter if it is literal fire or not? It might as well be, right? The rich man certainly thought it was literal fire. But just for the sake of argument, lets say the rich man was mistaken, and it was not literal fire. Had he possessed such knowledge would that have brought him any relief? None whatsoever! He was still in torments (Lk. 16:23)! What good would it have done him to exclaim "For I am tormented in this non-literal flame!" or "I'm so relieved this is not literal fire!" How utterly silly to even contemplate such a scenario.

Words mean things, especially inspired words. Our Lord uses the word "fire" seven times in (Mk.9:45-49). If we can’t trust the meaning of the word "fire," as used here by our Lord, in His description of hell, then hell loses much of its meaning and emphasis. If "fire" merely means symbolic pain, instead of literal pain, then the hellishness of hell is greatly diminished. And that is the impetus behind this viewpoint: to lessen hell's horrors.

God's people must teach the unvarnished truth about hell. It must never be promoted as a place not all that bad to end up in - just ask the rich man.