The Metaphoric Hell
Language is an elusive thing, particularly when one attempts to describe something no one has experienced before. Or if you are the only one who has experienced it, and attempt to describe it, your audience will not get it, for they would have not experienced it themselves. And it is particularly difficult when the language of ancient times is limited to the paradigm of that day. Thus the reality of nature and the universe in ages past, could only be described in those terms.
Such is it when we turn to the Bible. For the most part, descriptions of the spiritual realm have been couched in terms that convey a physical equivalent to the real world experiences of that day, in terms they can relate to. Not only so, but we suffer a communication barrier because our lack of experience in the spiritual realm limits our understanding. We haven’t been there. So we are left with metaphoric descriptions based on what is known here in the physical realm, which unfortunately is subject to misinterpretation.
Let me preface by saying that it is my estimation that the concept of hell is directly related to the nature of God. And by the same token, heaven is the same (this I will address in a separate thread). What I mean is: the way one experiences God will determine what kind of heaven or hell one experiences. I, for one, believe that there are differing levels of heaven and hell. Where one ends up, and to what degree, depends on one’s relationship with God. The fundamental difference is whether or not we have the sustaining life force of God’s Spirit present in us. That must always be the starting point, ground zero if you will. If we have the Spirit and we are demonstrating in our lives a desire to progress toward God, we will progress upwards (metaphorically) toward the Divine, becoming more and more in His image and toward a heavenly state. If we do not have God’s Spirit, we will digress away from the Divine and become less and less of the human potential that God would have for us and toward a hellish state.
Most of us are familiar with the metaphors in the passages that speak of hell. I have compiled a list of these terms found in scripture, but I also give an explanation of what I believe these terms indicate:
Outer darkness - (Matthew 22:13) God is light. Therefore anyone wishing to spend eternity apart from God will not experience this light. And so the opposite of light is darkness.
Bottomless pit - (Revelation 9:2) Our universe seems spanless. It’s vastness is hard to comprehend. So if our universe is so inexplicably huge that we cannot find the end of it, God, who created it and is beyond it, likewise must be as unimaginably vast. Infinite, in fact. What that tells me is that whatever this bottomless pit is, it is likewise vast. The term suggests one of great distance. But from what two points? It is obvious from the reading that it is not a place one would desire to go. So consequently it must be in the opposite direction from God. And it also conveys a sense that as one progresses into the bottomless pit, the farther one is from God.
Now some teach a physical hell as being in the center of the earth. I believe it’s much deeper than that. But deeper in the sense that one is in one’s relationship God. As we digress from God, by our own choice, we will fall further and further away as eternity sledges on. We can go as far away from God as we can imagine.
On the other hand, God in His Mercy is eager to forgive us and would cast our sins into the sea of forgetfulness. So perhaps instead of our being cast into the bottomless pit, God would cast our sins there and keep us around.
Fire not quenched - (Mark 9:44) Along with God being light, that light possesses a great deal of power. Now regardless of who a person is, the light flows through and illuminates every man (John 1:9). Those that accept and desire God will know the love of God. Those who reject God will know the adverse effects in diametric opposition. In other words, they will experience the light as a righteous fire that will continually be felt. It is a natural phenomenon. Now one will wonder how one could experience that light if they are in outer darkness. Well, let’s look at scientifically. According to Big Bang proponents, at the moment of the big bang there was an incredible flash of light as the energy expanded exponentially as the universe expanded. However, at one point some 400,000 years of cooling after the event there was a period known as the Dark Ages, when the universe was a fog of neutral hydrogen and helium in which photons did not decouple or release, which produced a fading of light. Yet the universe was still an incredible 3000 degrees Kelvin (4940 degrees Farenheit). Even today we observe a microwave oven heat food without observing light.
Worm never dies - Similiar to the fire that never quenches, there is a reference to both these terms in Isaiah 66:24, "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh."
