Dan Brown’s fictional thriller Inferno uses Dante’s Inferno from the Divine Comedy as the basis for the main puzzle in the book. If you have read any of Brown’s books in the Robert Langdon series (Angels & Demons, the infamous The DaVinci Code, or The Lost Symbol), you know that the main character Langdon is a Harvard professor who specializes in symbology, and he deciphers clues in ancient documents to solve some crisis or problem. So, Brown’s Inferno frequently references Dante’s work as the basis for the mystery within the book. After reading Brown’s work, I decided to fix a hole in my literary exposure and read Dante’s classic — and yes, I’m sorry to say that it didn’t happen the other way around (Dante leading me to Brown).
I’m halfway through Dante’s Inferno, and I can tell that I will need to read it two or three times in order to soak in all the imagery. Dante’s Inferno is the author’s description of what he witnessed while taking a site-seeing tour through the boughs of hell. Here’s a few observations so far:
- Dante depicts 9 different layers in hell. That hell may have levels of punishment based upon the degree of rebellion against God is not clearly taught in Scripture, but some have surmised this teaching in a passage like Luke 12:47-48. In some ways, it’s a doctrine that we seem to want to exist. The concept that the punishment fits the crime exhibits some sense of fairness in our minds. It may also be that all continual rebellion and denial against God will receive a similar response.
- Unscrupulous religious leaders are often found in torment. Jesus seems to suggest the same reality when he challenged the major religious leaders of his day. It’s not that Dante invented this truth, but it is still sobering for a preacher and anyone heavily involved in church.
- There are many sins mentioned by Dante that we might not classify as sins today. He talks about gluttons, those who fail to practice moderation, and those who teach false doctrines. Failure to practice moderation has become an American way of life. The number of opinions and teachings have mushroomed in our age with the explosion of the internet.
- Dante also indicates that sin will continue to torment people in hell. Hatred, selfishness, and greed are completely unsatisfying and destructive, and these sins will have their full effect in the afterlife. This is a theme that C. S. Lewis will pick up in a book like The Great Divorce.
It’s interesting to picture and imagine what heaven and hell will be like, and I think it can be beneficial to do so. The Bible presents images like golden streets and lakes of fire, but these are intended to be images that evoke a response. They are not so much literal descriptions as images the approximate the realities in our feeble minds. I believe that the realities of both heaven and hell will likely exceed our expectations and imaginings.