Yes, fellow gamers, I will definitely get to Diablo and Dante’s Inferno! You are right to think that they are in the top 5 of Gameinformer’s list of video game hells. In Part 1, we covered games 6-10, so let’s finish up our tour of video game versions of hell, and what we can learn from their representations, or mis-representations, of hell.
5. Minecraft – Watch Your Nether
I find it a little bit of a stretch to call the Nether a version of hell, but it is dangerous and filled with fire and lava, so there you have it. What Biblical gems can we leverage from this toyish 16-bit version of hell? That you can visit hell and come back?
I studied Near Death Experiences (NDEs) for a while, and was interested to find that most people had positive experiences, but some had hellish experiences.1Hell and the Near Death Experience (neardeath.com)210 Astonishing Near-Death Experiences (listverse.com)3Distressing Near-Death Experiences (International Association for the Study of NDEs)4Is Hell Real? (dailybeast.com)
But is this evidence of hell? I think I agree with the summary from Tentmaker.org:
…many NDE’s are born out of the imagination and spiritual state of the person about to die—much like a dream—but in this case, a dream born from the subconscious knowledge that they are about to die. I think that dreams often tap into spiritual realities, and there may be some elements of things that God is wanting to communicate to people in that state—but many of them are also just born of the fears or guilt that many people intrinsically have. If they believe in Hell and are afraid of it, and think that they deserve to go there, they may very well have an NDE that supports this. If they have never heard of Hell, and still have an NDE that is hellish, it is probably because they have unresolved issue in their life, or perhaps they were involved in the occult or demonic realm.5Do Near-Death Experiences Confirm the Existence of Hell?
It’s perhaps some data, but the more important data is found in the scriptures themselves, where Jesus seems to deny that anyone can come back from the dead to testify of hell (other than himself).
And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there. (v. 16 from Luke 16:19-31)
4. Dante’s Inferno – Can eternal punishment be proportional to one’s sins?
This game, of course, is based on the hugely influential Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, the 13th century Italian poet.6Dante Alighieri (wikipedia) Inferno is the first of three parts covering hell, purgatory, and heaven (inferno, purgatorio, paradiso). The 9 circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno are inescapable and eternal, a place of punishment where sinners are tormented with poetic justice – that is, a justice that is analogous to their sins. For example:
In the swampy waters of the river Styx, the wrathful fight each other on the surface, and the sullen lie gurgling beneath the water, withdrawn “into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man or the universe.”7Dorothy Sayers, quoted from Inferno (wikipedia.com)
Of course, that is highly symbolic, but the question should be asked, “What is the just punishment for sins, and should it be finite and proportionate, or infinite in duration, as the traditional view of hell demands?”
While we at Rethinking Hell emphasize that our arguments for Conditionalism are first and foremost scriptural and exegetical, there is also a strong challenge to the traditional view that arises from philosophy and ethics. This secondary argument is important in that it doesn’t rely on appeals to biblical authority, and so
- Should carry weight with those who (suppose they) rely solely on reason, i.e. anti-theists and anti-religionists
- Should be part of our own logical arsenal of argumentation if we too claim to rely on reason, not just biblical authority
So here’s the challenge that Dante’s Inferno raises with the traditional view – how can infinite punishment be a just and proportional response to finite sins? A Conditionalist can easily argue that it can’t be, and therefore violates even the biblical notions of justice. As I wrote in a series on this:
Commonly, this rule of retributive justice is known as ‘an eye for an eye’ or ‘the punishment must fit the crime.’ In philosophy, this principle is called by the Latin term Lex Talionis. This concept is central to the Old Testament view of justice (Exodus 21:24, Deuteronomy 19:21), and forms the basis of what is arguably God’s measure for the administration of justice by humans.8The Philosophical Case for Conditionalism 4 – Proportional Justice and Traditionalism (wholereason.com)
Naturally, there are plenty of responses from the traditionalist side, but here’s the bottom line when it comes to the eternal inferno of the traditional view – we argue that it violates the principles of proportional justice, which not only makes God unjust, it drives away many people who intuitively recognize this to be true. The Conditionalist view preserves God’s right to judge and punish evil, but with finite and proportional, not infinite punishment.
