Hell on Earth
Yesterday, my son, Gideon, and I responded to a house fire here in town. If you have been at an active fire, you know that it is terrible. Often the family is there, in shock or in tears as they watch their home burning. There are firefighters scrambling around everywhere spraying water, breaking windows, and cutting holes in the roof to help extinguish the fire. It is loud, it smells, the fire and smoke is billowing from the house, and there are people running and shouting everywhere. As I watched this scene playing out before me, all I could think was: “This is hell”. And, it occurred to me that often, in the Evangelical world, we have looked at hell as a place that some spirits go, sometime in the afterlife. But, when Jesus referred to hell in the Gospels, the word he often used was Gehenna, which was a valley just outside the city of Jerusalem. Tradition tells us that Gehenna was used as a garbage dump and a place to burn the executed bodies of criminals. To those listening to Jesus he was not speaking about some spiritual dimension somewhere in the distant future, he was speaking of a physical reality where they could see the smoke and flames rising up from the valley and smell the stench as the bodies and garbage burned. They knew what hell was because it was something they could experience.
So, I wonder, if it wouldn’t be proper for us to shift some of our thinking on hell. To realize that there really is hell on earth. We see it in house fires, in illnesses, in broken relationships, and in a whole host of other areas of our lives. Maybe, it is time we started recognizing these things as hell. Not something God is doing to test us, or to build character in us, but an evil that God is working to save us out of. And, maybe part of that salvation is growing our character through the flames, not because God lit the flames, but because God is powerful enough to use all of the hell we experience to work out for our eventual good. Maybe, it is time for us to reconsider the work of Christ on the cross. It is there that he won the victory over sin and death and hell. Maybe, it isn’t just a victory we claim somewhere in the afterlife, but one that is available to us now, in the hell we are experiencing today. If you are going through hell today, I want to remind you that Christ’s love has conquered it, and in His love we are more than conquerors.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 (NRSV)
May the peace of God rest upon you,