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In the last few blogs I have shared the philosophical, logical, and moral reasons why the popular conception of hell cannot be true. I have also shared the theological reasons for this and have indicated how the doctrine of annihilation is biblically sound and accurate.
However, I would like to add that while sinners to do not suffer eternally in hell fire, hell fire is eternal. In scripture, the fire is always referred to as eternal, but not the creatures that go into it. Thus, while sin and sinners will be annihilated the fire itself is eternal. Now, what is the purpose for an eternally burning fire if it is not burning something? Is it just for show? In order to answer that question I would like to pose another question. What exactly is hell fire?
Heb. 12:29 says, "for our God is a consuming fire." This in no way shape or form proves that hell fire is the presence of God but it does reveal to us that God is a consuming fire. In Exodus 33:20 God told Moses, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." The implication here is that if a sinful person sees God in all His glory they will die. This same principle is seen in Nahum 1:6. Here the prophet Nahum is speaking of Gods anger against the wicked city of Nineveh and says, "Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him."
Again, David supports this idea of Gods presence being fire in Psalms 50:3 where he says, "Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages." And just before in verse 2 he says, "From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth." Once again we see the principle of Gods presence being fire.
While this is all interesting how does it answer the question "What is hell fire?" While Gods presence is fire it would take huge leap of logic to conclude that His presence and hell fire are the same thing. Not only would it be a huge leap of logic, it would also be horrendous exegesis, or to put it in more technical terms, it would be isegesis (interpreting a text by inserting ideas that are not really there). So these texts prove absolutely nothing with regard to Gods presence being hell fire. All they show is that gods presence is fire. However, lets take a look at a few more texts.
In Leviticus 10:2 Arons sons, Nadab and Abihu sin against God in the very presence of God. The Bible says "So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord." Here we see an instance in which the presence of God (fire) is used to judge a sinner. Thus, the idea of hell fire being God's presence no longer seems so unlikely. Now the most powerful evidence of this is found in Isaiah 33:14-17 which poses a question and then an answer.
The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”Answer:
Those who walk righteously and speak what is right, who reject gain from extortion and keep their hands from accepting bribes, who stop their ears against plots of murder and shut their eyes against contemplating evil - they are the ones who will dwell on the heights... Your eyes will see the king in his beauty...According to this text, it's the righteous who will live in everlasting fire not the wicked. According to this text the everlasting fire is the presence of God. God's presence is a consuming fire. It devours the wicked. Heaven and hell are the same place. They are both in the presence of God. Those who have been washed by the blood of Jesus will dwell in that fire forever while those who have not will be consumed. Thus, hell, as we commonly know it, is not some realm that God created to torture sinners forever. It doesn't exist. Instead, Gods presence, which we are all meant to enjoy, will ultimately consume those who hate Him and cling to their rebellion against Him. In the end God gives them what they want. Eternal separation from God which is eternal death.