Jesus describes Jerusalem's garbage heap, Gehenna, in this manner (Mark 9:47, 48). It is also a description of hell. It is pretty apt picture of Iowa City this month. The garbage dump outside of town has been burning for days, tires in particular with temperatures running as high as 1200 degrees. We received news today too that a fuel truck overturned on the interstate, a few miles from the church, with traffic backed up for 50 miles. And it hasn't rained for days, making the earth crack when we walk on it. I doubt it will get so bad here that people start saying stuff like "Oh just go to Iowa City!" Or, "That's an Iowa City of a note". Or something else equally disturbing. No one is suggesting that we change the Apostle's Creed to say "he descended into Iowa City."
Indeed, I find Iowa City to be very pleasant place, I am sure far more pleasant than Gehenna must have been . . . then there is hell. Why do people believe in hell? The word is used in the Apostle's Creed as a substitute for Hades, meaning a place of shadows, death itself. Really, just death.
Jesus speaks of Gehenna, and people deserving to be there, but it seems more metaphor as much as anything else. When he does speak of judgment in a more serious way, he seems to put a time condition on it: hell is an era, not an eternity. Of course there is a lake of fire in the Book of Revelation where all the faithless get destroyed, and if you have a preference for apocalyptic literature and really, really, dislike people . . . it is a comforting image.
Someone has said that hell is like a really bad cocktail party that you can't escape. I tend to think of a presbytery meeting that I can't escape . . . I probably shouldn't have written that. What is your picture of hell? Do you believe in it?