The traditional view of hell has certainly influenced western culture, and this is well reflected in the various depictions of hell in video games. The December 2014 issue of Game Informer discussed the Top Ten Hells in video gaming, and they provide some grist for examining the traditional view.

Disclaimer: I know that video games are meant to be fun, and are not meant to be biblically correct. But the mischaracterizations of hell below are a good chance to learn about the real thing.

10. Shadows of the Damned – Comedic, Carnal Warfare

Top Ten Video Game HellsThe theme here is hunting demons, with a bit of humor on the side. Worthy of remark here is that

  1. Demons in scripture can’t be killed by humans, merely cast out
  2. Carnal weapons (guns, etc.) are of no use in warfare against demonic powers ()
  3. Demons will be destroyed in the final judgment, along with those who fail to inherit eternal life through faith in Christ ()

The addition of a comedic element is also psychologically interesting. Not only is humor enjoyable, but it can take the edge off of our fears. We like to be scared, but we don’t like real danger. Jesus, however, taught that hell was a real danger, as in this hyperbolic statement:

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands ()

9. Painkiller – Redemption in the intermediate state

I have to admit, Painkiller is probably one of my favorite games of all time. The weapons are weighty, creative, and satisfying, the main character has some attitude, and those darned golden secret items on each level are devilishly hard to find. Also, the main character shares my surname.
The interesting theme here is redemption through fighting evil in the period of limbo after death (and presumably before resurrection, though that is not stated). This brings up some interesting questions:

a. Where are we during the interim period between death and resurrection?

There are principally two main views, both of which have some biblical support:

  • Conscious: that we exist consciously in a disembodied state in either heaven or Hades, the former with Christ, the latter suffering. (, , )
  • Unconscious: that we exist in some unconscious state (one way to view Jesus’ use of the term for those dead as “asleep”) until the resurrection and judgment (, )1

b. Can we still be saved after death? (post-mortem repentance)

The traditional Evangelical teaching on this is that after death, there are no more chances to repent. That belief is based upon a few passages, notably Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man (), in which the rich man’s fate was “fixed” after death, as well as the often quoted partial idea from Hebrews:

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment… ( NKJV)

However, some notable non-Universalist Evangelicals like philosopher and author Jerry Walls make room, not only for post-mortem repentance, but sanctifying purgatory.2

c. Can we earn salvation in purgatory?

Walls makes the important distinction between the traditional Catholic satisfactionary purgatory, in which one can “satisfy” the punishment required for their guilt through suffering in purgatory. Protestants, of course, reject this idea as counter to the cross and the message of Jesus’ death on the cross. So this view of “doing good” to redeem one’s self in purgatory, as seen in Painkiller, is not biblical.
However, for those who ARE saved by faith in Christ, Walls argues that before we can enter into the holy presence of God, we must participate in our own sanctification, which he proposes may happen in the interim period. Of course, this view has its own logical and biblical difficulties, not discussed here.

8. Spelunky – Fighting to enter hell

A side-scroller that features artifact hunters that must willingly enter a type of hell in order to secure their artifact. Think Indiana Jones with demons instead of Nazis and snakes. While this story line has no real-world equivalent, it reminds me of the ideas below.

a. Hell will be fun because my friends will be there partying

Of course, this is an entirely juvenile and unthinking view of what could be our final destiny. The question should arise – is there a life after this one, and if so, what can I know about it, and how do my current choices affect that distant future, if not my present timeline?

b. The default is heaven, you have to be really bad, i.e., you have to work hard to enter hell

One of the counter-intuitive ideas in Christianity is that God doesn’t require goodness in order to gain heaven – that is, you can’t earn it by being good, so “I’m basically a good person” doesn’t cut it. However, typical explanations of God’s definition of good being tougher than ours don’t always convince, for many reasons (though you can read how Jesus addressed a rich man who was a good person, challenging his idea of good in ).
I like to take a different approach. Rather than emphasizing the holiness of God (“there is none good but God”), I like to focus on the other side of that coin, his mercy. That is, God is so generous that he will extend forgiveness to the lowest, most despicable person if he truly repents – but in order to do that, God must make the basis for acceptance something other than good works. Otherwise, the serial murderer or addict may have no hope at all that he could work off his guilt.
So to the person who bases his belief of heaven on “I am a good person,” I like to ask this – “Would you be willing to accept that, in order to let the most hopeless person in, God has changed the basis of acceptance to faith in the death of Christ, and would you come in the same way?”
Then, I would follow up with the idea that good works naturally flow out of a changed life, but they are not required for acceptance. That makes much more sense then, of this verse:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. ( NLT)

7. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – Whence evil, and can we shut the gates of hell?

