A Burned-out Car and the Fires of Hell

On Sunday evening, I was sitting in my study typing into my laptop, working on this blog. It was a little shy of midnight, and some rude fellow was beeping his horn continuously. Muttering to myself about people’s lack of consideration, I climbed up to the roof window to behold a fire some streets away. Black, acrid smoke ascended in the windless sky and a deep orange glow illuminated the nearby houses. People were running about; a man shouts to another to stay inside his house. Another appears, shielding his face from the heat. Should I call the Fire Brigade? I rightly assume that others have already done so, as flashing blue lights begin to reflect off the walls. Occasionally there’s a small bang, and an extra plume of smoke shoots upwards. This black smoke becomes whiter steam as the firemen’s hosed water evaporates upon whichever hot surface it splashes, and the blue lights of the engines reflect off it.

Fifteen minutes later and all is quiet. The firemen are gone, their investigations perhaps concluded. Was it a car or a house? I didn’t know, though my curiosity got the better of me the next day. A dark patch and some melted remains mixed with broken glass indicate a burned-our car, which has been neatly removed. Whoever’s it was, it’s no longer usable: the flames destroyed it. The car’s molecules, however, still exist. Having reacted with the oxygen, they’re now bonded rather differently, but they still exist, and their mass remains the same. So the car has ceased to exist, but its essence remains, albeit in a less useful and desirable state.

I’ve been preparing for tonight’s Bible Study on heaven and hell. The latter is a particularly unpleasant prospect, although I expect none of our regulars to find out for themselves. Sadly, I cannot say that for everyone who’s darkened our chapel’s doors. Hell is often characterised by fire in scripture, with souls who have refused God’s grace paying for the crimes which Christ would have gladly discharged on their behalf. Woollier evangelicals than I will assure us that hell is the destruction of these souls rather than the conscious torment. I hope they’re right, but I suspect that eternal fires, much like their cooler earthly equivalents, are no more capable of destroying the essence of a human soul than the molecules of that burned-out car.