What is Hell?

In some popular characterizations, Hell is a punishment by God where the primary analogy used is eternal suffering in fire, for transgression of certain rules He sets down. This discussion by Robert Barron gives a different possible characterization.

That is, it is possibly more usefully described not as a fire but as entombment in ice.

Furthermore, it might be more useful to consider Hell to be not punishment, but a consequence of self-isolation – a result of ‘spiritual physics’, as Barron puts it. So sin – which can lead to Hell – isn’t something which leads God to punish one but rather, in Dante’s phrase, being ‘caved in on oneself’, as opposed to connected. (Another way to consider sin is as a non-alignment.)

Under this way of understanding things, to sin is to voluntarily turn away from the connection that is available to God (which is Goodness, i.e., in Christianity God is something that is good to be connected to), and to ‘reign as the sovereign of one’s own little kingdom’. To use the analogy of ice, it is an icy self-absorption, a spiritual ‘frozen-ness’. (And so, according to the Christian notion, it is then possible for one to enter a Hell where one is frozen irrevocably.)

I think this makes a little more sense of Hell and what it is supposed to be according to Christianity. It is not a punishment by God (who according to Christianity is a kind of love), but a logical result of a choice (or series of choices) to isolate oneself from the love, joy, abundance, and so on, that is or comes from God.

5 thoughts on “What is Hell?

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