In Oblivion, all types of evil are escaping hell, and you have to shut the damned gates! This theology, that evil’s origins are from the demonic world, and that hell actually has gates, is pretty interesting stuff.

a. Where did evil come from?

The so-called Problem of Evil is probably one of the toughest objections against faith in a good God, and quite honestly, not only is there not an entirely satisfactory answer to the problem, there may never be.3 But in Oblivion, one underlying idea is that humans are in a battle to contain the forces of Hell from spreading on earth. How biblical is that?
To oversimplify, the Bible teaches that, while demonic powers have influence, there are two other sources of evil and suffering in the world – death, which came from the fall and judgment upon mankind, and the wicked hearts of men who continue to do evil.

i. Demonic Influences

There is no doubt that the Bible teaches that dark powers are ruling this world4:

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. ( NLT)
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. ( NLT)

However, it is a mistake to think that such powers have unfettered access, or are necessarily increasingly flowing from some underground well of wickedness. In fact, we must consider the two other sources of suffering and death.

ii. Natural Evil and The Fall of Man

Scripture records that when Adam and Eve sinned, death entered the world, and that as part of the curse from God, nature itself was negatively impacted, in part by God’s judgment:

And to the man he said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. ()

In addition to plant life, records the introduction of predation (arguably) and the changed biology of women to include pain in childbirth.
The Bible also teaches that all of creation, not just humans, awaits the restoration of the original Edenic state:

 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. ()

iii. The Evil in Mankind

Arguably the most influential source of evil is mankind itself. Where do genocides, wars, ecological devastation, and a host of other dangers come from? From us. Think about it – are you more worried about being hurt by (a) demons, (b) nature, or (c) a whacked out human? Jesus himself remarked about the evil in mankind, as did James:

But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.  These are what defile you. (a NKJV)

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. (a NJKV)

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? ( NLT)

It may be comforting to see evil as existing somewhere outside of ourselves, but the deepest evil, and the best place to fight it, is first within ourselves. As Ghandi famously said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

6. The Darkness – Is Hell a place?

In The Darkness, hell is described as “a f***ed-up place” – too bad the best they can do is to fill it with demons and Nazis. But is hell a real place to inhabit?
The problem with the word translated “hell” in the Bible is that, especially in the original King James Bible, it was used for a host of different words whose distinctions are now lost in common usage.
So here’s the bottom line – while the word Hades and Sheol probably refer to a place where the dead currently await judgment, it is arguable whether an actual fiery abode called hell will exist after the final judgment of scriptures. As we here at Rethinking Hell argue, the fire of God will consume his enemies, as well as death and Hades themselves:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. ()

So, a place of the dead did in some sense exist, but will not exist for eternity.  A lake of fire will exist (literal or metaphorical), but probably only for the period of the judgment. But an eternal hell with demons and the unredeemed being tormented? We doubt that is biblically sound.

Conclusion

The traditional and cultural views of a hell and the life to come provide ample ideas for creative horrors. But they are seldom biblical in their outlook. However, they do offer grist for our thinking.

  1. The Dead Are Dead Until the Rapture or Resurrection (truthortradition.com) []
  2. Walls, Jerry L., Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation, Oxford University Press, 2011 []
  3. The Two Great Mysteries of the Bible (wholereason.com – In this post I discuss the idea that, since we are finite, there may be some things that we may never understand – but what are those things, and how can we limit that excuse to only the most complex ideas that by nature defy understanding? []
  4. How is Satan god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4)? (gotquestions.org) []

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

20:1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

16 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them.

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.

3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

4:1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.