gtag('config', 'AW-327635198');

Hello and Welcome! Today we’re discussing Hell, the Christian conception of an unhappy afterlife. If you’re new to the blog allow me to explain, I’m the pocket theologian and here we like to take a theological or philosophical topic and talk about it in as much time as it takes to do it justice, so let’s get started!

The history of hell is a little long and sordid, and like we talked about back in our apocalypse series, there are many different ideas and conceptions of hell. Here I’m going to discuss the Christian ideas of it. Now before we go too far dear reader, I would like to state for fact that hell both as a study and as a concept is distinctly more picturesque than any other study that I have yet encountered. So a majority of this post will be given to various descriptions and explanations of hell than normal. Also, I find it necessary to take a moment and say that if your reading to this and are afraid of hell, please don’t be alarmed; I’ll lead you in a brief prayer and help you to not be afraid.

“Jesus, I believe that you are God, I believe that you came as a man, I believe you died for my sins, I accept this gift of redemption, and publicly declare you as my Lord and savior, and If I have wandered may I be restored in your grace, amen.” < let me know if you prayed this!

So to start with, the first idea of hell known in the Christian orbit is known as Sheol, the Jewish name, in the Jewish understanding. Sheol is a place below the ground where everybody, yes I mean everybody, goes when they die. But there they are separated by Yahweh, to the upper and lower parts of Sheol. The lower parts are the parts usually associated with hell. Where there is “great wailing and gnashing of teeth” and in Jewish understanding, keeping the law and commandments would keep you from the lower rungs of hell, another common characteristic of hell.

Sheol developed a bit over Jewish history, but the next major development in the Christian conception of hell was the Greek idea of what’s called the underworld. So basically the underworld was the Greek conception of the afterlife, the whole afterlife. So it was ruled by the Greek god, Hades. It had four divisions, with five rivers watering it. The four divisions were: Tartarus (the closest to hell the Greeks ever got, which believe me is not THAT close), the fields of Elysium which was the closest the Greeks ever got to heaven, and between the two were the fields of mourning (meant for those who were hurt by love), and lastly the asphodel meadows (which was for the common people, who lived uneventful lives). So your place in the underworld was not determined according to some godly law or commandments, but rather by some unique criteria that we’ll discuss in a second. But what is unique about the underworld was that you had to journey to get there.

So when you first died as a Greek going to the underworld, you were first greeted by the Greek god, Hermes, who then took you to one of two rivers either the Acheron or Styx where a ferry rowed by Charon would arrive, you would hopefully pay the ferry with a coin that was put over your eyes or under your tongue, if not you were stuck in a type of limbo. Once you got off the boat on the underworld side you were greeted by Cereberus, the three headed dog who guards the gates, allowing all to enter but none to leave, before finally facing the judges. The Judges were all kings known for developing laws in their respective kingdoms the men being Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus. They would judge you according to your deeds, and off you’d go forever. So that’s the Underworld. The next developments in the idea of hell came distinctly from Theological circles.

After the Greek understanding we come to the other predominant idea of hell which is the Roman understanding, being developed by such Theologians as Augustine of Hippo (one of my favs), Joachim of Fiore, Thomas Aquinas, and many others. It is truly during the Roman period that hell gains most of the characteristics and assumptions it has now, such as permanent separation from God, it being a spiritual and not a physical place, eternal torment it being the abode of the devil and so on.

One major piece of work I would like to discuss however, which acts as a nice time capsule for Christianity’s medieval beliefs, Dante Asissi “Inferno”, which was written in 1308 and completed in 1320 and published WAY after his death in 1472. More commonly called by its English name of “Dante’s Inferno”. Dante takes the popular idea’s and images of his time and perfectly encapsulates them in his description of heaven, hell, and purgatory. If you haven’t read it please do, know that it is art, not theology, so don’t take it too seriously; but it’s very interesting.

Unfortunately, once the medieval period began, beliefs in hell stagnated quite a bit. Contrary to popular belief most people don’t like thinking or talking about hell for obvious reasons. But, as different denominations spun off and tweaked their theology’s a bit some interesting variety’s of hell soon began to pop up.

For one the eastern orthodoxy believes that since there is no scripture saying that hell was CREATED, it wasn’t; and instead what a persons perceives as heaven or hell is their physical perception being fully stripped away, and either your sanctified spirit being utterly pleased to be with God, or your carnal fleshly soul being horrified to be stuck with God, and finding it tormenting.

Catholicism holds that the afterlife is split into different parts or areas, hell, limbo, purgatory and so on with different criteria or levels of righteousness qualifying you for the different levels. But there seems to be some division about whether hell is a literal place, or rather a state of being, with some believing both and some believing neither. This would probably be a good time to mention that some Christians believe that hell is purely metaphorical, meant to inspire people to follow the way of righteousness.

