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Edy T Johnson
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With my pro-life friends at the university, I frequently attended the Newman Center for Sunday evening’s folk-music mass. It was a sweet fellowship that included the Center’s youthful priest. I’m assuming, with my pro-life views, he might have seen me as a prospect for conversion to the Roman Catholic Church. When a conversation along those lines ensued, I had to tell him my problems with the RCC, especially the doctrine of purgatory. That suggested to me Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t sufficient for our salvation. He replied, thoughtfully, that would be unfortunate if that’s what people concluded. Only much later did something even worse dawn on me.
I might have believed all I’d been taught was set in stone, until the Holy Spirit regularly caught my attention with Scripture that jumped off the page as if highlighted. It perplexed me, since I had never heard of any possibility of such glorious Good News (especially for loved ones yet outside the faith), except for verses telling us that there is no fear in love, and perfect love casts out fear.
"The Gospel is such good news, even Christians don’t believe it!" --unknown [wish I knew!]
“I’m just grateful that the remedy is sufficient for the disease.” [me]
As I pursued more, wondering why nobody else was seeing this, I read that, with the exception of the Church of Rome, all the early apostolic churches believed in
- the state of being restored or reestablished; restitution; the doctrine that Satan and all sinners will ultimately be restored to God. That was a shock, but a welcome one!
Enter Norse mythology -- why? To understand pagan influence.
For example: As a child exploring my dad’s library, I recognized common themes in Norse and other mythologies that hinted at similarities with church teaching. Now, I have no doubt, these themes are obscured memories of the truth that the sons of Noah knew, as they moved out from the ark after the flood. Further dispersion, after God confounded the language at Babel, also affected the original account memory (one reason for the Almighty setting aside the line of Abraham to carry the truth forward for generations to come, and explains His jealousy for them when they went after pagan gods polluting the truth).
By comparison to the RCC’s concept of purgatory, the pagan belief of the Norse Vikings included Valhalla (“the hall of the fallen” warriors) and “Hel,” the goddess of the underworld (for ordinary individuals).
“...And what do the dead do in Hel or the local variations thereof? They typically eat, drink, carouse, fight, sleep, practice magic, and generally do all of the things that living Viking Age men and women did….” **
Apparently, that terminology carried over into daily life, as well, in expressions such as “helling” (planting) potatoes! [The Norse term like the Hebrew Sheol thus refers to burying, either the dead, or planting for new life.]
Somewhere I read that as Christianity spread, encountering people with pagan myths already part of the cultural heritage, syncretism crept in to corrupt the Good News. The Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans had similar “common themes” - not of the grave to hold a dead body, but - of an underground world of the "animated" dead, ruled over by gods (Ex: Osiris, Pluto/Hades) and goddesses (Hel and Ishtar). The concept originating out of Mesopotamia, which is more than likely the most closely related to the dispersion at Babel, included a goddess who traveled between the world of the living and of the dead, a place of no return to life, but a place of neither great misery nor great joy. So far, I have found no concept of a resurrection, only a limited reference to reincarnation in these old myths.*
So, how does all the above compare to Biblical presentations? In the Tanakh (Old Testament writings) the word, sometimes translated as “hell,” is the Hebrew “Sheol,” meaning hidden, unseen, place of the dead. Without a hint of postmortem punishment, this is confirmed by letting scripture speak for itself: “the soul that sins dies,” “the wages of sin is death,” Elsewhere we read that the dead know nothing and cannot praise God from the grave.
A Jewish gal contributing to an online forum pointed out there is absolutely no reference to any “hell” of “eternal conscious torment” in the entire Tanakh. All the judgments occur in this lifetime under the curse of sin. That’s a challenge to re-read the Bible to confirm her words! But, we need go no further than the first chapters of Genesis to determine what the Almighty told our original parents would befall them – limited to this life - as consequences for transgression.
Given this understanding from the OT, where did the idea of a “hell fire,” whether a temporary “purgatory” or a permanent state, originate in Christian thinking? Doesn’t such a concept undermine what Jesus accomplished at Calvary, when He cried out “It is finished!” and the veil covering the Holy of Holies was ripped in two? Could it be a lie the adversary uses to seduce much of humanity to doubt and reject the God who is Love? Is it the greatest of blasphemies the father of lies could have concocted? What does such fire have to do with purging our sinful nature, anyway?
Hebrews 9:22 CJB “In fact, according to the Torah, almost everything is purified with blood; indeed, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”
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04 Jun 2019
Perhaps the concept of Hell as we think of it comes directly from the words of Jesus Himself in Matthew 13:41-43:
"The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear."
Edy T Johnson
04 Jun 2019
Thank you for that reference, Joanney. I took note of the word "everything," (in most versions/translations, also included "causes"), but that it doesn't say "everyone." Similarly, I'm reminded of 1Co 3:15
If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego endured the fiery furnace, only what had them bound was removed. I think that is how the Holy Spirit works in us, now. The weeping and wailing might be related to those set free realizing how much they missed of God's glory due to those "causes" that bound them and blinded their eyes to the truth.
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