For one thing, there is no physical fire in Hell because it is not a physical realm. So this is a question for physics as much as it is a question for theology.
What does it really mean to “burn” in hell?
First of all, we should consider what damns a person in the first place? Cruelty, hatred, avarice, revenge, adultery, deceit, hypocrisy and impiety can all do us in. These “evils” are all derived from the love of self.
Everything an individual thinks and does is ruled by their intentions – that is what one ultimately seeks and loves. We often describe a person’s excitement as getting all fired-up. Perhaps hell is a realm where an evil person is consumed by the “flames” of his or her own self-love.
Anger is often described as a “smoldering” from within. It usually is ignited by some frustration, whereby something important to us is thwarted or foiled. Those with evil leanings often smolder when others do not do their bidding and promote their personal goals and self-interests. Inwardly, such individuals harbor a burning hatred for others.
Therefore, hell would be a “place” where evil souls go and are eternally frustrated by not being able to dominate over others or hurt others. Does not such a punishment fit the crime? How would justice be better served?
The idea that God would burn people in a culinary fire, and miraculously keep them alive to have their flesh cooked to an eternity is barbaric, and, contradicts the idea that God is Infinite Love and Infinite Wisdom.
Even on earth, we mortals have the sense to create a system of justice whereby the punishment fits the crime. Is God less rational and fair than we are?
Goodness is its own reward and evil is its own punishment.
Heaven and Hell are psychoscapes. That is, not existing in time or space, they are reflections of the qualities of our hearts and minds. The Lord’s heavenly kingdom is a kingdom of mutual love. Those who put themselves first cannot endure such a realm and seek to remove themselves from God’s influence, where they can worship themselves.
Such individuals are eternally thwarted by the self-interests of others, who also constantly seek their own prominence in all things. In such an infernal society, happiness can never be attained. This is what is meant by, “burning in hell.”
Does this make sense to you?
The Fire of Hell, and the Gnashing of Teeth
Infernal fire or love comes from the same origin as heavenly fire or love, namely, from the sun of heaven or the Lord; but it is made infernal by those who receive it. For all influx from the spiritual world varies according to reception, or according to the forms into which it flows; not differently from the heat and light from the sun of the world. The heat flowing thence into plantations and gardens produces vegetation, and also brings forth grateful and delicious odours; and the same heat flowing into excrementitious and cadaverous substances produces putrefaction, and draws forth noisome and disgusting stenches. So the light from the same sun produces in one subject beautiful and charming colours, in another those that are ugly and disagreeable. It is the same with the heat and light from the sun of heaven, which is love. When the heat or love thence flows into goods,—as in good men and spirits, and in angels,—it renders their goods fruitful; but when it flows into the wicked it produces a contrary effect, for their evils either suffocate or pervert it. So with the light of heaven; when it flows into the truths of good it gives intelligence and wisdom; but when it flows in into the falsities of evil, it is there turned into insanities and fantasies of various kinds. Thus everywhere the effect is according to reception.
Infernal fire being the love of self and of the world is therefore every lust which comes of those loves; since lust is the love in its continuity, for what the man loves he continually lusts after. And it is likewise delight; for what the man loves or lusts after, when he obtains it he perceives to be delightful, nor is delight of heart communicated to the man from any other source. Infernal fire, therefore, is the lust and delight which stream forth from these two loves as their origins. (HH n. 569, 570)
Since by infernal fire is meant every lust to do evil which flows from the love of self, therefore by the same fire is also meant such torment as there is in the hells. For the lust from that love is a lust to injure others who do not honour, venerate, and worship them; and in proportion to the anger thence conceived, and the hatred and vindictiveness from anger, is the lust of venting their rage upon them. And when there is such a lust in every one, in a society where they are coerced by no external restraints,—which are fear of the law, and of the loss of reputation, of honour, of gain, and of life,—there every one, out of his own evil, rushes upon another, and in so far as he is able subjugates and subjects. the rest to his dominion; and with delight raves against those that do not submit. This delight is closely connected with the delight of tyrannous rule, insomuch that they exist in a similar degree; for the delight of inflicting injury is inherent in enmity, envy, hatred, and vindictiveness, which, as was said above, are the evils of that love. All the hells are such societies. Every one there bears hatredgainst others therefore in his heart; and as far as he is able, from hatred breaks forth into cruelties. These cruelties and the torments from them are also meant by infernal fire; for they are the effects of lusts. (ibid. n. 573)
The gnashing of teeth is the continual disputing and combating of falsities, and consequently of those who are in falsities, with each other, joined also with contempt of others, with enmity, derision, mockery, and blaspheming; which evils likewise burst forth into violent assaults of various kinds; for every one fights for his own falsity and calls it truth. These disputings and combatings are heard without those hells as the gnashings of teeth; and are actually turned into gnashings of teeth, when truths from heaven flow in there. In these hells are all those who have acknowledged nature and denied the Divine [Being]; those who have confirmed themselves in such acknowledgment and denial are in profounder hells. These, because they can receive nothing of light from heaven, and can therefore inwardly see nothing within themselves, are for the most part sensual-corporeal spirits, or such as believe nothing but what they see with their eyes and touch with their hands. Hence all the fallacies of the senses to them are truths; and it is from these that they dispute. It is from this cause that their disputes are heard as the gnashings of teeth; for in the spiritual world all falsities are grating, and teeth correspond to the ultimate things in nature, and also to the ultimate things in man, which are sensual-corporeal things. That there is gnashing of teeth in the hells may be seen in Matt. viii. 12; xiii. 42, 50; xxii. 13; xxiv. 51. (ibid. n. 575)