Friday, January 20, 2012

Brimstone and Fire

The Bible makes the brimstone and fire reference in  Revelation 20:10, and it has become synonymous with Bible belt, Bible thumping Christians.  Whatever you want to call it, it has a negative connotation.  It's supposed to bring to mind preachers and people on the street who stand on a corner (or the pulpit) and tell people to repent of their sin or suffer in hell for the rest of their lives.  That if they keep screwing up and living with out God, they'll end up in hell, essentially.  It's a scare tactic, to get people scared of burning in hell for all eternity and thus turn to God and Jesus for eternal salvation and heavenly bliss.

The book of Revelation has always scared the crap out of me.  I don't understand it, and on first glance, it does talk a lot about fire and hell, and the devil.  It's also very clear about what happens to people that have flat-out denied Christ.  It's an intimidating book; beasts with lots of eyes, battles between good and evil, things all coming to an end.  Not exactly what you want to read your children at bedtime.

Growing up, it was one of the only books I read, and I read it because so man of my teachers talked about hell and sin, that that's all that ever really stuck with me; fear.  The fear of doing something wrong and ending up in hell.  It's a great tactic to get kids to do what you want them to do, but it can have such a devastating effect on their view of God.

But before I go any further, here's the verse, from the New King James version of the Bible:
The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are.  And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
According to my Bible, brimstone is only mentioned twice in the book of Revelation, and according to, brimstone is another word for sulfur.  Ugh.  I hate the smell of sulfur, and tar.  I hate the smell of sulfur and tar.  I have acne and apparently sulfur is a good way to fight it, so Proactive equips you with a sulfur mask, and it is the smelliest thing ever.  Even after my face is clean, the smell stays with me the rest of the day.  It's stuck in my nostrils.

But I digress.  I started writing this because my women's group embarked on a study of this very colorful book.  Beth Moore, probably the bestest women's Bible study leader in the history of the modern world, leads it, and she is just amazing.  She is not a fluffy teacher.  She breaks down the Bible like you wouldn't believe, but she's able to do it while connecting with women by tying whatever complex thing we're studying to our own very complicated lives and thought process. 

And breaking down the Bible is important because so much of the language has been lost in translation.  Apparently the first Bible was written in Greek, and words in English don't always capture what the original Greek word means, so it in turn can make certain verses and words seem totally crazy and confusing. 

Let me tell you, I wasn't exactly ecstatic about studying the book of Revelation with Beth Moore.  I know she's hardcore and I know the book is hardcore, and I was rather happy subscribing to the "ignorance is bliss" approach to the book.  But I learned something amazing in the first session that has made the book less scary to me and has me looking forward to studying it.

Here it is:  The very first verse in the book of Revelation says it is about to speak in figurative language.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants--things which must shortly take place.  And He sent and signified (emphasis mine) it by His angel to His servant John.- Revelation 1:1

He's telling us all right there, smack at the beginning, that the following is figurative, not literal.  Not literal.  I don't know what about that made me breathe a sigh of relief.  Maybe it's because the end, whenever that may be, is scary.  Not because I'm afraid of dying, but because of all the fire involved in this book.  If there are two ways I'd rather not die, it would be by drowning or burning up.  Yeesh!  The pain involved in getting to see Jesus is what scares me, not actually dying.  And beyond that, I have two girls, and I'd rather not think of leaving them in the world to suffer through the fire of Armageddon. 

But now, thanks to Beth, I'm able to move forward in the study without fear.  Okay, with less fear.  Listen, it takes a while to unlearn your fears.  This was a huge step toward conquering a lifelong fear of this book.