Traditionally, fire is the metaphor most often associated with hell. By contrast, another–neglected–metaphor is the “lost” condition of the damned.
A classic example is the lost child. He’s separated from his parents in a department store or something like that. Children have an instinctive fear of being lost. Nothing short of abject terror.
Usually these stories have a happen ending, when friendly strangers reunite the lost child with its parents.
However, these stories don’t always have a happy ending. You have children orphaned by war or natural disaster.
The same thing happens at the other end of life. You have old folks who outlive friends, spouses, or even children. Many of them are abandoned in nursing homes.
Or you have old folks who become feebleminded. Forget their loved ones. Forget where they are.
Sometimes we’re lost in a strange city. Sometimes we’re lost in the parking lost. We forgot where we parked our car. This is one of the comic foibles of our finitude.
Hikers sometimes lose their way in the woods. It’s easy to feel lost in vast expanses. A desert. A wilderness. The scale and the emptiness of the place can make us feel lost in space.
Some people can feel lost in time. Get to the point in life where they feel that they have outlived their time here. They feel like a time-traveler who is trapped in the wrong century. Who’s cut off from his own time.
The Bible uses the lost sheep motif. This forms the basis of lost-and-found stories.
On a related note is the homeless motif. Cain was condemned to be a vagabond. Adam and Eve were homeless. Abraham was homeless. The Jews in Egypt were homeless. The Jews in the wilderness were homeless. The Jews in Babylon were homeless. To be an exile or fugitive from justice is a kind of homelessness. And that, in turn, is a kind of lostness.
The homing instinct is strong. Returning home feels different from leaving home. Salvation is a homecoming story.
What if eternal punishment is eternal homelessness? What if the damned wander eternity, surrounded by strangers? What if, like a dream, the scene keeps shifting? What if they spend eternity trying to get back home, but can never find the way home?