I clearly remember the day Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. troops. The news was plastered across every radio, Internet, and television; people were rejoicing, waving American flags, and filling up city streets in celebration. I had a meeting that afternoon with one of our 9th grade confirmation students. There was an obvious desolate demeanor in both of us, so I put it out there, “You know, I’m sad and embarrassed by our country’s celebration over someone’s death.” And the next half hour of conversation was a direct result of his response, “That’s what I’ve been thinking all day!” Now, by all means, Osama bin Laden needed to be stopped. And unfortunately, the only way to stop him was to kill him (just imagine our world if we could somehow rehabilitate the minds and actions of terrorists, to witness some kind of conversion in them). But to be happy - proud even - celebrating a killing? Is it not this very attitude that lead to terror in the first place? Please tell me that we’ve realized by now that hate damages our world?!
And so the conversation went, over and over with a myriad of people, because I think each of us would desire a connection between our faith and our outrage. What do we do with people that bring evil to our midst? It certainly feels good to write them off, “I hope they’re having fun in Hell.” But I think there’s something more to this Hell thing.
When I look at the original language of scripture (it’s Greek for the New Testament), I find words that may or may not have similar meaning in English, but the cultural connotations and even the tense of the word is often very different. For instance, when Jesus spoke of “Hell,” he was using the present tense. It was a literal place, “Gehenna,” which was Greek for a valley called Hinnom. This valley in Jerusalem was where all the garbage was sent to be burned. The Old Testament refers to it as well (in Hebrew), as a place where dead bodies were sent, even those bodies used as child sacrifices. They didn’t have cemeteries as we have today, so any waste was sent to the garbage dump. We can imagine then, while Hinnom was a place you could literally walk to, it was not a place people chose to go and visit, the sight and smell would be horrendous. The use of “Hell” in the bible was intended as parabolic imagery – allowing the listener to actually envision the lesson being shared. When the original audience of scripture heard the word “Gehenna,” they did not think of Hell as a punishment after death, but rather, as an actual place outside the city that was infested with all kinds of nasty things. You know that biblical phrase, “Weeping and gnashing of teeth?” I imagine that’s what I would be experiencing if I were stuck living in the original Hinnom valley! So Jesus was on to something, that’s for sure… if humanity doesn’t change its attitudes and behavior, I imagine this garbage dump is exactly what our world will look like.
So then, how can we connect our faith and our outrage? The teachings of Jesus insistently involve humanity’s place in God’s creation. Therefore, living like Jesus is a definite solution to bringing about a world God intends for us to know. I imagine Christ being deeply saddened by terror, so much so that he would delve into the source of the problem – he’d do all he could to make hate a thing of the past.