The ninth circle of hell, from Dante’s “Inferno.” By. Gustav Dore, via Wikipedia Commons

Frozen or flaming: What’s the better depiction of hell?

The ninth circle of hell, from Dante’s “Inferno.” By. Gustav Dore, via Wikipedia Commons
The ninth circle of hell, from Dante’s “Inferno.” By. Gustav Dore, via Wikipedia Commons

In summer, it’s “hotter than hell.” In winter, “hell has frozen over.”

So, which is it? Hot, or cold?

A couple years ago, The Economist took a close look at the Western world’s perceptions of hell and where they came from in terms of theology, history and literature. Some see hell as “a medieval relic.” In contemporary culture, “it is merely a bark, not a place.” And for others, it exists “not just as a concept, but as a place on the map.” (As a religion reporter, and someone who loves literature, I recommend the article – you can read it here.)

BBC has a “ten-point tour of the underworld,” taking its hits from the likes of writers from Dante to Dan Brown. The writer of the piece surmises that hell is conical, diverse, and underground – maybe.

And, in similar fashion, The Guardian has a list of the 10 best visions of hell in literature. From Virgil, we read, “From hence are heard the groans of ghosts, the pains / Of sounding lashes and of dragging chains.” John Milton tells us the place is “A dungeon horrible, on all sides round / As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames / No light; but rather darkness visible…” Here’s James Joyce on the subject: “Imagine some foul and putrid corpse that has lain rotting and decomposing in the grave, a jelly-like mass of liquid corruption.”

Speaking strictly in literary terms, I think back to my college English classes. I think of the ninth circle of Dante’s hell, where the likes of Cain and Judas are frozen in a lake of ice. Then, I think of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” with all its mention of hell fire:  ”the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the flames do now rage and glow.” (After this polar vortex, or whatever we’re calling this recent bitter weather, I think the lake of ice sounds like quite a punishment.)

What about you?

Regardless of whether you believe in hell, what’s the better depiction?


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About Kellie Moore

Kellie Moore (formerly Kotraba) serves as the editor and community manager of Columbia Faith & Values. Although she is originally from the West – Nevada and California – she’s now proud to call Missouri home.

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  1. Jesus taught more about hell than any other writer in scripture, according to Him it’s a real place. I heard Adrian Rogers comment on the fact that if God could ever be tempted (which He could not) to be lax on sin it would have been when His only Son was bearing it for us. Rom 8:29    For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;Rom 8:30    and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.Rom 8:31    What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?Rom 8:32    He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

    God poured out His punishment on Jesus and did not hold back. That says that for those who don’t believe, but turn away from Christ, no punishment will be spared for them either, and hell will be an eternal reality for them, and I don’t see anything about cold being taught regarding that awful place.

  2. Hell is a place in a story. I think it’s interesting that an economist did the study, because it really is a great question for an economist. Hell is a place of INFINITE LOSS. This is an economic concept. This means that the idea of hell acts as an incentive (for avoiding loss) for people who believe in hell.

    But what’s REALLY interesting about belief in hell is that once you believe in hell, you have an incentive to KEEP ON believing in hell. After all, if you stop fearing hell you might step out of line and then you will go to hell.

    So hell (and heaven) are costs and benefits that you get for your behavior. See? It’s an economic issue.

    At the end of the day, the story of hell is a great circular mind f**k. Of course once you notice this it becomes possible to realize that you have been manipulated. You can ask: Who benefits from my belief in hell?

    Answer? The authorities in your life: Your parents, the priests (of course) and even to some degree the government (since you have a horrible prison in your head). Hell is the scariest story imaginable. Fear is always a great tool for control.

    Who benefits from your belief in hell?

  3. I don’t fear hell for the same reason I believe hell is an actual place. God has revealed that my salvation from hell doesn’t rely on me but on the efficacy of Jesus sacrifice that saves me from my past, present and future sins. I live my life in Him, with gratitude and love for Him, no fear. He has also revealed that hell is a real place reserved for the devil and his angels, but also where all those who reject Christ’s sacrifice for them will spend eternity, separated from Him, by choice. Please don’t take this as who can win an argument. No one is manipulating me, I hope you can say the same.

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