(To A Hammer Everything Is a Nail) On Figurative and Literal Hell

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

The Hammer and the Nail

From the public domain

You might need to hang in here with me for a few paragraphs because this post is really about Hell. But who wants to read about Hell?

Religious and non-religious alike tend to stay away from the topic.

For good reason.

If you are religious, that place is a flaming abyss of unending torment of one kind or another. And, no, there will be no parties of like-minded miscreants without a curfew whooping it up with Satan and the Hounds of Hell. Quite the opposite, in fact.

If you are not religious, face it, underneath the bed of your psyche where all the spiders, dirty socks, and broken toys live, there lurks a fearsome monster of your own making (a devil type) ready to suddenly reach out and grab your leg when you jump for your covers and pillow after you’ve switched off the lights. Or maybe it’s in the back of some figurative closet, hunched down, waiting  for the lights to go off before it reaches out with one bony finger and ever-so-faintly scratches the door…

Or whatever.

You know your primal fear; I know mine…

And whatever notion you’ve got of  Hell, the place is, above all, fearful.

If we come to reason at the age of reason (some say 7 years of age), we come much sooner to the age of Hell-awareness, I think.

Pretty much as soon as we emerge from the relative peace of the womb, we “realize” the comforting mother voice is gone and we are no longer rocking gently in that warm, liquid universe. But food! We “know” we need food! Now! Although we have no frame of reference whatsoever for this!

That’s when we start coming to our brand-new consciousness of some kind of fear or danger or at least urgent need, I’m thinking, and when we also discover our brand-new little screaming devices.

I think you get my drift.

So back to Hell and hammers, because everything I wrote up above is my best at trying to shed some light (or flame-tinged darkness, to be more specific) on the meaning of such a fearful place. It’s my tool, my hammer if you will, called words that I use to drive home an idea of such a place that arrives with us, in my view, as soon as we arrive.

Another related expression takes this further: I’ve tried to “nail” the topic down closest to the mark as I can by describing the fearful monsters in the dark. In so doing, I’ve used my favorite writer’s hammer: metaphor.

If metaphor is one of those weird writing terms long forgotten at the bottom of the landfill of  seemingly never-ending grade-school language arts class lessons where you would have rather counted the hairs on your head than memorize terms like metaphor while Sister Mary Monotone droned on and on and on even the flies dropped like flies from sheer boredom, here’s a refresher.

A metaphor is a comparison without using the terms “like” or “as”;  something isn’t “like” something else, which is a “simile“–stay awake, here, I promise this will be quick and painless–a metaphor just IS something else.

Idioms, for example, the hammer/nail idiom that compares those tools to how things fit together and have purpose, are mostly metaphors. Here’s a list of English idioms.

And now that, hopefully, I have “softened up” your mind and heart with humor a bit (as in made it easier to plant my ideas there, like a plow turns over the dirt in preparation for seeding) so that I can plant a few more ideas regarding the reality and purpose of Hell, here goes (idiom for “let’s get started” or “here begins”).

Hell, Figurative and Literal

wikimeda commons image of hell

Aided by my metaphor and hopefully abetted by your good humor, here’s some definitions of Hell from the religious view.

I think, given the comparisons above, perhaps especially the one about having to sit through boring grade school language arts classes, you know your own brand of the place of torment to give you at least somewhat of a personal definition of Hell, whether real or imagined.

What follows, however,  are some religious perspectives on the place, but not, ironically–and maybe curiously for some readers–from a “religious” viewpoint, rather, from a “relationship” one.


Consider the following contrast between religion and a relationship, in this case a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Religion, as they say, some say “spirituality,” is man’s idea of how to “get saved” or perhaps “join a church,” “become one with the universe,” or, perhaps “rejoin the collective unconscious” (to name a few definitions)*.

A relationship with Jesus Christ, on the other hand, based on Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew chapter 7, verses 22-23 (and elsewhere), is a personal thing as implied here:

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’  (NIV, emphasis mine)

To know, verse 22, from the Greek γινώσκω means: “to become acquainted with, to know, [it] is employed in the N. T. of the knowledge of God and Christ, and of the things relating to them or proceeding from them.”

And it is highly important to Jesus, as per verse 23.

In short, Jesus Christ was not just an historical Jewish religious figure, but is a person to get to know, i.e., someone with whom we have a relationship.

When by faith we say “yes” to a relationship with Him and accept Him as the one way, truth, and life, aka, one Savior and Lord (forsaking all other saviors and their attendant religions, philosophies, paradigms, ideologies, and so on) we begin this relationship. Somewhat like a marriage.

So what does this have to do with Hell?

One of the aspects of getting to know Jesus is coming into an awareness of why He “came to earth” in the first place.

As summarized briefly in John’s Gospel, it was because “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16).

Gave, as in δίδωμι,  means “to give one to some one to care for his interests.” In this specific nuance of meaning, God gave Jesus to die in our place as atonement for our sins. He “cared for us” by paying the price, the “legal fee” you might say, for our transgressions.

Perish, as in  ἀπόλλυμι, means to “to incur the loss of true or eternal life; to be delivered up to eternal misery.”

Misery means Hell.

According to the definition at biblestudytools.com, “Jesus says more about hell than any other biblical figure [does]. His warnings of the eschatological [final] judgment are liberally colored with the imagery of hell.” (Imagery in part created  by the use of metaphor.)

New Testament writers’ comments on–and descriptions of–Hell align with Jesus’ metaphors: “Hell is a final place of bondage and isolation from the righteous. After the resurrection and the final judgment, the wicked and even Hades are thrown into hell. The New Testament describes hell as a place: a furnace ( Matthew 13:42 Matthew 13:50 ), a lake of fire ( Rev 19:20 ; 20:14-15 ; 21:8 ), and a prison ( Rev 20:7 ). The wicked are imprisoned here so they cannot harm God’s people ( Matt 5:25-26 ; Matthew 13:42 Matthew 13:50 ;18:34 ; Jude 6 Rev 20:14-15 ).

