Is Hellfire Truly Eternal?
Question: Our Lord spoke of hell where the wicked are punished in “a fire that shall never be quenched” (Mk 9:43). This appears to me to be extreme. A loving God who is goodness itself could not, I think, coexist with evil that, in logical terms, would also never be quenched. Is it possible that we have misunderstood the idea of eternal damnation? Could it be only a temporary experience?
Heaven and hell are opposites.
Christian theology accepts that our idea of heaven is where God is and where we belong because he created us to live in his love and in the love of all like us, our neighbours.
Heaven is eternal happiness in which we want for nothing.
Hell is where there is no presence of God, no neighbours to love or to be loved by. In biblical terms this is the fire that shall never be quenched.
It is a yearning for love, something we all have in this life, yet something unattainable in the next life. All human wants are denied.
Heaven is not a kind of reward for being good and hell is not a punishment for being bad. Each is the culmination of a life that starts on earth.
Where there is love for God and neighbour (Mk 12:39-41) among us, there is the continuous progression of that love into eternal happiness.
Where there is no such love, or even blatant hatred, the logical evolvement is the total lack and impossibility of love in the “fire that shall never be quenched”.
It is very human to imagine God like a tender mother who punishes a thoroughly naughty child but who is moved by love and compassion when the punishment leads to tears and tantrums and ends in the inevitable warmest of loving hugs and kisses.
To think that God cannot or will not permit anyone to enter eternal damnation is to ignore the very solemn warnings that Jesus has given us.
Aside from the text you quote, there are also warnings in Mt 25:46 and Jn 5:29.
While we must respect and accept the word of God here, we can remember that there is no suggestion in Scripture that any particular individual has ever been damned to hell.
We do know, however, from the Church’s invariable practice, that those who endure martyrdom or live heroically holy lives are in heaven.
Heavenly bliss with God and hell’s banishment from God are everlasting, as the Church teaches us.
Some scholars have interpreted the words of Mt 10:28 to imply that the soul and body could be annihilated in hell, making their pain a temporary misery.
Neither Scripture nor Tradition supports this view.
Essentially, we must bear in mind St Paul’s words: “Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face.
The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know as fully as I am known” (1 Cor 13:12).
Eventually the mysteries of our faith will be revealed, setting us free from speculation about matters that are not clear to us now