Our God is a Consuming Fire
"The ‘fire’ that will consume sinners at the coming of the Kingdom of God is the same ‘fire’ that will shine with splendor in the saints. It is the ‘fire’ of God’s love; the ‘fire’ of God Himself who is Love. ‘For our God is a consuming fire’” (Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith).
MacDonald’s old Scot, David Elginbrod, had a similar take: “Watever may be meant by the place o’ meesery, depen’ upo’t…it’s only anither form o’ love shinin’ through the fogs o’ ill (our misunderstanding) and sae gart leuk (so made like) something vera different thereby (George MacDonald, David Elginbrod).
Material fire cannot afflict a spiritual being, so the “fires of hell” may be symbolic. Thus the torment of hell may be God's love reigning down o those that don't want it.[i]
It occurs to me that this may be one reason we’re called, as God’s beloved children, to love our enemies (Romans 12:21). They cannot endure the torment of our affection. Perhaps Paul had that idea in mind when spoke of love that heaps “burning coals” on the heads of our enemies.
There may be a reflection of that idea in the first Harry Potter book—the only one I’ve managed to read so far. Lily Potter, Harry's mother, so loved Harry that she impregnated her love into her son's skin, somewhat as God does when he pours his love into our hearts. When Harry’s opponent, Professor Quirrell, touched Harry to harm him, her love, the love that ennobled her son, shattered the professor.
Paul agrees: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21).
[i] It’s significant that our Lord’s word for hell was Gehenna, not Hades, the usual word for the nether world. Gehenna was a geographical location, a valley located southwest of Jerusalem that was the refuge dump for the city. Early in Jerusalem’s history it was set on fire and burned continually, producing billowing clouds of acrid smoke. To our Lord it represented a powerful symbol for hell as a “cosmic garbage dump,” a place of ruined, wasted lives (Cf. Mark 9:43 et. al.).