Hell Itself

I have here an email which reads:

“Sean, you often write of angels and miracles, and today, of Heaven. But if Heaven and angels are real, which I do believe, then Hell and demons must also be real. I guess writing about those is less fun? People don’t like to think about those ideas. But presenting only one side of the spiritual realm is perhaps misleading?”

After reading the above letter, I realized something important. I have never written about hell. Over the years I’ve written about angels, miracles, cancer survivors, dogs, play-off games, small towns, and eyebrow hair. But never hell.

To verify that this was true, I had my research department, Jamie Martin Dietrich, comb through a decade’s worth of columns. The research department determined that—unless you count columns on the NCAA National Championship—I have never written about hell.

Thus, I am going to tell you a true anecdote about hell, a place which, I can assure you, is real. I know this because I visited hell a few months ago when I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to register a boat trailer.

No sooner had I entered the DMV than the clerk said, “Take a number and get in line!” And I knew I was in purgatory.

So there I was, standing in a line of tormented souls, all waiting for our numbers to be called. This line was longer than the line to the men’s room at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

I was alongside people who were unshaven and disheveled, gnashing their teeth, and surviving on vending machine food. I met an elderly man who had been standing in line to register his Ford Station Wagon since 1954.

After 40 days and 40 nights of waiting, I was finally invited to approach a teller window.

I told the clerk I wanted to register my boat trailer.

She managed to say her next sentence in one, eye-rolling sigh. “Do you have proof of registration?”

I explained that, no, I didn’t have registration because I originally bought my boat on craigslist in Alabama, a state which doesn’t require registration on boat trailers.

She answered, and I quote: “Sir, the trailer must be registered before we can register it.”

Welcome to hell.

So the following day, I drove three hours into Alabama to get this squared away. I contacted the former owner of the boat to accompany me to the local DMV.

The teller in Alabama was much like the woman in Florida. She had the same trademarked cheerful disposition. Same hairdo. Same make and model of pitchfork.

“I can’t register this trailer,” the clerk said, “because it hasn’t been registered.”

This was beginning to feel like an Abbot and Costello routine.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “I just want to register my boat trailer, why is this so hard?”

“Sir, we don’t require registration on boat trailers in Alabama.”

“I know that, but I NEED this registration because I live in Florida.”

Another eye roll. “Then what are you doing in Alabama?”

Give me strength.

So I threw myself upon her mercy and explained my problem in painstaking detail. To her credit, she heard me out. Then, in a display of genuine compassion, the kind of human tenderness that makes you proud to be an American, she said, “NEXT IN LINE?!”

I called my cousin, Ed Lee, about the ordeal.

“Boy, oh, boy,” Ed Lee said, “what a mess. I wish you’d called me first, I could have saved you some trouble.”

My cousin is a veteran boat buyer. He has purchased four boats in Alabama and knew exactly what to do.

So the following morning, Ed Lee came to my house with a plasma cutter, an angle grinder, a sledge hammer, and a welding mask. Together we cut up the boat trailer into tiny pieces and hauled it away to the county dump.

Still, if I’m being honest, my favorite description of hades is my grandfather’s description. Which I will share with you.

Granddaddy delivered this particular description one Wednesday night at church, just before he said the prayer at a potluck.

“Hell is not a place of flames and devils,” my grandfather began. “I believe hell is a big dining hall, a lot like this room we’re standing in now.

“I believe hell has the biggest feast you ever saw, all the finest foods, steaming and ready to eat. Except something’s wrong. Everyone in hell is weeping and fighting, because nobody can eat this delicious food. Because their arms won’t bend.”

While potluck guests were thinking about this, my grandfather explained that heaven is no different than hell.

“In heaven I think it’s the same way,” he said. “Heaven has the same feasting table, the same wonderful foods, the same problem of not being able to bend your stiff arms. Only up in heaven nobody is crying.”

“Why not?” someone asked.

“Because,” my grandfather said, “in heaven everyone feeds each other.”