I understand that Gehenna is a physical place outside Jerusalem where they burned the bodies of the death and the maggots eat the flesh of the dead. But symbolically, the worm is something that eats away at you. Seed of bitterness can eat away at your soul. Daniel 12:2 speaks of the resurrection where some will suffer shame in everlasting contempt.
A place of Sorrows - (2 Samuel 22:6) Where the love of God absent, due to hindering of the Presence of th e Spirit, one will experience adverse and unpleasant emotions. Some may include regret, guilt, remorse for one’s sins, a feeling of worthlessness which leads to sorrow.
Weeping and gnashing of teeth - (Matthew 25:30). The natural progression from sorrow is a resentment of one’s present state. Perhaps eventually leading to resentment toward God, which is quite a dangerous position to be in since one would well know that it isn’t God’s fault you chose this path.
Fire and brimstone - (Revelation 21:8) We talked about fire already. Brimstone is a biblical term for sulfur, which gives off a very unpleasant smell when heated, like rotten eggs. For those who are seeking after God, we are to be a sweet-smelling sacrifice for God. The smoke of the incense are prayers of the saints rising up to God in Rev. 8:3-4. But for those who are rejecting God, the odor is repugnant, suggesting that instead of prayers, there is cursing.
A place of no rest - (Revelation 14:11) Those that are in a hellish state find no rest in that state because the adversement toward God is always present. God is everywhere. As David states in Psalm 139:7-8, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” And incidentally, notice that David is making his own bed in hell. As long as there is resistence to God, there will be a fiery indignation that will be felt.
The lake of fire - (Revelation 20:14) When I think of the lake of fire, it reminds me of the Miller process of purifying gold, involving a stream if chlorine gas blowing over a crucible of molten, but impure gold. The gold gets purified because all other elements form chlorides before gold, thus they can be removed as salts.
I Peter 1:7-9 says, “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”
Now before anyone accuses me of universalism, I must remind you that everything I have related corresponds with one’s condition and orientation towards God. Even in the verse above speaks of one’s faith being tried by fire. And that is predicated by believing. I cannot stress that more importantly. One is in the state he is because of where one has placed himself. The lake of fire is perpetual. And it may be that there is a point at which there is no return. Which leads me to the next metaphor:
Place of everlasting destruction - (II Thessalonians 1:9) The longer one resists God and goes after the lusts of their own desire, the worse and worse that person will get. The digression may well progress to the point where a person is unrecognizable.
Think about this. What causes a pedophile to get to where he is? Once upon a time, he was a cute baby in his mother’s arms, adored by people around him. But somewhere along the way, and it may be a long transition, he ends up is the vile state he is in. Now granted, he might once have been a victim of some abuse, which happens many times in the case of child molesters. But regardless of how he got there, he is a mess. And unless some sort of intervention takes place, in all likelihood, he will continue on the path he’s on and may even get worse and worse. The addiction has a stronghold on him.
I’m open to the possibility that there could be escape from this state even after death. But I also think that puts oneself in a precarious situation. In his book “My Descent into Death”, Howard Storm describes being such in a hellish state in his NDE, where he had a hard time believing what was happening because he was an atheist. But the thing that saved him from that is the partial remembrance of the hymn ‘Jesus Loves Me’ that he learned way back as a child. And that gave him just enough latitude to call out to God for help, though he probably never prayed before in his life. He also said that had he not had the presence to call out to God, he said he may have been irrevocably lost in his hellish state.
Now I don’t know what kind of chance one would have to come to God after one passes on. But if we are to believe in a just and merciful God, I would thing that He would do everything in His power to keep us from making the wrong decision. This gives me the hope that while everyone must give account to God, God will be fair and considerate to those who were ignorant of Him. For example, an atheist who is honest in his beliefs, having tried but failing to logically believe in God might just be giving the chance to see the whole picture before being judged too harshly. Having been afforded to knowing the “truth”, he would have the choice to be set free.
In conclusion, this presentation will hopefully provide a reason alternative view to the literal stance that so many people take offense to in regards to the place called Hell. What I’ve tried to convey is that hell is relative. Relative to the condition of our hearts toward God and in the state and direction we choose.