Let me start off by defining this as a musing, not a "lesson" or a "sermon." The subject of what awaits the damned was brought to my curiosity this morning by my reading at the beginning of 2 Thessalonians, and with the recent discussion as to Hell's existence, I thought it wise to see what, if any evidence there was for a final damnation of utter annihilation. I found none.
What I did find gave me a clearer- and curious- picture of the idea of Hell we might glean from the Bible. I'm not going to put references in, other than to say that I was cross-checking words to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, and if you want raw numbers, that is the place to go. I recommend downloading E-Sword to help you in this and many other things (although this particular task I did low-tech).
First off, Hell is basically connected in the Greek to Hades and in Hebrew to Sheol. There I found the base word had, among its uses, the concept of inquiring, demanding, even lusting. As if Hell was a place designed to suck a sinner in, like a demonic black hole. As I went on, I began to see how ironic that interpretation was.
Job gives us the concept of Hell being a place extreme from Heaven (11:8) as well as being linked to the almost-physical place called Destruction (26:6) which could be interpreted (by someone with a comic book mind) as the "death of no escape".
In Jeremiah's description of the judgement in the Valley of Hinnom, we divine that is a result of the utter alienation of oneself from God through idolatry, human "logic", and pleasure seeking. (Chapter 19, if you will.) It's attributes include the failure of human wisdom, the complete loss of dignity and hope, and utter desolation and despair, made a "hissing"- a mark of derision- by all who escape.
I found that Matthew's references to the outer darkness ( or "obscurity") meshed with a word he used for Hell which carried among its meanings the concept of "unseen". The parable of the rich man and Lazarus gives us a Hades that is remote and cut off from Paradise; in the final analysis, it will also be cut off from sight. Not surprising: if our reward is to involve the end of our tears, then it would seem to involve the cutting off of contact from that (or those) which made us cry- or would give us reason to mourn.
Unlike those who claim there is nothing but atomization for the damned soul, the Word gives us plenty of examples of physical punishment, all of which are prefaced with the phrase "everlasting" or "eternal". Among them is the concept of eternal incarceration in 2 Peter 2, eternal punishment (translating to "infliction") in Matthew, and the lovely thought of "the worm dying not" and the never extinguished fire. And significant here is the term "fire".
The word commonly used for "fire" as relating to Hell (as opposed to the one for the common campfire) has a specific use in "lightning". What does that mean for the damned? Consider: the run-of-the-mill blow torch hits around 2400 ° F. The surface of the sun is in the 10-12,000 ° F range. Lightning tips the scales at about 60,000 ° F. In other words, there is a vast conceptual difference between Hell fire and earthly fire.
And before I get into the physicality of things, I want to step back to that word "everlasting". Both it and "eternal" as used here carry the (possible ) interpretation of reaching both endlessly into the future AND into the past. Is rejection of God a retroactive thing to beyond even creation and genesis? A valid philosophical question, but I suspect a moot one to the damned.
And finally, I'd like to look at the description of Hell given by Paul in Romans 2:8-9, to wit:
8But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
9Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
Note two sets of two words in the description. First, Indignation and Wrath. When you look up the various words used elsewhere translated thus as well as the two specific words, you see that they are very nearly interchangeable; in fact each one is translated as the other word in other verses. The specific for indignation has a strong tie (through the use of breathing in its extremity) to an anger that directs itself from God to the soul of the damned, in fact, the concept of immolation also ties in in a way that you could (facetiously) say that God was so mad at the soul He was "breathing fire". The specific of wrath somewhat loses the soul/breath connotation but picks of more of an anger of the mind- an abhorrence so fierce that the root for such a passion gave rise to (the non-sexual meaning of) our word "orgy". Thus this first part of the description deals with the mind and the soul of the damned.
The remaining pair are quite different. Linked by meaning like indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish turn to the physical aspects. (And if you haven't been making a list since I mentioned irony before, start taking notes.) Tribulation comes from a root that connotes a pressure, or a crowding. Anguish- and this is not the same word used for when a run of the mill person has anguish- is a combination of roots, combining to the concept of having a narrowed room to move. Specifically, unlike other forms of the word that imply restraint being used to do the narrowing, this words specific narrowing is caused by the presence of surrounding obstacles, narrowing to the point of physical crushing.
Am I saying Hell is a literal or figurative black hole? Though you might draw that from what I've found, it's not my point. My points are these:
Hell is an actual place where actual sinner are body-and-soul punished.
Hell is as separated from Heaven and the eyes of the blessed as it can be.
Hell has no escape.
Hell is the consequence of alienation from God.
Hell is not annihilation; it is incarceration and punishment.
The scale of said punishment is beyond earthly comprehensions of pain and time.
The punishments will have spiritual, mental, AND physical aspects.
If those points sound a lot like a black hole, then here is yet another lesson learned from the evidences all around us (Romans 1:20: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse") : The bright and shiny molecules, the particles of light, escaping from the demanding clutches of the event horizon, whilst the others, turning from the light, are sentenced to an eternity of crushing, in a place where man's theories no longer apply, and are lost to sight forever.