So what exactly is the suffering in hell?

The way I have seen hell portrayed in this forum seems to take on two different forms.
In one, hell is a place of separation from God and the suffering is in the separation itself.
In the other hell is a place where suffering is inflicted upon the sinner (presumably by something or someone else).

So which is it?

Can it be both? Why?

Pope John Paul II explained this really well during a set of weekly audiences:

By using images, the New Testament presents the place destined for evildoers as a fiery furnace, where people will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41), or like Gehenna with its “unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43). All this is narrated in the parable of the rich man, which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain (cf. Lk. 16:19-3 1).

The Book of Revelation also figuratively portrays in a “pool of fire” those who exclude themselves from the book of life, thus meeting with a “second death” (Rv. 20:13f.). Whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for 'eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thes 1:9).

  1. The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather* than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (n. 1033).

“Eternal damnation”, therefore, is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.

You can read the whole thing here:

I also read a chilling account of what Hell is, recounted by a demon, in Gabriele Amorth’s book An Exorcist Tells His Story which lucidly describes Hell in the same terms John Paul II does above. Quite chilling!

In my view it is both but not in any sort of distinct and seperate way.
Once a person has knowingly rejected God, and is condemned to hell, the knoweldge itself becomes torment. Having seent he beatific vision at judgement and knowing that hell is the destination, that seperation from God is, in and of itself the greatest torment.
Then we come to guilt. The recognition that it was your own actions, your own deeds, your own thougths, your own decision that landed you there becomes the torment you inflict on yourself. In addition because you are now permanently "locked in’ to this mode, you cannot help but torment others for they, in a very real sense, helped you get there by their ungodly actions that you concurred with.

Images of Hell, by there nature and by their brevity (to those exposed to them), need to be quickly and firmly recognizable as somthing to be avoided. “Fire and Brimstone”, Lakes of fires, demons with pitchforks, etc are all good strong images that convey what God wished to convey to us.
The images may well be perfectly accurate, or they may be purely alegorical, or they may be something in between. (My feeling it is the third) But in any case, it is something to be dilligently avoided by turning our eyes to God and seeking to please Him in all that we think and do. And THAT is the whole point.


Being separated from God.

Humans in hell will still have their human nature and so they will have body and soul. Suffering will be both physical and spiritual. It is going to be ugly.

So it is consensus that there will be no one inflicting torture to anyone but themselves.

If I find myself in hell, there is no one torturing me but me?

The devils will be there and they will enjoy torturing the damned. Choosing something does not always mean self-inflicting.

We’re all sort of guessing here. None of us knows what it will be like to be in a place where God is not. No matter how bad it is here on earth, God is still here. As we are told in Romans 5:20, where sin abounds, grace does more abound. However, that will not be true in hell. There will only be sin and separation from God. It doesn’t much matter what anyone else does to us in hell. There can be nothing worse than being completely and totally separated from God. Think of a place with no love, no kindness, no caring. As bad as any suffering has ever been on this world, we have nothing to compare to hell, because God’s grace and mercy is always available to us in this life and on this earth. There will be no access to God whatsoever in hell.

We don’t have to speculate on how awful hell is,…we just know it is.

We need to focus on growing in holiness using all the means the Lord has given us to do so.

Amen to this. Why speculate if you hold your own and in a fire or someone else does it to you. The thing to do is to avoid the siuation.


True enough.
But, in another thread it seems it makes a difference if the punishments are self inflicted or inflicted upon us.

Is the punishment a result of the condition or is there an actual torturer on the scene.

God sends us to be punished forever as opposed to God allowing us to leave him forever (thereby torturing ourselves).

The concept of a sane individual choosing torture in it’s various forms (hell) is ludicrous. Unless, they do not know of what they are choosing when they choose it. Which of course is not a choice at all.

IMO - This is a very vague and confusing concept in Catholic doctrine. Vague and confusiing enough to cast doubt on all else. There are those who imply most will go there, including Augustine. Which logically means most will choose to go there; which logically means most choose to burn in hell fire. Why don’t these individuals practice by smashing thier fingers with a hammer over and over again? Or lighting themselves on fire. Sounds ridiculous I know, but how it is different, I’d have to ask.

