A lot of Christians like to threaten us with eternal pain and punishment in the fiery pit of Hell, but do they know anything about the origins of the concept? Do you? Here's a bit to add to your arsenal of information if you don't already know...
First of all, Hell is a real place. It's true! Rob Bell
, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church (author of Velvet Elvis
), says this:
"The word hell is found fourteen times in the Bible [the NT, really], twelve of those occurrences being found in the teachings of Jesus. The word hell in English is the word gehenna
in Greek. Gehenna is a reference to the Valley of Hinnom, a ravine on the south side of the city of Jerusalem. This valley was the site over the years of many violent and horrible deaths, and it came to be viewed as cursed. By Jesus' day it had become the town dump. Garbage, trash, wild animals fighting over scraps of food, a fire burning-a place of waste and destruction. Some referred to it as the place with the gnashing of teeth where the fire never dies. So when Jesus uses gehenna, it is loaded with meaning and visual power-everybody knew what he was talking about. The translator is faced with a decision about how to translate the word. If he or she uses the word hell, later readers might miss the fact that Jesus is talking about a present reality. If the word gehenna is used, readers might understand the present, geographical meaning of the word but miss the bigger implications."
Now, the author of the above passage is a pretty controversial figure in Christendom, and one of the reasons I wandered off "the path" to begin with. He's got a pretty liberal view of Jesus and Christianity, but not without data to back up his claims.
The online Jewish Encyclopedia
has something interesting things to say as well, such as: there's continually rising smoke in this area, and the smell of sulfur hangs in the air... kinda like what mineral springs smell like... hmmm... Lake of Fire, mineral springs... ? Do we see a correlation? Nahhh.
Here's the Wikipedia
I'm sure there are already tons of Christians out there trying to discredit the idea that Hell is a physical place that you can just walk to the mouth of and take a big whiff of. They really just don't like being wrong; old habits (or ideas) die hard. Back in the day, believing Hell was a place you could really visit (or fall into) seemed plausible; there were a lot of inexplicable natural formations that were daunting and life-threatening. Anything surrounded in mystery was connected to the supernatural due to lack of explanation. Today, we're past believing that, if we dance enough, rain will fall. We no longer think that walking through a triangle (formed by a ladder leaning on a wall or a fallen tree leaning on another) will lead us into another dimension. So, believing that Hell is a real place actually makes it less ominous. As long as it lingers in the unknown realm of the gods, demons and angels, people will believe it; place it in our world, where we can touch and test it, it becomes demystified and, therefore... bunk.
We can falsify Hell by finding its real location. Ironic? I think so.