Hell Houses and Angry Gods

Burning Buildings

I never heard about Hell Houses until recently. They’re like a haunted house attraction but Christians run them to scare the hell out of sinners. They can focus on social evils like drug use and gambling. Or they may take a more spiritual stance, as with Judgement House. They describe their event as a “walk-through dramatic presentations in which a guide helps audience members follow the story or scene being shared.” 

The response of outsiders to these religious Hell Houses has been mixed. iHorror, a “top source for the best horror movie news and horror TV series news”, asks: Really Wanna Be Terrified? Check Out These Christian Hell Houses over Halloween. On the other hand, the Guardian has a less enthusiastic experience of a Texas hell house, where wayward Christians are scared straight. 

Secular Hell Houses

I personally have experienced what I might call ‘secular versions’ of hell houses. These were always for entertainment purposes rather to teach me some moral or spiritual truth. As a boy, my brother and I enjoyed the Ghost Train at Barry’s Amusements in Portrush. Opened in 1968, this is described in its Wikipedia entry as: 

“A dark ride in which a train moves slowly through a tunnel decorated with horror-related items including model skeletons, witches and ghosts; updated in 2018 to include bigger scares such as Count Dracula and The Grim Reaper.” 

I was also taken on a family holiday to the famous Chamber of Horrors in Madame Tussauds, London. Not only does it include scary waxworks, but also replica instruments of torture and recording of actors’ groans or screams. But, more recently, it had live actors in macabre make-up and costumes lurch at visitors from prison cells and padded cells. Not suitable for children, pregnant women, and those with heart conditions and high blood pressure! 

The London Dungeon, which we also visited, gives off a similar vibe, with waxworks and sound effects. Over there years, it housed scenes related to the Great Plague, torture chambers, the Great Fire, surgical blood and guts, Newgate prison, and the madhouse of Bedlam. Jack the Ripper, Sweeny Todd and Bloody Mary have all had their special exhibitions. 

As an adult, the closest to a Hell House I’ve experienced is in the form of Escape Rooms. Although these interactive exit games can take any form, many have a horror theme. For instance, you may have to solve a grisly murder, catch a serial killer, or plan a prison escape. Other have a zombie virus or a haunted house theme. Although room challenges are more mental than physical, some horror-themes various may include escaping from handcuffs to the sound of screams. 

Hell Houses in Literature

There are many other forms of haunted attraction such as corn mazes, ghost runs, spook shows, and theme parks (‘screamparks’). But for those of a more highbrow disposition, there are some literary classics that take you on a similar journey. Only this time, the fear is in your own head as you read.  

  • The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is a journey from the City of Destruction to the River of Death and beyond. One place mentioned is the Valley of the Shadow of Death, which is inhabited by with demons, monsters, hobgoblins, and beasts from the mouth of hell. It is filled with darkness and terror, with quicksand on one said and a chasm on the other. 
  • The Inferno by Dante is a guided tour though the nine circles of hell, where every sin receives a fitting and horrifying punishment. For instance, in the Eighth Circle (Fraud), thieves who spent their lives stealing from others now have their substance sucked out by monstrous lizards and snakes. 

But if you want a real theological Hell House experience, I suggest you read an infamous sermon by Jonathan Edwards called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (or, better, listen to it). There, you’ll find the most vivid imagery to do with hell and damnation. Edwards’ figurative descriptions include a wide pit and a bottomless gulf, a bursting dam, spider’s webs, falling rocks, hungry lions, crushed worms and ants, a burning furnace, and a fiery lake. Behind all this, there’s an angry God, full of bloodlust, with bow bent, ready to fire his arrows of death and hell towards you at any moment. 

Hell Houses and Jesus

All this doesn’t sound very Christian, very Christ like, does it? 

Well, actually… it does. Source? 

I’ll end with a few words from the sermons of Jesus. 

And fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28

And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 

Matthew 13:42, 50

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. 

Matthew 25:41

And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 

Mark 9:48

And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 

Luke 16:23-24

No wonder it says that after Jesus finished his hell-fire sermons, the crowds were panic-stricken and struck with astonishment! (Matthew 7:28; 22:23; Mark 1:22; Like 4:3-32) 

Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

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