Another minority opinions that are held by some Protestant denominations are annihilationism which is the idea that you’ll suffer in hell for a bit, before being eternally destroyed, never to exist again.

Which leads us to the modern day, where several books have been written about hell but the majority opinion seems to have been formed with some slight dissenting opinions which we’ve already discussed.

So this now leads me to a rather interesting fact about hell, the idea of it’s end, since Christianity does indeed possess it’s own apocalyptic work, and end times theology, we can look forward to see the end of hell. As Revelation 20:13-15:

“The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

So taking this literally, which we’ve discussed Revelation here on the blog before and the various interpretations of it, however this is relevant to our discussion because it seems that again if this is taken literally, it means that hell will eventually be cleaned out and destroyed, with some people possibly being annihilated but who knows. That’s just one interpretation, but anyway let’s move on.

Notable Figures:

Dante Assissi- Like we said, Dante isn’t known for his own profound thoughts, but rather his position. Since Dante was not an especially well studied man. He was taught along with the other commoners of his day. So he shows the perspective of the common man, because while he was an artisan, he was not a theologian. While we have records of the Medieval church of the day, what they thought they were saying. Dante poses the counter points. What their congregates were hearing. So once again I highly recommend the Divine Comedy, for exactly this reason. Plus his view of hell is very intricate and layered, like only a work of fiction can truly do.

Augustine- my boy Augustine, I would quote him on every episode if I could! But Augustine is unique because he represents a turning point where hell became less of a physical place and more of a spiritual place. As Augustine himself pondered on the metaphysical capacities of hell. Speculating that there would be some way for suffering to exist in a non physical way. Which is interesting if somewhat terrifying to speculate on. Augustine, also expanded on the idea of hell needing to exist in order for the just and righteous nature of God to remain, which is also true.

Jonathan Edwards- So Jonathan Edwards is another great theologian, being responsible for a majority of American christian theology since the first great awakening. Edwards expanded on the justice angle that Augustine established, saying that in order for God to be just as he is, then he must allow for people’s actions to have consequences, because sin is an affront to God. Edwards describes it as God being viscerally angry at the presence of sin, and that if people insist on retaining their sin then the anger and wrath of God must be unleashed upon them. Another terrifying image that really shows the theology of his time.


It is the abode of evil- Hell is often seen as a prison or as something that only the worst of people go. Dante gives it layers so that different people are confined into different parts. Like cell blocks in a prison, never in any description of hell, are good people sent to hell. In every depiction only those who have earned the suffering of hell go there, not those who have been saved and sanctified by Christ. We need not look any further than the description of Judas Iscariot, who is described as being horrible and awful. Basically, hell isn’t full of good people.

Separation- In most depictions of hell is it seen as a permanent separation from God, number one; and your fellow man, number two. In no depiction of hell, that I’ve ever heard, has it ever been seen as something to be survived, or that “together we can get through this”, I’ve seen some video games start to take that mindset, but I honestly think this is a little naive of the general consensus on hell. Hell isn’t a place of fellowship it’s a place of derision, it’s not a place to escape God, it’s a place where you can’t get to God.

Suffering- All descriptions of people in hell make it sound horrible and abysmal. With some recent authors depicting it as having a specific torturous level for each horrific sin. However, the kind and degrees of suffering do often vary, some people it’s a low level constant suffering, while other times it’s a high degree long continuous degree. Augustine and Edwards spoke of hell as being specifically designed for each person there, while Jesus seems to paint it as a general unpleasantness.


That God sends you there- This is a popular misconception especially to those that are unfamiliar with Christianity, and I imagine that even many within Christianity will disagree with me. But looking at God in a theological model it doesn’t make sense for him to want to save everyone and condemn them simultaneously. If we look to Christian scripture, such scriptures as Romans 10:5-12, John 6, Acts 16:31, and John 20:31. We see that it is the will of God that ALL come to the knowledge of God and accept and love him. God doesn’t send you to hell because you don’t accept him, he’s not an angry girlfriend, you choose not to be with God, and the only other option is hell. And I know that a lot of people like to say “Well that’s not a choice” and people want to have a good choice besides God, but that’s really not the case, unfortunately.

It is Sheol- so we talked about Sheol a bit at the beginning of the blog, but it is important dear reader, that I explain to you that while this was the Jewish understanding before and during Jesus time, these concepts are NOT the same. Hell like we talked about in the characteristics section is depicted and shown as much more visceral and painful than Sheol is typically shown as. Yes, Sheol sucks, but Hell sucks worse.

It is the Underworld- Once again, we explained previously what the underworld was. And while we can see similarities, the dissimilarities are more noticeable. For one, as we discussed there is no judge to send you to hell, you are your own judge. You make the choice to go there or not. The Underworld is organized by layers, while we have no specific evidence that hell is organized. It could be, but we’re not sure.

Go in peace.

"AW-327635198": { "groups": "default" }