PROBLEM: Jesus described hell as a place of “outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12; cf. 22:13 and 25:30). By contrast, the Bible says hell is a place of “fire” (Rev. 20:14) and “unquenchable flames” (Mark 9:48). But, fire and flames give off light. How can hell be utterly dark when there is light there?
SOLUTION: Both “fire” and “darkness” are powerful figures of speech which appropriately describe the unthinkable reality of hell. It is like fire because it is a place of destruction and torment. Yet, it is like outer darkness because people are lost there forever. While hell is a literal place, not every description of it should be taken literally. Some powerful figures of speech are used to portray this literal place. Its horrible reality, wherein body and soul will suffer forever, goes far beyond any mere figure of speech that may be used to describe it. But, it is a serious mistake to take a figure of speech literally. By doing so, one can conclude that God has feathers, since He is described as having wings (Ps. 91:4)! There are other figures of speech used to describe the eternal destiny of the lost that, if taken literally, contradict each other. For example, hell is depicted as an eternal garbage dump (Mark 9:43–48), which has a bottom. But, it is also portrayed as a bottomless pit (Rev. 20:3). Each is a vivid depiction of a place of everlasting punishment.