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
- Demons in scripture can’t be killed by humans, merely cast out
- Carnal weapons (guns, etc.) are of no use in warfare against demonic powers (2 Corinthians 10:4)
- Demons will be destroyed in the final judgment, along with those who fail to inherit eternal life through faith in Christ (Revelation 20)
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 (Mark 9:43)
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. (Luke 23:43, John 14:2, Phil. 1:21-23)
- 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 (Deuteronomy 31:16, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Acts 2:29-34)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 (Luke 16:19-31), 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… (Hebrews 9:27 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 Mark 10:17-31).
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. (Ephesians 2:8-9 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. (2 Corinthians 4:4 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. (Ephesians 6:12 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. (Genesis 3:17-18)
In addition to plant life, Genesis 3 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. (Romans 8:20-22)
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. (Matthew 15:18-20a 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. (James 4:1-2a NJKV)
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? (Jeremiah 17:9 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. (Revelation 20:14)
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.
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.
- The Dead Are Dead Until the Rapture or Resurrection (truthortradition.com)
- Walls, Jerry L., Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation, Oxford University Press, 2011
- 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?
- How is Satan god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4)? (gotquestions.org)