But what about the Bible being good news?

Our loving, merciful, gracious, and generous God (Who sent His only Son….) knew that our chances of making only good choices with this powerful gift called free will He’s given us, still made it possible for all of us to enter into such a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. 

But what about people who never hear about such a relationship?

Consider God’s Words here:

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth […]there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus… (1 Timothy 2:3-5, NIV).

So if God wants us–all of us–to come to a saving knowledge of His Son, He makes a way.

But what about all the people who will never be able to hear the Word of God?

Here’s better news:  even if there is nobody around who can explain all this to someone, and no Bibles available (just think of the time, too, when the Bible didn’t even exist):

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God (Romans 1:20, NLT).

You see, God has created all kinds of metaphor from the seen, heard, touched, smelled, and tasted, to hint at the unseen.

In other words, He is the Metaphorist of metaphorists, the  Writer of writers, the Artist of artists, the Engineer of engineers, and the Lesson Planner of lesson planners Who–and get THIS metaphor–spoke a universe into existence big enough to reveal and demonstrate both the macro and the micro of Who He really is when we sincerely look for Him.

When we seek, as the Bible says, we shall find (Matthew 7:7). And it needn’t be through some complex protocol, rite, or ritual. A simple question to get the ball rolling will suffice, for example, “Where did everything come from to begin with?” or, “Who is God? I mean the REAL God?”

Simple but profound, of course.

Even the smartest among us still ask, debate, and ponder such questions.


If you haven’t yet begun the quest, may I encourage you to consider, today, not so much the reality of Hell, though it’s real and a formidable consequence of rejecting God’s eternal provision for you, but the other side of salvation’s coin: the love for which Jesus took the “hammer and nails” of another kind for another purpose through his wrists and feet on the cross in our stead, as the one-time sacrifice for our sins, that we might be able to know the real God and avoid both the figurative and literal “fires of Hell.”

And, more importantly, that we might live with God in heaven for eternity where evil will be no more.

Here is some more encouragement: He will customize your opportunity to fit you. Maybe even this post has shed some light on the subject of entering into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, to “know” Him, as He put it…**

If you doubt that, think about this: if you’ve ever heard believers tell their stories of “how they got saved,” or “came to Christ,” or “became a Christian,” you may have noticed how each story is very different. Unique to them, in both a figurative and a literal manner. The intersection of time and salvation for each was at a place and in a way each could “receive” the good news in both in mind and in heart.

That was, I think, the Designer’s blueprint all along, for them, for me, and for you.

And if you are still seeking, here is the best news of all:


*For a formal definition, see the many aspects of religion presented in Miriam Webster Online:

1athe state of a religious a nun in her 20th year of religion
b(1)the service and worship of God or the supernatural
(2)commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3archaic scrupulous conformity CONSCIENTIOUSNESS
4a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

**Here is how to do this along with some explanatory commentary you might be interested in to go with.

Image by Claire Gumbs.


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2 Responses to (To A Hammer Everything Is a Nail) On Figurative and Literal Hell

  1. pbn says:


    Thank you for a perfect “scriptural bookend” for the post.

    I agree with having a good translation. Translations are so important not only for the accuracy of the text, that is to say as accurate as we can render not only meaning from the original languages but also nuance of meaning per specific verses, while being doctrinally accurate.

    There is also the beauty of the paleo-Hebrew (Ivri) alphabet for additional layers of meaning. I love, for example, how the first letter of the paleo alphabet (the aleph in the more familiar Ashuri script and alpha in the Greek) is symbolized by an ox head.

    For the ancients the ox was a primary beast of burden, essential for plowing fields, for example. It is used today for the same purpose in parts of the world. Oxen were commonly harnessed in teams of two, one being older, experienced, and a “patient teacher” for the younger other.

    Jesus, with whom we are are “yoked” calls Himself the “alpha and the omega,” the first and last, connoting the “beginning and the end” or the “whole” (Revelation 1:8, 11; 21:6; and 22:13).

    But by considering the first letter, “ox head”, in the paleo language, think of how this also adds a certain depth of meaning about the nature of Jesus who, when “yoked” with us is also an experience, patient teacher, thus His shared burden with us is “easy” and “light” as He said.(Matthew 11:30).

    Of course, the “alpha and omega” reference reinforces the Christian doctrine of the “eternal Sonship of Jesus” (Hebrews 13:8) but it also–and this is a precious nuance–tells us the nature of Jesus as one yoked with us patiently teaching us what to do as we learn how to labor in our “fields” “with Him.”

    Talk about metaphor…

    Also, talk about how to “seek and find” by, for one thing studying the Bible, all the helpful, nurturing, comforting, wise reasons for becoming a believer and, well, escaping Hell, as per the post topic.

    For if there is a Hell to choose, there is also a heaven.

    I sometimes think that if preachers balanced the nervous topic of Hell with the far greater topic of heaven (although it’s hardly a balance, in a sense, though both have eternity in common) this would enable hearers to get more of the Gospel of love.

    To use another metaphor, hearers would be getting more of a “full meal deal” from the banqueting table called God’s Word.

    Cheers and blessings,


  2. Thank you Phyllis. A topic that’s hardly ever mentioned – along with sin – even from the pulpit. The Bible is unequivocal on this subject and I like Bible translations that render God’s word clearly:
    ‘For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved. No one who believes in him will be condemned; but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son. On these grounds is sentence pronounced: that though the light has come into the world, men have shown they prefer darkness to light because their deeds were evil. (John 3.17-19, Jerusalem Bible).


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