Hans Frei: on hell
In a book on the thirty-nine articles, Hans Frei wrote three articles, one of which (on the resurrection) was published elsewhere. Two are available through Yale Divinity School, one on the descent into hell (Article III) and another on the Holy Ghost (Article V). His discussion of the former includes a marvelous statement on the relation between Jesus Christ and hell, in which he powerfully affirms that “there is no reality ungraced by Christ.” Here is a selection from this article.
Hell is not a very vivid doctrine or reality to many modern people to whom unjust and anonymous suffering, the eternal silence of the grave, or the irreversible scattering of one’s own and other people’s ashes after final illness and cremation are far more hellish and real. No matter. World pictures and myths change, though the dread embodied in them may not. In Christian confession what remains constant through all such changes is that all reality – whatever its shape – imaginable and unimaginable, good and evil, is referred to Jesus, God’s own Word, whose life and death on our behalf are adequate to protect us from the abyss. He is not only the representative but the inclusive human being into whose destiny we are all taken up, and as such, he is the all-embracing presence of God. ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things’ (Romans 11:36). In Christian confession there is no reality ungraced by Christ, no terror which he does not face on our behalf.
What is important is not that there be a real location called hell, so that someone could descend into it. Rather, Jesus Christ is so real – and therefore his cross so efficacious that he defines, undergoes, and overcomes whatever it is that is absolutely and unequivocally hellish.
—Hans Frei, “Article III: Of the Going Down of Christ into Hell,” YDS 12-186.