enter image description hereIn the Sandman, Season of Mists 07, after Lucifer gives the key of Hell to Dream, he gives it to the angels. At the end of the issue, one of the angels come up to one of the demons and says that he should not punish people for punishment's sake, he should punish them for redemption.

That was the old Hell. That was a place of mindless torture and purposeless pain. There will be no more wanton violence; no further suffering inflicted without reason or explanation.

And the person who is getting the punishment says:

But you don't understand. That makes it worse. That makes it so much worse...

What is the reason behind that? Maybe there's a language barrier or some biblical knowledge that I don't know, but I don't understand why getting a punishment for redemption is worse than getting a punishment for torture, and why the person getting punished would say that.

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    It's worse being punished by the good (for your own good) than by the evil (for their own amusement)
    – Valorum
    Apr 11, 2019 at 17:29
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    I haven’t read it nor have citations but perhaps because it means the punished have to actually face up to their sin and truly repent? Mindless punishment is so much more externalizable
    – Paul
    Apr 11, 2019 at 17:31
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    You know the saying "Go to heaven for the weather, hell for the company?" Imagine a place with hell's weather and heaven's company. Not an exact parallel, but I think it's a similar idea: The only good thing about hell is not have to deal with smug self-righteous prigs calling themselves angels. Now they take over, and instead of making it more humane, they do it all the same bad things in the name of your own good. Apr 11, 2019 at 19:37
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    If one is getting punished and in pain, it's easy to think it's because the punishment is unfair and it's only because your captors are evil and cruel. But then an angel tells you, no, you're going to suffer because you deserve it. It's your fault. That is psychologically worse (it's why abusers often use that line on their victims). Apr 11, 2019 at 20:38
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    one of these comments should probably be submitted as an answer. Apr 12, 2019 at 8:06

2 Answers 2


The comments from starpilotsix and Keith Morrison are both plausible readings. But there's a specific aspect of Gaiman's depiction of Hell that may be relevant too.

While he's closing down Hell and getting ready to hand over the key to Morpheus, Lucifer explains that the inmates are only there because, either consciously or unconsciously, they think they should be there. Lucifer and the demons didn't demand for them to be brought there, and don't care about their sins at all; but since they are there, and the demons are sadistic monsters, they get punished. One soul (an ancient ruthless dictator) insists that he should be allowed to stay, because of how horrible his crimes were, which seems to be his way of convincing himself he's an important person; Lucifer says no, nobody remembers you and your crimes weren't that big a deal, and he disappears.

So it's possible that the person you're talking about was afraid that under the new system, what's happening to them would no longer be controlled by their own beliefs about their sinfulness, but by someone else's - and that the idea of becoming a better person was threatening to their whole idea of who they were.

I'm not 100% convinced, though. Gaiman didn't try too hard to stay consistent to that idea - I don't think he was all that interested in the concept of Hell. So it may be that it was just about what those two commenters said; certainly that particular angel seems like a smug jerk.

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    Wow, shades of C.S.Lewis in The Great Divorce.
    – Spencer
    Jan 4, 2021 at 15:44

It's like when someone truly wounds you and then tell you "It's for your own good". It's easier to never think about pain, suffering, in the "why". The purpose. But here they are told directly that it truly is for their own good.

It's because of a host of things, but purpose in it's most abstract form is why.

Why are they getting punished? Because they feel they have too, that they deserve it. The cruel King even starts to weep because of how important this feeling it. How strong it is.

A true sensation of self-hatred, of despair, of being that monster that they've come to see themselves as. The monster that deserves this treatment. That they're there because they have to be, because of this.

The Angels tell them that yes, it is true.

Which partly is worse in that it's worse when someone else states that you're a horrible person and you know they're right, than when you think you're a horrible person but you're wrong.

But this purpose is now perverted, reversed. They're not there because they, truly, "want" it anymore, they're there because heaven demands it. They're there to become someone they do not feel they are, to become someone they do not feel they deserve to be. They've been given a gift they never asked for: Hope. And to someone who wishes to forget, to cease being, to give up, to not have to fight anymore, hope can be the cruelest of gifts.

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