Admittedly, I know nothing of the afterlife, and I think we can all agree that I’m unqualified to make insightful remarks on the subject. There is one thing, however, I know for certain about hell. The doors are locked from the inside.

Just like the doors of the DMV.


  1. Susan - February 19, 2022 6:34 am

    After torturing myself for years with DMV, I fully concur!!! Hell on earth!

  2. Larry Wall - February 19, 2022 6:58 am

    Darn it, Sean, we don’t know why you were trying to register the trailer in the first place. You must not have needed it too badly if you cut into pieces and dumped it. Were you planning on pulling it to the ‘Ham for use there? And perhaps today’s fable is slightly askew. ( :- ) Regardless, you are correct about all DMVs. Pits of misery.

  3. D. Green - February 19, 2022 11:44 am

    True wisdom: “There is one thing, however, I know for certain about hell. The doors are locked from the inside.” Thank you for another great column.

  4. Leigh Amiot - February 19, 2022 11:53 am

    Hilarious illustration.

    Though you haven’t specifically and often mentioned the hell spoken of in the Bible, you’ve many times written about people’s triumph over various hells on earth, a number of those emanating from the general direction of actual hell in my opinion. Some trials may have been permitted by the ruler in heaven, see the book of Job. Many have experienced the feeling or illusion of the absence of God, torment. That would be hell, not somewhere I care to go. Perhaps all these experiences are meant to direct us to Him, at least that is my take on this life. It is my firm belief that Jesus Christ is the route there.

    A person needs to come to that conclusion on their own. Strong arming with the threat of hell might not work. For me, the words of the Bible create the clearest lens through which I see and interpret this life. No one will ever understand all of it, many will pull parts out of context in an attempt to refute the story of mankind. If you trust in the Internet, Abraham Lincoln appears to have struggled with belief, but I cherish a quote of his about the Bible: “Take all that you can of this book upon reason, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier man.”

  5. Paul McCutchen - February 19, 2022 1:07 pm

    I haven’t had the same experience at the DMV here. I bought a truck in Alabama from my cousin. Being in Georgia I went to the DMV. I did wait for a while but the lady was nice and gave me the forms I needed. I got a officer to come over and inspect the truck because it was an out of state truck. After that I went and got back in line and got my tags. Maybe because I am retired my timetable is pushed to the side. You have seen us in lines, we are the old people visiting with everyone.

    • susan - February 19, 2022 3:40 pm

      That’s AWESOME, Paul!

  6. Kathy Croft - February 19, 2022 1:40 pm

    Sooo very true! We have had similar experiences in Baldwin Co. It’s almost as if the people working are there to see how many times they can make you come back & stand/sit for your number to be called. Once when I lived in Montgomery I watched as there were probably 20 people waiting & one of the workers walked away from the window for her break. Sat back & ate her peanut butter crackers & coke as the long grew larger! Ugh

  7. Bj - February 19, 2022 1:57 pm

    The Bible tells us heaven will be more beautiful than we can imagine. All will be peace and joy. It also tells us Hell is not a place we want to go! No rest, just terrible turmoil. So because Jesus died for me, I’m going to Heaven!

  8. Linda Lewis - February 19, 2022 2:02 pm

    Oh, I love your writing.

  9. Jan - February 19, 2022 2:14 pm

    Very thought provoking! Thank you Lord, for helping me get to Heaven!
    (and for not letting me get a boat trailer)

  10. Charlotte Virginia McCraw - February 19, 2022 2:15 pm

    You did it again, Sean. I nearly salivate when I see “Sean of the South” waiting in my inbox for my morning reading pleasure. I rush to the kitchen, make a cup of coffee, and bring it back to my computer, along with my breakfast of nuts and berries and dark chocolate. I settle in to read your post, knowing that I will smile or laugh out loud . . and tear up on some. It is such a lovely way to start my day. Thank you. Hope your move to Alabama is moving along smoothly.

  11. Joyce+hodder - February 19, 2022 3:06 pm

    Thanks for my first good laugh of the day.

