Will God torture people in hell with fire?

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I feel that we should avoid reading too literally into the graphic imagery used by Jesus & co. to describe what hell will be like. In other words, many have the misconception that hell is a place where God tortures people. However, God does not torture people since he is the source of all goodness and perfection (James 1:17) & to do so would go against his nature. Instead hell is described as a place of “torment” which is the anguish one experiences being separated from God. At the end of the day there are only two places one’s soul can go – one’s soul either goes to be with God or it doesn’t. If one does not want to be with God then God, respecting one’s free decision, will quarantine him in a place separated from him. This is the explanation for the strong imagery used in the Bible – to warn people that being separated from God will be a place that they will not want to go to. It is also worth noting that the Bible does not only describe hell as a place of fire (Mark 9:43, Matthew 25:41, Rev. 20:13-14) but also as a place of darkness (Mat. 8:12, 2 Peter 2:4). This would suggest that these stand in as symbolic descriptions since hell cannot be both dark and light (fire) at the same time, as apologist and Christian writer Lenny Esposito informs us: “Hell is symbolized as a place of eternal fire, but theologians don’t hold to that as a literal description” (1).

Thirdly, what will be experienced in hell is torment & not torture – it is this torment that is compared to an unquenchable fire. However, the Bible does not describe hell as a place where God is actively torturing souls. Hell is described as a state of torment as a result of man’s free decision to reject God. Yet there is an important distinction between torture and torment. One can be tormented over an act that they’ve committed in the past without actually being actively tortured by anyone. Although it is possible that those in hell will continue to despise & curse God, it also might be the case that those in hell will be continually tormented since they have fully realized the consequences of rejecting God.

So, no. Hell will not be a place where God will torture people nor will it be a place of fire. Instead it will be a place where one shall experience torment at having rejected God & being totally separated from his good gifts.


1. Esposito, L. 2015. Is It OK for God to Kill and Torture People? Available.


2 responses to “Will God torture people in hell with fire?

  1. I was reading Philo yesterday. This is in The Decalogue 49 (Yonge’s translation):

    “Since the property of fire is partly to give light, and partly to burn, those who think fit to show themselves obedient to the sacred commands shall live for ever and ever as in a light which is never darkened, having his laws themselves as stars giving light in their soul. But all those who are stubborn and disobedient are for ever inflamed, and burnt, and consumed by their internal appetites, which, like flame, will destroy all the life of those who possess them.”

    If Philo is talking about hell there, then there is an example of someone in antiquity who agreed with your interpretation (seeing the flames as symbolic).

  2. Pingback: How can a loving God send people to hell? | James Bishop's Theology & Apologetics.·

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