In the Gospels, whenever Jesus spoke of spiritual things, He spoke in two ways: symbolically through parables, which He sometimes explained and sometimes did not, and factually, though the meaning of these statements were true in a somewhat mysterious sense.
For example, Jesus says “I am the bread of life.” Whenever Jesus begins speaking in parables, He generally uses the words “is like” (ie, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, etc), or some form thereof. When speaking factually, He just states it as it is.
The statement is mysterious because, for example, we know Jesus is flesh and blood, He’s a man (not to mention His divinity). But it’s not a symbolic statement, like a parable. So, how do we understand it?
In all such statements, it can be revealed that God is the true [ENTER DESCRIPTOR HERE]. He is the true vine, the true bread, etc. God the Father is the true father. That is, these images we have on earth, bread, vine, fatherhood, etc., these are all shadows, images of the truth. We tend to think the other way around. We think that when we call God “Father” we are anthropomorphizing. It’s the other way around. God is the true father, and whatever fatherhood we have on earth is but a shadow of Him. We share in His fatherhood.
Likewise, He is the true bread of life. What is bread? It’s food. It’s something we bring into ourselves, make a part of ourselves through the digestive processes, in order to sustain our lives. Well, that is God, in truth. He gives us life. When we accept Him into ourselves, He transforms us into Himself, and gives us life. He is the true bread of life, and all earthly breads, all earthly foods are but an image of that, and image of Him.
So, what about Hell? Jesus speaks the same way about Hell as He speaks in other fact statements. He doesn’t say, “Hell is like…”. **Mark 9:43-48 **“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
Jesus simply says about Hell what it is: a fire that is not quenched. There are at least a couple of ways we might understand this.
Question: when you finger gets burned, does only your body suffer, or do both your body and soul suffer the pain of fire? The answer is both. Humans are not merely bodies, nor merely spirits, nor even a spirit trapped in a body. Rather, we are a body/spirit union, so that whatever the spirit does, the body does, and whatever the body experiences, the spirit experiences. So, the pain of Hell is certainly the pain of being burned by fire, but does that mean there is a literal fire?
We might ask, is Jesus literally a vine? Or literally a loaf of bread (excluding His presence in the Eucharist). Or did God the Father produce a son in the same way we might? No, no and no. So is this another question of trying to understand the underlying truth about the nature of fire, and seeing that this is true also of the fires of hell? Perhaps it is.
So what is fire?