One of the words which we nowadays translate as ‘hell’ is the Greek word ‘Gehenna’. In the context of Jesus’s day, it was used to refer to the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem, which was situated in a place called the Valley of Hinnom; ‘Gehenna’ is the Greek translation of that idea. Gey Ben Hinnom – The Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to give it its full (anglicised) title – was used in ancient times for idol worship and vile practices such as child sacrifices, as such it was seen as an unclean place of wastage and decay. It was of course known as somewhere to be avoided!
I’m not going to go into the whys and the wherefores of the existence or non-existence of hell, or any other discussion on the concept of the eternal destiny of human souls. Today, I want to talk about hell which is present today in real life. The concept of Gehenna is seen wherever human life is wasted, wherever precious souls are consigned to the ‘rubbish dump’ as being worthless. It’s seen when sufficient value is not attached to human lives, when people are not appreciated, where people are abused, in the bondage of slavery; either real slaves, which does go on today, let me tell you – or just people who are underpaid and whose work goes unappreciated, or people who are subjected to unjust working conditions such as zero-hours contracts.
So, I think a lot of what Gehenna means is the hell of wasted lives. There’s a bloke I know, who wrote this:
“Just a little context before you think I’m getting all Southern Baptist Preacher on you…When Jesus uses the word ‘Hell’ he is referring to a place called Gehenna. This place was known and was significant to the people of Jesus’ day – it was the rubbish dump outside of Jerusalem and was known to be always smoldering away. Really horrific things had happened there in the name of other gods and it was considered cursed. This image represented destruction, wastage, oppression.
Whatever your view on faith, I can tell you Gehenna exists. If you look around – it exists and it exists in front of our eyes.
Everyday I see lives wasted.
I see people oppressed by addiction.
I see people shackled by fear.
I see relationships stifled by insecurity or scars of the past.
I see dreams put on the shelf for another day.
I see mistrust that breeds mistrust.
I see abuse.
I see bitterness.
I see lies.
I’m not being judgmental, I’m really not – in fact, if I was to ignore these things I would be lacking in integrity and compassion. I would be shying away from responsibility by sticking my head in the sand.
Where we see the existence of Gehenna in the world, we need to lean over, stretch out a hand and drag others out of the pit of wastage and into freedom, opportunity, relationship.
We should be so close to the edge that we smell of smoke!”
(It’s worth reading the whole article too; it does have some bearing on this current post.)
I personally believe that the reason Christians are on the earth (else why not let’s all just go off to Heaven now!) is to bring the Kingdom of God forward from the future into today’s life.
Let me tell you this: ‘Life in all its fulness’ is not pie in the sky when we die, it’s grace on a plate while we wait.
It’s bringing in Jesus’s healing (physical, spiritual and relational), forgiveness and just total restoration to those who are sick and need the Doctor. I’d call that Good News! I have seen this in action in our church where we minister to the homeless, addicts and those locked in vice, and to see these people’s lives restored is nothing short of breathtaking. With all the different giftings in the church, which mesh together and provide supporting and cross-linked, God-built ministry, we really are leaning over into Gehenna and plucking them out of it and into the restoration that Jesus brings.
I have personally seen addicts’ lives restored from the brink, lives transformed, people healed and restored and delivered into fulness of life. This is really happening today in my church. Gehenna is being raided and plundered and people are being rescued – for real.
Wow! It’s brilliant what Jesus does!
Note: The header picture on this post is a shot of the Valley of Hinnom as it is today.