Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Annihilation and Judgment..updated

The frequent theme in the Old Testament of a person's sin having consequences to the 3rd and 4th generation has always been confusing to me.  Why are future descendants held responsible for their ancestor's actions? Other than having the bad luck of being related to someone who has really messed up, what part do they have in what happened?  None that is evident.

However, if the concept of immortal souls in hell is taken off the table, these curses take on a new perspective. For very serious sins, the consequences are extended. Punishment of the violator isn't adequate.  If man is mortal, he can only die once, and then nothing.  The gravity of the situation becomes more powerful if the violator knows that even after he has passed on, the ones closest to him will still be paying the price for his actions.  Instead of eternal punishment without end, there is extended punishment and collateral damage.  

A prime example of earthly punishment being worked out in an earthly realm, instead of an immaterial one, can be found in 1 Samuel, chapter 2, wherein Eli and his sons receive judgment; Eli's sons because of their sinful behavior and lack of integrity as priests, Eli because of his lack of action in restraining them.

1 Samuel 2:22-36 

22 Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 23 So he said to them, "Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. 24 No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD's people. 25 If a man sins against another man, God [a] may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?" His sons, however, did not listen to their father's rebuke, for it was the LORD's will to put them to death.

 26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.

Prophecy Against the House of Eli
 27 Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, "This is what the LORD says: 'Did I not clearly reveal myself to your father's house when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh? 28 I chose your father out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in my presence. I also gave your father's house all the offerings made with fire by the Israelites. 29 Why do you [b] scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?'

 30 "Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: 'I promised that your house and your father's house would minister before me forever.' But now the LORD declares: 'Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. 31 The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father's house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line 32 and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, in your family line there will never be an old man. 33 Every one of you that I do not cut off from my altar will be spared only to blind your eyes with tears and to grieve your heart, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life.

 34 " 'And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. 35 I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always. 36 Then everyone left in your family line will come and bow down before him for a piece of silver and a crust of bread and plead, "Appoint me to some priestly office so I can have food to eat." ' "

No message of fiery torment. The message is sobering in and of itself.  Earthly punishment. Earthly judgment. Who needs the concept of hell to be terrified?  This passage is pretty breath-taking without any mention of it.

When God gets mad, people die....physically die. 

These parts of the Old Testament are hard for Christians to read and explain.  Our faith is firmly grounded in Christ's redemptive work; grace, mercy, forgiveness.  Reconciling those attributes with a large portion of the Old Testament is sometimes sketchy, even more so if hell is on the table.  It's bad enough for someone to die and simply cease to exist as a result of God's judgment, but then possibly to be in hell forever?  That's hard to explain.

Hardwired into the 10 commandments, the 2nd commandment specifically, is God's earthly judgment:
Exodus 20:5-6
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.
There is no mention of hell or description of anything remotely close to it in this, the first formal manifestation of God's "rules".  Over and over throughout the Old Testament, God's judgment equals death and consequences in the material world. 

continued the next morning....

Not too long ago I discussed some of the things I'd been thinking about in the comments section of a particular blog.  One of the commenters wrote:
I could never understand the atheist point of view, but then recently, I was able to see it as they see it, and it made me weep. The idea of my loved ones just ceasing to exist after death? ugh!

this may sound weird, but I think I’d rather that they go to Hell than that they be annihilated. (Of course, I myself would rather be annihilated :D) Annihilation makes everything meaningless.
I thought that was an interesting point of view, though I'm not so sure his departed love ones would agree with it!

Yet, intuitively it does make some sense and may explain the development of the idea of  life after death.  We don't like the idea of non-existence. At least in hell there is the sense that we are still "us".  We're miserable, but we're there

In a strange way it's an egotistical concept.  The possibility that we won't continue on forever in some form is so inconceivable to us and our sense of self, that we say silly things about preferring hell over non-existence. Someone with better qualifications than me needs to unpack the philosophical/psychological implications of such a declaration. 

as an interesting foil....It's important to note that when God first puts forth an explanation of his nature, it's one of eternal existence:

Exodus 3:13-15

13. Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"

14. God said to Moses, "I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'

15. God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'The LORD,  the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

Who is this God who speaks to Moses?  The God who is.  Wonderfully vague and yet apt. He is defined simply by his existence and his eternal nature. There is nothing to compare him to, nothing with which to define him, other than his very being

It stands in stark contrast not only to the many "gods" that were worshipped in the Middle/Near East, but also to the nature of human beings.

My next few posts on this subject will hopefully bring some relief from the looming prospect of God's judgment.  This Sunday is Easter and I hope to finish off my thoughts in light of The Resurrection.


Anonymous said...

One of the things that seems obvious is that the writers of the OT had a different belief system than writers of the NT. The idea of life after death developed over time.