  12. Robert Smyth - February 19, 2022 3:07 pm

    Been there, Done that. THANKS

  13. Norma Den - February 19, 2022 3:12 pm

    Wow, good to know about your DMV experience. Here in South Africa, we get in long lines for everything to do with vehicles. Thought it was just our incompetent departments. Must be a World wide thing. Yay life in RSA not so different after all.🇿🇦🇿🇦🇿🇦 I’m keeping this blog to show fellow residents that we are no different to prosperous countries in first world.

  14. Shelton A. - February 19, 2022 3:19 pm

    Enduring the renewal of a license in Florida is indeed a visit to both purgatory and hell. Simple things (you so foolishly believe) are not. Going to renew anything which requires at visit to DMV is just the worst. Occasionally you get someone who is kind and hell meets heaven. Once, in all my wonderful visits to DMV, have I had this happen. I’ve lived in the Sunshine state almost 35 years. Enough said. Sean, you may not know about the afterlife, but you do know hell on earth. God bless.

  15. BEX - February 19, 2022 3:21 pm

    I like your grandfather’s explanation of Hell and Heaven. Now if we, the living, could and should, help others when we can and stay OUT of other people’s business when we should, be nice and smile more, I believe the world would be a better place! Many thanks to your research dept, Jamie! GOD bless!

  16. Jeff Webb - February 19, 2022 3:37 pm

    Two wonderful analogies.

  17. SUSAN - February 19, 2022 3:46 pm

    In ALACHUA COUNTY, FLORIDA we have the BEST tax, tag and registration offices in the WORLD!

  18. Sue Adams - February 19, 2022 4:37 pm

    Thank you for sharing your incredible gift .

  19. Stacey Wallace - February 19, 2022 4:37 pm

    Sean, unfortunately, hell is just as real as Heaven, In order to avoid hell and instead live eternity in Heaven, you just have to do three simple things: 1. Admit that you are a sinner; 2. Believe that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, died for your sins and was resurrected; 3. Confess your sins and ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. That’s it, and believe me, I am 59, and Jesus never lets me down, and He never will. Love to you and Jamie.

  20. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - February 19, 2022 5:46 pm

  21. JACKIE LEON DARNELL - February 19, 2022 5:59 pm

    Hey Dude, I have told EVERYONE Florida has the best DMV in the world. You just haven’t tried in NC or VA! Just sayin.. 😉

  22. Linda Moon - February 19, 2022 6:14 pm

    Your researcher is brilliant and a good wife to do research for her husband. My former-teacher’s inquisitive mind is wondering if anyone ever did your homework for you, say, in 4th grade. And I’m laughing out loud (REALLY LOUD) about Who’s On First there at the DMV and your grandfather’s descriptions of hell and heaven, too! If you need boat-trailers or help with boats, Sean, contact My Guy. Please. And if you’d like, make him an offer. Please. I’m thanking you in advance for doing this, and I’ll unlock the door for you to enter into His Cave where he’ll be waiting.

  23. Peggy ALEXANDER - February 19, 2022 7:05 pm

    Hell( The lake of fire and brimstone) is real, and if you are NOT Born again of the water(Baptized in the NAME of JESUS for the REMISSION of the SINS you repented of) and of the SPIRIT (Receiving the HOLY GHOST with the evidence of speaking in tongues, you will not go to heaven. You will go to Hell to be with the devil and his demon Forever. Sin will not be in heaven. John 3:1-7 and Acts2:38

  24. Peggy ALEXANDER - February 19, 2022 7:15 pm

    Yes, HELL is real. Burning with fire and brimstone FOREVER. No it isn’t the little things we go through on earth. I t is torment. The devil and his demons will be there. To miss it you got to repent of your sins and quit sinning. Be born again of the water and the spirit (being baptized in the name of Jesus and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. John 3:1-7 and Acts 2:38-39

  25. Susan W Fitch - February 19, 2022 7:59 pm

    Our Virginia DMV rivals yours! Years ago I bought a Carolina skiff with a trailer. The boat agent gave me the titles to both, but, alas, he gave me a title to a different trailer. Stupid me, I didn’t read that “title “ and discovered (after a hour’s wait) I found out that the title wasn’t for my trailer! I went home, made phone calls to the agent, went by to see him and he had no idea how to proceed. DMV couldn’t do anything but our local tax department taxed me for 2 trailers! I visited the department and explained to the commissioner what had happened and she said, I know him, I’m not surprised! So, she removed the wrong trailer off my bill. I have a trailer with the wrong title and a permanent license plate on it!