3. Doom – why are goats the symbol of evil?
Let me first admit that I never liked Doom – yes, back in the day, it was ground-breaking to have network multiplayer servers for playing after (or during) work, but the graphics? Meh. Me, I cut my teeth on Quake 2, and have spent more hours than I like to admit playing capture the flag (and every other Q2 mod, including my favorite, Holy Wars), But in Doom, you travel through a goat’s head portal – but why a goat? And what does that have to do with hell and Satan?
Origins of such associations are often hard to track down, but in ancient times, it does seem that the goat earned a negative connotation for some or all of these reasons:
3.1 Banebdjed the pagan fertility god
The pagan fertility deity of the ancient Egyptian city of Djedet, later known by the Greek name Mendes, was a man with a goat’s head named Banebdjed (“Ba of Djedet”), and was known for sexual rites.9Mendes (wikipedia.com)10Banebdjedet (reshafim.org.il)11The Book of the Pharoahs, p. 102
Bandebdjeted the goat god was later linked with Baphomet (pictured), a medieval idol which was adopted as the symbol for Satan in the modern era.12Gods of Ancient Egypt: Banebdjed (ancientegyptonline.co.uk)13Baphomet (wikipedia.org)
In fact, many pagan deities, inlcuding Ea (a.k.a. Enki) of Sumer (dating back to perhaps as far as 15,000 B.C.E.), and Asshur of Babylon were depicted as goats.14New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology Enki later became the symbol for the zodiac sign of Capricorn.15Enki (wikipedia.org) Horned deities have throughout history been associated with fertility and evil, including Baal and Beelzebub, both mentioned in the Bible. 16Horned deities (wikipedia.org)
3.2 Biblical References
The goat is used many times in the Bible to symbolize evil, including in Zechariah 10:3 and in Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus tells of his return and how he will separate “the sheep from the goats,” sending the latter into the lake of fire!17Goats on the Left (bibletools.org)
3.3 Cultural References
Remember that in ancient times (and presently), the easiest way for the poor to make a living was by nomadic shepherding. Both goats and sheep easily adapt to this lifestyle. But try and settle down and you’ll see that, while sheep are happy to follow and be led, goats are always conniving to escape their confinement and be free. And once they are free, they wreak havoc on crops.
2. Earthworm Jim – Cats are not evil
EJ was one of the games that looked great, had a lovable character, but sucky game mechanics. I wanted to love it, but could not. What does EJ have to do with hell, you may ask? How far am I going to have to stretch to make this game relevant to the topic?
The “Heck” level of EJ is ruled by Evil the Cat, which, as a cat person, I take exception to. I mean, just because, like goats, cats are capricious and independent of humans doesn’t make them evil! In fact, a lot of animals that humans are afraid of or can’t control end up with bad reputations, be they carrion eaters (who are doing us a favor by cleaning up all that rotting flesh), bats (who fly at night and scare us by fluttering), and snakes.
OK, I can’t think of any positives for snakes (jk), but you get my drift. Why do we demonize some animals, when they are just doing what they are designed to do?
Even man’s best friend, the dog, has been demonized – especially those used as guard dogs or ‘fighting’ dogs.18A Brief History of Dog Prejudice Even to this day, Rottweilers, who are by nature sweet, are mistrusted, not only because of their imposing size, speed, and use as guard dogs, but because of their appearances in movies like the hell-hounds in Omen.19Hellhound (wikia.com)
Ok, so that has nothing to do with hell. Sue me.
1. Diablo – Showdown with the Devil
Diablo, one of the most popular games of all time, ends with a showdown with old cloven-foot himself. While I am sure many of you Diablo fans who know the game better than I (I confess, I’m an FPS guy, with some RTS love), this one point is worth making – in the scriptures, there is a day when Satan will finally be vanquished by God. But the path there is somewhat indirect.
