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Hell is the Absence of God

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  1,474 ratings  ·  114 reviews
In a world much like our own, the existence of Heaven and Hell are objectively proven. Indeed, the souls in Hell can be seen, and angels occasionally come to Earth, typically causing a mixture of miraculous events and capricious disasters.
Audiobook, 30 pages
Published February 6th 2009 by Escape Artists, Inc. (first published July 2001)
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A Complete Philosophy of Miracles

I have mentioned elsewhere the surprising dearth of Christian studies about miracles ( This story by Ted Chiang goes a long way to filling that much needed gap in the market for religious thought. It is just about the most complete analysis of the subject - in a quasi-Socratic dialogue - that one could hope to find this side of the Last Judgment.

Chiang quite correctly prefers the more precise term of ‘visitation’ to that
Jan 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Which would you prefer: a judgemental God who causes suffering to sinners, or a reality where there is no justice at all?

Calvin: “Do you believe in the Devil... dedicated to the temptation corruption, and destruction of man?
Hobbes: “I'm not sure man needs the help.

This short story is a rational exploration of supernatural belief. As an earnest teen, I remember being told that “Hell is the absence of God”. I think it was meant to be more unsettling than fire and brimstone. Perhaps it was, but
Virginia Cavanillas
Superb. One of my favorite sci-fi shorts ever. I love the author, I love the way this Novella is written and I love the idea. Original and disturbing.

The existence of God has been scientifically proven and people know heaven and hell are real. But is it God a merciful being, or is he not? You know he exists but do you want to have faith in him? Love him? Because if you don’t you are going to hell. And what if your beloved partner goes to heaven but you don’t love God so you’re going to hell? Ar
6.0 stars. One of my all time favorite short stories. I had not read any of Ted Chiang's work before readign this story and now I am trying to get everything he has ever written. This is a powerful, emotional story that will stay with you long after you finish reading it. Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Award for Best Novelette. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION. ...more
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Perhaps, he thought, it would be better to live in a story where the righteous were rewarded and the sinners were punished, even if the criteria for righteousness and sinfulness eluded him, than to live in a reality where there was no justice at all.

An interesting story, to say the least. It's almost entirely allegorical in nature in that it is a presentation of ideas on the motivations for divine devotion, religious pursuit, and the nature of God. It's classified as a science fiction story thou
Valerie Baber
Oct 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a fantastic, thoughtful exploration of religion, it's purpose and possibilities. It's also a message about society, psychology and unconditional love. At first, it appeared to be a cynical view, but as I read, I detected more neutrality and it actually revealed itself to me as a diplomatic and moving story that motivates people from all beliefs to reexamine the meaning of their practices. ...more
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, 2000s, sci-fi
Ted Chiang is great at crafting worlds which function by different fundamental rules. This adheres wonderfully to that expectation. This is like as if an atheist had written C S Lewis' "The Great Divorce". Religion is objectively and obviously real. God is omnipotent, demands love, is not just or merciful, but is benevolent sometimes. Hell exists, but is not much different from Earth in most respects. The story follows the actions of a non-devout man who was married to a devout woman. She was (s ...more
Another short story included in the book Stories of Your Life and Others, this one is one of my more favorite stories in this collection. Another thought provoker, which many of the stories in this book seem to be, it explores a world where God is proven to be real, angels do exist and appear to the general public frequently, causing both miracles and mayhem at each appearance, and hell is also real and can often be seen by those still living. Souls also visably go to heaven or go to hell when s ...more
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: shorts
Another wonderful piece of flash fiction by Ted Chiang. In this short story, the existence of Heaven and Hell does not require faith as Angels visit earth and you can see souls ascend towards the light or darkness. The story captures the "issues" that arise from angelical visitors. ...more
Jul 16, 2019 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Dustin by: Jessica Mae Stover

The podcast featuring this exciting short story is available HERE:
Charles Loelius
Apr 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Hell is the Absence of God is, in my opinion, Ted Chiang's best work and one of the best science fiction stories I have ever read. On second thought, calling it science fiction is wrong on two counts, not only is it not quite science fiction, it is also one of the best stories I have read without qualification.

In short, he creates a world in which God exists, and then thoroughly takes it apart. In some sense an attack on God in both raising questions about why God doesn't show up and what might
Wow. It's certainly a new literary experience for me. If all those religious magic-realism stuff in Garcia Marquez's 'Hundred Years...' were to be compiled into one story universe and its logic followed to their conclusion, it would be the setting of this story.

I liked the very personal tone. You feel the conflicts and motivations of the characters immediately. In the face of assured eternity, where there's no longer doubt that heaven and hell exists, all that matters is the attitude one has. T
Christian West
Apr 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: e-book
An amazing short story set in a world where God, heaven and hell are provable, and angels move through the world causing miracles as they pass.
The plight of Neil, whose wife is killed by exploding glass when an angel appears, is both moving and realistic.
Oct 07, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
I listened to the podcast. I am still mystified by all sides of the argument. I have no idea what Ted Chiang feels based on this story.
Sep 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015, fantasy, reviewed
This satire on Theodicy is far weaker than Chiang's narrations covering e.g. linguistics or computer science.