I think both have different beliefs than Christians do today.


terri said...

It does seem "obvious"...at least to me it does, now. But as obvious as it seems, I don't think most Christians notice it or assume that these beliefs have been consistently handed down to us.

Mostly I don't think most of us have taken the time to even think about it.

Anonymous said...

You are right. Few people take the time to think about it, and those who do rarely would even consider reading something with a belief perspective different than their own.

I recently read a couple of literary critics' takes on the OT. One "Jesus and Yahweh" by Harold Bloom and "Joseph's Bones," by Jerone Segal. They are both Jewish professors of literature.

I particularly liked Joseph's Bones, which refers to the fact that Jews carried the bones of Joseph for 400 years, according to the Bible. Segal believes the authors/editors of the Pentateuch contrasted God's petulance and often irrational anger with their own faithfulness to their forefathers.

The reason I bring this up is because of the "I Am" passage is seen by others not as an awe-inspiring bit of majesty, but God being jerky (for lack of a better word at the moment).

BTW, there is not a single clear reference in the Bible to people's souls going to heaven upon death.

One of the things that strikes me about the alleged afterlife is that we say that God loves us unconditionally, like we love our children (sometimes). But we wouldn't sentence eternal torture on our children, and how is that unconditional love?

pf - kay5.1842atyahoo

Buz said...

I don't think it was so much of a "different" belief system as it was an incomplete or misunderstood belief system. In St. Paul's writings he goes into different parts of the OT beliefs and more fully explains them. Kind of like learning that the area of a circle is Pi * r^2 when you are in 4th or 5th grade ... you just memorize the formula. But when you get into high school and they show you how it is derived, THEN you understand what it is that you had previously just memorized.

As to the punishment to the 3rd and 4th generation, I have seen that, and it is not God doing the punishment in the cases I have seen. Alcoholic or abusing parents teach their kids to become alcoholics and to abuse their own children.

You have a father or a mother whose god is their job or money, they ignore their kids and the kids have gods who are alcohol, drugs, or money, and they ignore their own kids. Oh yes, the kids and the grand-kids will be punished, but it is not God hurling lightning bolts from the sky on this one.

As to a belief in the afterlife, in Matthew, Jesus says that God is the God of the living, not the dead.

As to going to heaven when we die, St. Paul says that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Since we are also told that Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, I would opine that constistutes a fairly clear statement that (at least some) souls go to heaven when we die.


terri said...


Thanks for stopping by!

I can see that you've read through several of my posts, but I'm not sure if you have read all of the ones dealing with this theme.

You need to read the verses about God being the the God of the living, and not the dead, in context.

That verse would actually serve as evidence for annihilation and resurrection because it is a direct reference by Jesus to resurrection, not Heaven.

Matthew 22:31-32

31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."

Jesus was refuting Sadducees who didn't believe in the resurrection of the dead. His point does not indicate that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are conscious right now, but that they are considered alive because they will inherit eternal life.

I am aware of the passages that would pose a problem for annihilation...and that's a post that I plan on doing in the future...I just got burned out after a while.

Really the two most difficult passages that I will have to deal with occur in Revelation , and in the parable in Luke about the beggar Lazarus.

Other than those....you won't find any reference to the common concept of "hell" that we presently find in Christianity.

Think about that.....66 books of Scripture and only 2 have anything that even slightly resembles the modern concept of hell....and one of those references occurs in an apocalyptic book with extreme descriptions and hard to understand prophecies, a book that barely made it into the Canon of Scripture.

Paul frequently refers to those who have died in Christ as having "fallen asleep"....the same language Jesus uses about Jairus' daughter and Lazarus before he resurrects them.

Buz said...

You are correct. I tried to read the relevant posts, but I only went back to the last week in March, and I did not read every post, only those with related titles.

Did you also deal with St. Paul's comment that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord? Or, Jesus promis to the thief on the cross, "today you will be with me in Paradise"? Both of those would seem to promote the idea that when we die (at least the Christains) that we are quickly ushered into the presence of God, or at least into a place of conscious existance with others.


Buz said...

Just read your latest post.

One question ... what makes you think that the narration of the Rich man and Lazarus was a parable?

Surely, if Jesus indeed was God, this could be a true story, and he was there to wittness it.

This is would give veracity to both a conscious existance in the afterlife for both the good and the evil, and to the existance of a place of torment (although, if you look in Rev. 20:14, it says that death and hell were cast into the lake of fire ... giving the idea that there is a place of torment even worse than hell).

In the parable of the Wheat and the Tares (gee, where have I heard that?) in Matt. 13, it says that the unrighteous will be cast into a firey furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth ... again the idea of conscious torment, not dissolution and annihilation.

Sorry if I missed previous posts dealing with these ... I would be glad to go back and digest them if you could point to specific days ...