Something wrong with this picture. :frowning:

It is not ludicrous at all! It is simply not caring of about the consequences of specific choices. When I decide to do something I accept the consequences even if I do not like them. Saying that I am going to make the choice but that I will not accept the consequences it is a lie to myself and others. Acceptance is not liking something but it is the knowledge that something will happen because of my choice and making that choice anyway.

I disagree with this. I think it is very important to remember what our fate is without the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Why do you think our Lady of Fatima showed hell to the children? Just speaking personally, knowing that my fate could easily be hell helps me to love my Saviour even more, and to want to grow more in holiness. I wish we could hear about hell once in a while from the pulpit. Just as I wish I could hear about sin once in a while.

Perhaps. But does that mean the tortures are inflicted upon them?
Or is the torture self inflicted?

And of course there is something wrong with the picture.
People choosing self over God. But I see people do stupid things everyday.

Do you understand that without the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are all doomed to hell? That is what original sin is all about. Before baptism, we are owned by the devil. Baptism frees us from the devil and makes us children of God. There is nothing any of us can do of and by ourselves to be freed from the devil and from hell.

I don’t know anything about “choosing torture,” but it is true that even though our fate outside of Christ’s Sacrifice is hell, God’s love and mercy is so great that no one will go to hell unless they have chosen it. Christ taught us through St. Faustina that he is offering his mercy and love to us every moment of our lives, right up to our last breath.

Have you ever chosen to sin? I know I have, and yes, I have chosen mortal sin. That means I have chosen hell. And so has everyone on this earth. But even though I was in the state of mortal sin, Christ still offered his forgiveness to me, and I chose to accept it.

You’re right, many great saints have said most will choose to go hell. In fact our Lord himself said that: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Mt. 7:13 says: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”

If you’re really interested, here is a sermon given by St. Leonard of Port Maurice called: “The Few Who Are Saved”

This position is not unacceptable from the standpoint of spiritual growth. The fact is that many begin their faith journey by seeking to avoid hell. It is a common and natural reaction in a spiritually imature person. However as one grows and journeys closer to God, this fear should be increasingly replaced iwth Love until the fear of hell disappears altogether.
This appears to be the journey you are on now.


I cannot fathom why a distinction makes a difference. Just as the Joy of heaven surpasses our understanding, so do the torments of hell.
As to who does what to whom, consider this:
Hell is the opposite of heaven.
In heaven Love will pour from God and ffrom all of those perfected in His Love. It will flow freely to, around and through the saints being refelcted, in full force back to God the Creator, so that all participate in this love equally.
Now consider what the exact opposite of this will be in hell.
Hate flow as freely there as Love in heaven. All participate fully in that hate and loathing. None will be sapred and the torments inflcited will be both personal and interpersonal.
At least taht is my take on it.


I’ve heard that there is additional suffering in Hell than simply a separation from God. However, I tend to see it all as primarily self-inflicted suffering. And honestly, I can’t imagine a worse form of suffering than being eternally separated from God. I don’t see why anymore would be needed.

I find your comment extremely insulting and ask that you apologize. Again I ask, why did our Lady of Fatima show hell to the children? Why do so many saints write about hell? St. Faustina was shown visions of hell:

"Today, I was led by an angel to the Chasms of Hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw:
The First Torture that constitutes hell is:
The loss of God.
The Second is:
Perpetual remorse of conscience.
The Third is
That one’s condition will never change.
The Fourth is:
The fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it. A terrible suffering since it is a purely spiritual fire, lit by God’s anger.
The Fifth Torture is:
Continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own.
The Sixth Torture is:
The constant company of Satan.
The Seventh Torture is:
Horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies.
These are the Tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings.

Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like…how terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God’s mercy upon them. O My Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend you by the least sin" (Diary 741)

Maybe she was just showing her spiritual immaturity by writing these things.

Yes, we do start with fear of hell. My love for Christ has grown because I realized what he has saved me from.

And maybe the real reason you wrote what you wrote is because you don’t want to think about hell. Well, none of us do, but I think it is important. Please, do not make such harsh judgments about me or anyone else.

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