  26. johnallenberry - February 19, 2022 8:46 pm

    I reckon he didn’t know what kind of work you do here. Most folks read this to forget about the everyday ordinary hell of their lives.Yours is not to warn people away from the fiery depths here, although it’s always a noble act. It’s to alleviate the hell that most folks are facing all the time.

    Still, I hold with your Grandfather’s description.

  27. Madonna Haley - February 19, 2022 9:04 pm

    I agree with Peggy! That’s what it takes if you want to make it to heaven! Hell is a real place! Having the Holy Ghost is how you will hear the trumpet sound it will quicken your mortal body! It is very important that the name of JESUS is called over you in baptismal! Power in the name , do all things in the name of Jesus! You must live a life that is pleasing unto God not man!

  28. Becky+Souders - February 19, 2022 9:11 pm

    Your words today reminded me of my late husband’s words: “If you don’t believe in Hell, you can’t believe in Heaven.” Thanks for resurrecting that memory.

  29. David Feder - February 20, 2022 4:23 am

    this column is an excellent example of why you are such a superior writer. Not once did you call out letter writers complete failure of logic, the idea that the existence of Heaven would constitute proof of Hell. Kind of akin to saying that the proof of the existence of England constitutes proof of the existence of Atlantis. Instead, you broke the ice and the tension with a fun and gentle anecdote and followed it with a famous homily recreated as a personal history. Had you left it there, it could’ve been deemed gentle ridicule of the letter writer. Instead, Showing insight and kindness, you introduced a succinct, yet deeply insightful concept (original?) of the doors of Hell being locked on the inside that betrayed strong and positive religious basis and was instructive rather than admonishing. If you ever tire off of your current career (Heaven forbid!) you would make a fantastic member of the clergy.

  30. Louisa Hinely - February 20, 2022 7:08 am

    I laughed with tears running down… but until you’ve visited a DMV in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you’ve only been in purgatory! Imagine my shock – having previously only lived in the south – to discover that I had to GO IN PERSON FOUR SEPARATE TIMES to endure the same ordeal you’ve so beautifully described in order to get a drivers license (all during their “working hours” of course): First to make an appointment. Then to apply for the license. Then to take the test for the license & have my picture taken for the license. And finally to pick UP the license. By contrast, a few years before this I had gotten a new license in Georgia where I walked in one end of a portable building, showed my Florida license & proof of my new address, took the license exam by video, had my photo taken, and got a temporary license at the other end of the building before exiting. They mailed me my permanent one. That’s the “backwards South” for ya!😆

  31. suzi - February 20, 2022 12:56 pm

    I believe your granddaddy was on to something! We really could have “heaven on earth” if we would just live vision # 2

  32. Joan Mitchell - February 21, 2022 7:05 pm

    Thank you for making me laugh A LOT on an otherwise dismal day in Montgomery. In Heaven I just know people laugh a lot.

  33. D. E. Thompson - February 23, 2022 4:49 am

    I don’t believe in hell and I feel sorry for people who think it’s real. It’s not. I have a friend who actually died [Anita Moorjani, not a Christian] and was clinically dead for a while, and came back. I believe what she said about that experience. She said it was a place of perfect peace and love, and all souls go there. We come back again and again and we learn new things in each incarnation.

    • Elaine - February 24, 2022 8:31 pm

      D.E.Thompson I pray you find Jesus (and the truth about Hell) before it’s too late. Hell is very real. And Jesus is coming back VERY soon and everyone who does not know HIM as their Lord and Savior will experience hell first hand.


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