What We Talk About When We Talk About Hell

Spiritual Teacher
Over a year ago

What do we talk about when we talk about hell? Fire and brimstone. An eternity of torture and pain. Someone with coffee breath talking too close to your face. Finding out Hoobastank has more than one song. But spiritual teacher Rob Bell wonders what Jesus meant when he used the word hell. Like a living thing, religion has evolved and adapted over millennia. The word for hell that Jesus was initially recorded to have said was ‘Gehenna’, which is the valley of Hinnom on the south wall of Jerusalem. Yes, hell is a real place; it’s where the people of Jerusalem threw and burnt their trash.

But this meaning may have been twisted throughout the centuries to command power and instruct public behavior. Rob Bell states that religion’s emphasis on punishment is misguided; life is hard enough without the possibility that doing or not doing something may send you to hell, whatever that may be. It corrupts spirituality.

Interestingly, he argues the same for heaven. It may not exist the way many people think it does. “[In] the old testament there isn’t really any sort of view of the afterlife,” Bell says. “The closest you get is a word for pit, a word for abyss which basically means you die and you’re not here.” Bell urges the spiritual population to recognize heaven and hell as states of consciousness rather than outcomes of life, and to participate fully in life on earth - one that is inclusive, and kind if only for kindness' sake.