Friday, June 2, 2006

Why Didn't God Tell the Israelites About Hell?

I was at lunch the other day with some friends who are struggling with the concept of Universalism. I think they'd kind of like to believe. But, their combined 80 plus years of religious training makes them doubt. One of them is reading the book of Ezekiel and he's kind of caught up on this "Old Testament" God of fire and judgement versus the "New Testament" God of love and mercy. He asked us for my take on the whole thing. I could give my answer. But, that's not the point of this very quick post. After answering his question, I asked him one.
If God is going to send people to hell for Eternal Torment and we actually believe the Hebrew Scriptures are a perfect and complete revelation of how God dealt with the Hebrews (which I don't believe but many Christian fundamentalists do), why is there not a single mention of Eternal Torment in the entire revelation?

When God was face-to-face with Adam &Eve coudn't he have given them a heads up that not only would they surely die, but they'd be resurrected to face Eternal Torment? He told them about having to sweat and work the ground. He told them about pains in childbirth. But, not a word about raising them up after they died to be tortured eternally. Couldn't He have just added a footnote to all of the punishments He gave to Moses? How about Abraham, Isaac or Jacob? No mention from them about an endless hell. Likewise, Joshua, the Judges of Israel and the Psalmists are silent about it. Wouldn't the Psalmists in one of their rants about their enemies have asked God to send them to eternal torment instead of just bashing their babies on the rocks? The prophets of Israel and Judah, though they say much of God's wrath, say nothing about eternal torment. Jeremiah mentions "the valley of the son of Himmon" (Jer. 7:32). We know this is the Gehenna that Jesus spoke of (poorly translated in many Bibles as "hell"). But, Jeremiah calls it the "valley of slaughter", not the "valley of Eternal Torment".

Isaiah speaks of "everlasting burnings" in his prophecy (Isa. 33:14). But, Isaiah calls it a "devouring" fire. And he specifically says no one can dwell or live there. No eternal torment here.

There are some old translations of the Bible that translate the Hebrew word "Sheol" as Hell. But, modern scholars agree that this is better translated as grave or abode of the dead (actually with no differentiation between righteous and evil). There is no indication the Hebrews ever believed Sheol to be a place of torment.

C'mon. Are we supposed to believe that when this angry God was passing out threats to the Israelites all of those years was neglectful enough to never once mention the biggest one of all? No. He saved that for the New Testament when He chose to reveal how loving He is. Yeah, right.

footnote: inspired by a post in Freethinking Faith blog. That's where I most of the specific scripture references. But, I did have this conversation with my friends on Wednesday at lunch

1 comment:

Susan said...