If you ask people what hell means to them, you’ll get a variety of answers.
Some people might say it loosely resembles the animated depictions in classic cartoons:
Other people might say it’s a cold place far away from God:
Then, there are people who think hell is a myth:
Lastly, a few people think Heaven and Hell are one in the same:
Personally, I see hell as the latter. Saint Isaac the Syrian (my favorite Saint) describes it beautifully:
“I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is sharper than any torment that can be. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments those who have played the fool, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability.”
Why do I choose to see hell in this way? Because it makes sense to me. God is through all and in all, and He is a consuming fire. God is warmth and light. So, in understanding this, the next step in my thought process is that because of free will given to us by God, we make choices daily and therefore, I choose to follow God or reject Him. In my decisions, I decide my fate, my own judgment. I’m the judge of my own destiny. God honors my choice because He can’t impede on my free will. He can’t go against Himself, as Father Thomas Hopko of blessed memory would say.
All of this is contingent on whether I truly know God or have just been told or read about Him.
Back to God being a consuming fire. When I repose this life, I enter into His Light because He’s everywhere. Nowhere is He not. And the Light is bright and warm, and it brings me joy and peace if I love Him as best as I was able to truly understand and give love to Him and others. If I knew Him intimately and chose to sever my relationship with Him, I’d feel His Light and Joy as a burning, tormenting fire. This is why God revealed He is eternal and why the Apostles speak of those rejecting God as being eternally tormented. He’s always there. God loves every human who’s ever lived and will live until His Second Coming. He wants us to be with Him. That’s why we were created.
I made a choice to follow Him twenty-three years ago, and I hope to continue to choose Him daily until I pass this earth and am standing before Him. I hope to hear the glorious words akin to what God told the thief on the cross: “Truly I tell you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” (Lk 23:43) (NIV).