There are two perspectives necessary to understand this issue, one cultural and historical and the other exegetical. In the old King James Version, the English word “hell” actually was used to translate two different words and two very different concepts. One term was the word gehenna, (e.g., Matt 5:22). This was adapted from the name of a valley to the south of the Temple in Jerusalem where the city garbage was burned, the “Valley of Hinnom.” Because of the perpetual fires, and also because there had been idols to the Canaanite god Molech erected there to which were offered human sacrifices (2 Kings 23:10), ge hinnom (“valley of Hinnom” in Hebrew) became a symbol for the judgment of God. The fires also came to symbolize that punishment and destruction, and became the more common way to conceptualize “hell” in later Christian tradition.
Another term, and one more relevant to our topic, is the Greek term Hades (e.g., Matt 11:23). This term comes from Greek mythology in which it was the abode of the dead. It was used to translate into Greek the Hebrew concept of Sheol. While in the Old Testament this term was not mythological, it was a metaphorical way to talk about what happened to people when they died. Sheol was simply the place where dead people go. It was almost synonymous with death and especially “grave,” and indeed is used that way in several Old Testament passages, e.g., Psa 49:14: Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home.
In other words, Sheol or Hades was a poetic way to say, “they died and were buried.” It is in this sense that the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed is used, using the ambiguous word “hell” in English, when the more precise idea of Hades actually lies behind the statement. “He descended into hell” then becomes nothing more than a statement that Jesus died and was placed in the tomb, the grave. In Hebrew concepts, they would say he descended into Sheol, that is, was lowered into the grave, or that he slept with the fathers, that is, was placed in a family tomb. It is in that context that the affirmation of the resurrection is so powerful.
So what do we do about the images of "hellish" fire in the New Testament? Well, given what we know about our eternally burning rubbish tip this fire does not have to equate to eternal suffering in a lake of fire, it more likely means that what ever goes in there (at whatever time) dies instantly, like the rubbish tip.