The Hellfire Quagmire: What do students think hell is like?
Updated: Dec 24, 2019
By: Aaron Cortinas
Need to listen on the go? The Hell question, in your ears:
UT Tyler junior Ellie Youngblood says she had a brush will Hell at 12-years-old.
She says she woke up from a terrifying nightmare and thought “I feel like I just tasted a taste of what Hell would be like.”
Youngblood says she thinks Hell the worst pain you could ever imagine. She describes the pain as being cast into fire and constantly crying.
Both Christians and non-Christians have an idea of what Hell is like. After all, we’re surrounded by depictions of it in art, literature and pop culture. Hell is a place of fire and torture, right? The Biblical answer is kinda. The cultural answer is definitely. And the answers from UT Tyler Christians is mostly no.
The Bible references Hell, but it isn’t mentioned much. The amount varies by translation. According to the user Brazen Church on Medium.com, it’s about between 14 and 54 times. Commonly-cited instances of Hell in the Bible are in Matthew and Luke. Matthew chapter 13:50 calls Hell a “blazing furnace” with “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Additionally, Luke chapter 16:19-31 tells a story of a rich man in Hell who is tortured in flames and begs for a drop of water.
One of the most influential literary depictions of Hell was The Divine Comedy by Virgil, which is better known as “Dante’s Inferno.” This Hell featured nine circles of varying tortures. According to longtime Playboy fiction editor Alice Turner, in her book The History of Hell, this 14th century text changed how the West thought about Hell. It made Hell less literal, which allowed people to begin interpreting it artistically.
Another well-known example of Hell in literature is the 18th-century sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” by Jonathan Edwards. Edwards used this sermon to scare people into conversion. He stressed how sinners deserve the eternal torment of Hell.
Hundreds of years later Hell became absorbed by secular pop culture, especially the visual medium of television. For example, the NBC show The Good Place has a Hell with clerverly-disguised demons and torture. Cartoons like South Park feature parodies of Hell. Like most depictions its ruled by Satan and surrounded by fire. Even child-friendly Disney depicts Hell in song-form in the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Some Christians at UT Tyler seem to have different ideas about Hell than the historical and pop culture depictions. Instead of fire and brimstone, some describe hell as hopeless.
Junior Samantha Bast says she learned about Hell at a young age.
“I just remember HE-double-hockey-sticks,” Bast says, “in Sunday school they would describe it as a place of mourning.”
Today, she says she thinks of Hell as a place where people are separated from God and hopeless.
Junior David Newsom says “sensational” and “fiery” images of Hell are ingrained in Christian culture. Despite this, he doesn’t believe them.
He says he’s not sure what Hell looks like “but it doesn’t look like that.”
Senior Greg Sturrock says many people have a wrong impression about Hell as a place where people are “stabbed with pitchforks.”
He cites Dante’s Inferno as a misleading influence.
Instead, he says the actual punishment “comes from the separation between you and God.”
Junior Ann Abernathy cites “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as a misleading influence on her. But she says her views on Hell have evolved with age. Today, she says she thinks of it as a sad place where people are hopeless and suffer.
Newsom says the confusion about Hell comes from the problem of depicting Hell in the first place.
“Depicting Hell artistically is wildly problematic, because you don’t really know what that looks like,” Newsom says with intensity.
Further, Newsom says the Bible doesn’t even say what Hell looks like. “Images aren’t literal, but they do refer to something, Newsom says, “In Hebrews, it talks about how God is a great force of fire, that doesn’t mean God is a fireball.”
Senior Blake Merritt agrees that the Bible doesn’t depict a literal Hell.
He calls it “a metaphor for coming to an end.” His understanding of Hell is a place of anger, sadness and unending darkness.
Whether or not they think that people have mis-interpreted what Hell is like, these Christians express that they sure-as-heck don’t want to go there.
Youngblood says her brush with Hell led to her spiritual conversion to Christianity.
“When I was 12, I made the decision that I did not want to be separated from God,” Youngblood says, “and I did not want to be in Hell.”