1.1 The problem of evil revisited
Why did God allow evil in the first place? Especially if he knew what would happen? The answers to this ‘problem of evil’ are grouped under the heading of theodicy. Possible explanations include:20Theodicy: An Overview (dbu.edu)21Theodicy (New World Encyclopedia)
- Soulmaking – like plants or chicks emerging from a shell, we need difficulty in order to grow in strength and maturity. No hardship, no true personhood with maturity.
- Free Will / Best of all Possible Worlds – in order for us to be free to choose love and not be automatons, God allowed us free will, which included the ability to act otherwise. Freedom without virtue can lead to evil. But better freedom than none. In addition, some argue that of all the possible worlds (all of which require free will), this is the best that could logically be created.
- It’s A Mystery, Dude – as unsatisfactory as this answer is, I seriously consider it because, as finite creatures, there may a few things we will never understand, and I argue that this is one of only two great problems that the Bible resorts to an appeal to mystery. In this instance, our understanding may never come up with a viable solution.22The Two Great Mysteries of the Bible (wholereason.com)
What’s interesting to me is that, while the Bible promises that all things will be made just and right in the end through God’s day of judgment, which is hopeful but perhaps not entirely satisfying to us, other ideologies often have much worse answers. For example:
- Atheism – we don’t know, it just is. There is no God, no afterlife, what you get is what we can see. Anything more is speculation. Suffering is part of life, we just have to make the best of it.
- Buddhism – you reap karma, perhaps for hundreds of lifetimes, until you earn liberation from your sins, ignorance, and mistakes.
- Superstition – luck happens, you just have to learn how to manipulate the elements in order to get better luck. Why? That’s how it works.
1.2 The strange plan of God
I’ll admit that the often convoluted and brutal system of blood sacrifices, the tribal stories of Israel, and sometimes bewildering symbols and metaphors of apocalyptic literature hardly seem like a clear and simple plan. Why does it have to be faith in a Jewish guy from two thousand years ago who was predicted by prophets thousands of years earlier – sent to a people that largely rejected him?
Even worse, why allow Satan to exist and become the ruler of this world system, a system without faith that promises satisfaction through power, possessions, and pleasure (1 John 2:16)? I truly don’t know.
But you know, any world view will have weak points. The question is, where they make positive assertions that you can test, which one can you give the benefit of the doubt to? I see the words and life of Jesus, the freedom and human flourishing engendered by the gospel in all parts of life, the forgiveness given by grace alone (no works required), and my own powerful inner experience of change and communion with God, and I quite literally have no better options. Like Peter in his exchange with Jesus, I answer that I have nowhere less confusing to go:
Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.”
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”
Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60-69)
1.3 Satan and Demons – destroyed or tormented forever?
Among Conditionalists, this is a non-central doctrine on which either position is possible – they, like humans, hades, and death, may be utterly destroyed, or it may be that the “fire created for the devil and his angels” may torment them forever. However, as we often point out, the imagery in Revelation 20, though depicting ongoing punishment, may actually be symbolic of total destruction, as seen in the passages it quotes from Isaiah, such as the passage about the destruction of the city of Edom:
It will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again. (Isaiah 34:10 NIV)
However, Scriptures do indicate that God will finally end Satan:
You defiled your sanctuaries with your many sins and your dishonest trade. So I brought fire out from within you, and it consumed you. I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All who knew you are appalled at your fate. You have come to a terrible end, and you will exist no more.” (Ezekiel 28:18-19)
Video games, like movies, allow us to interact with our fears and fantasies in a way that embodies imagination. They can also be time sinks, and present reality as we wish it to be, or as we misunderstand it. As far as Conditionalism is concerned, the lake of fire and the day of judgment are real entities. But as to a literal, fiery, eternal hell? We think you need to brush up on your hermeneutic.