My full review is at my blog
Faiza Sattar
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
★★★★☆ (4/5)

This is the story of a man named Neil Fisk, and how he came to love God. The pivotal event in Neil's life was an occurrence both terrible and ordinary: the death of his wife Sarah

In another masterpiece, Ted Chiang wonderfully balances religion and science, their amalgamation leading to questions that enshrine everyone’s curiosity. In the universe of “Hell is the Absence of God”, religious elements manifest physically in the world. Heaven’s light, Angel sightings, visions of Hell and H
Apr 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Instead Neil became actively resentful of God. Sarah had been the greatest blessing of his life, and God had taken her away. Now he was expected to love Him for it? For Neil, it was like having a kidnapper demand love as ransom for his wife's return. Obedience he might have managed, but sincere, heartfelt love? That was a ransom he couldn't pay.

"Hell is the Absence of God" adalah novela yang ditulis oleh Ted Chiang yang dipublikasikan pada 2001 dan memenangkan penghargaan Hugo dan Nebula di tahu
The premise of this book is that of a world in which God, heaven, hell, and angels all incontrovertibly exist. Visions into hell, sightings of angels and miracles are commonplace.

However, hell is not truly hell as Christians think of it -- it is simply a place in which God does not exist. Angels cause as much miraculous harm as they do miraculous healing. Fallen angels' only message is "think for yourselves."

The question then becomes can you or should you love God, knowing for certain that he ex
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Short story in Stories of your life and others

This story is about a man who loses his wife in a world where heaven, angels, god and all that other stuff is objectively proven. She goes to heaven, but since he doesn't love god, he's destined to go to hell and never see her again. The resulting story centres around his journey to rectify that situation.

I really liked this short story. I was debating between four and five stars for it due to how much it made me think. However, the 'twist' at the e
Nadine Jones
Day 13 in my 24 Days of Shorts

Apparently I stumbled upon a podcast instead of a short story? I REALLY need to curate my lists better than this.

read it for yourself here:

My 24 Days of Shorts
1. File N°002 by Sylvain Neuvel
2. File N°247 by Sylvain Neuvel
3. Skinner Box by Carole Johnstone
4. The Weight of Memories by Liu Cixin
5. A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong
6. If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho
Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
For some reason Ted Chiang's "Hell is the absence of" reminded me of Stanislaf Lem's Non Serviam. Why? They are totally different stories which raise the same point: if God actually existed would it really make any difference at all, or would the same people believe and the same people get along without him? Would the same questions about the meaning of the universe still be raised. Chiang does that here in a particularly vivid way by letting angels visit earth in violent events causing much col ...more
Srikkanth G
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
My first reaction, what the hell did I just read?

Angels visiting from heaven is described in more science fiction manner. Reminded me of a saucer descending from above causing havoc for many and smiles for few.

I just didn't get the whole stuff of angels and Gods and stuff like that. It's not for me and at to top it all, the guy seemed to have fallen in love for the god. What's the metaphor here? I couldn't figure it out.

One good thing is that the story doesn't drag and move quite fast.
Ravindu Gamage
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Is God just?

Ted Chiang is a master at building worlds governed by different sets of rules than ours. Worlds which seem similar to ours but are fundamentally different.

In this universe, it's proven that God exists. It is proven that heaven and hell exist. The god is omnipotent, selfish and unjust. Only being compassionate in order to make people love him. He demands love and casts those unruly to hell. The story is about a non-devout whose spouse was killed and was sent to heaven. He tries to ch
Jaromír Mayer
Dec 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
God in this story is like small kid having fly (humankind) in captivity and tearing its legs and wings apart and putting them back by miracle to tear them again only for one reason - to make fly love him unconditionally. But he is also able to make fly love him with special holy light, nevertheless it wouldn't be fun would it? ...more
Jacques Bezuidenhout
Read as part of Stories of Your Life and Others.

Going with an average rating as I'm not quite sure how this books make me feel.
It is always a bit uncomfortable when religion and fiction gets very mixed up.

It is definitely thought provoking. Which is probably where you start getting uncomfortable.

Very well written novella nonetheless.
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hugo-award, fiction
Shocking... Based on an original premise - what if angelic apparitions were a more commonplace event? What would the apparition's side effects be? How about their meaning? What if Heaven and Hell were less abstract? But what was shocking for me was what the novelette has to say about love, especially unconditional love. ...more
Feb 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Wow oh wow, do I ever love this concept. Will be looking for more by this author.
Feb 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a thought-provoking and original look into what a world with tangible religion would be like. We are introduced to a world where miracles, or 'visitations,' happen somewhat regularly - angels appear on the mortal plane and change some people's lives for the better directly (typical cures/miracles)... but many typically also are affected peripherally in both good and sometimes fatal ways. God, Heaven, and Hell all exist, and are accepted as a fact of life. Chiang examines what having a prove ...more
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Bitch if you were just going to say hell is the abscence of God and that's unbearable you coulda just said that instead of making me read this stupid ass story that didn't actually tell me how hell is the absence of God what exactly is devoid of God? ...more
Kristina Spralja
Aug 13, 2017 added it
Recommends it for: everyone, esp humanists
One of the most thought-provoking stories I have ever read. Certainly worth putting the time and effort into reading. While I do agree that the absence of God in the sense of genuine devotion from one's life can be compared to what Hell would feel like, I do believe that some theological aspects were twisted for the purposes of storytelling (this is fiction after all). It's impossible to imagine a 'being' of higher consciousness showing less compassion than a mere mortal human. A God that's indi ...more
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Ted Chiang is an American speculative fiction writer. His Chinese name is Chiang Feng-nan. He graduated from Brown University with a Computer Science degree. He currently works as a technical writer in the software industry and resides in Bellevue, near Seattle, Washington. He is a graduate of the noted Clarion Writers Workshop (1989).

Although not a prolific author, having published only eleven sh

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