Earlier I mentioned the unpopularity of the topic of repentance both inside and outside the church today. An even more hair-raising, gut-wrenching topic, offering a greater challenge to our culture’s sensibilities is the idea that an all-loving, all-merciful God would send people to some hell for all eternity. Shall we pour a cup of coffee and talk about Hell for a moment?
How can a merciful God possible allow people to be tortured indefinitely in the fires of hell? It may be helpful to come at this issue with a greater understanding of the metaphor the New Testament uses to describe the nature of hell.
In the New Testament, the Greek word usually translated “hell” is Gehenna, which itself comes from the Hebrew phrase meaning “the Valley of Hinnom.” In the Old Testament, this valley located just southwest of Jerusalem, was the place where the Canaanites worshiped the gods Baal and Molech by sacrificing their children in a fire that burned continuously. In Jesus’ day the valley of Hinnom was literally the garbage dump of Jerusalem. All of the filth and garbage of the city was thrown into this landfill. Animal carcasses and executed criminals alike were left to be consumed by the fire that constantly burned or eaten by maggots. Hence, it was quite literally a place where “their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched” (Mk 9:48).
When Jesus speaks of the abode of the lost, describing those who reject God’s offer of salvation, he draws from the imagery of this well known garbage dump. Why did Jesus choose this particular image to describe the eternal abode of the damned? What, if anything, does this tell us about the real nature of hell? Stay tuned.
NEXT: “A Scissors That Won’t Cut”