Why the silence on Heaven and Hell?

I’ve really enjoyed working with Cindy’s questions. Anyone reading should feel free to submit their own. I can answer all your questions, because I can say “I don’t know.” But now to Cindy’s question 5.

5.  Why did the OT never speak about a Heaven or Hell?  Why was there no mention of life after death directly

I doubt if I can give a definitive answer, other than “I don’t know for certain.” However, there is an answer that makes a great deal of sense to me. It’s based on a principle enunciated by Jesus in John 16:12. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear .”

I think this is pretty much always the case.  God is infinite, and we are finite, so he always knows more than we do, and more than we can take in.  Especially in our sinful state, there are emotional and other limitations which make it impossible for us to receive even the information we might desperately need.  I have a workshop, for instance, which talks about peoples deepest needs.  I have discovered that it works best to give the first session 1 day, and then have an intervening  evening before the second session. that’s because the emotions aroused in the first session so preoccupy the participants that they cannot receive any more information until they have time to process their emotions.

It may seem to us that a discussion of heaven, hell, and the afterlife would be fundamental, and important to deal with up front.  But God apparently thought differently.  Exactly why is never stated.  So the best we can do is consider the circumstances, and try and deduce why God made that choice.

Rather than focusing on what the Old Testament does not say, perhaps we can understand where people were at the time by looking at what God emphasized.  It seems to me that God spends a great deal of time in the Old Testament describing his nature, his purposes, and his intentions.  And when I look at ancient mythology and religion, those emphases make more and more sense.  Most ancient deities were perpetually angry, consumed by the same vices as humans, and often capricious.  By contrast, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a God of love, holiness, and unwavering righteousness.  God’s divine attributes were so alien to the prevailing contemporary culture, that they had a hard time realizing what he was like. and so he had to repeatedly state and demonstrate his true nature.,

If it is true, as we say today, that salvation is a saving relationship with God, then it was also true back then.  And how one relates to an angry, capricious God, is radically different than how one relates to a loving, constant God. I believe that the relationship God wants us to have with him is one built on trust.  But it is impossible to trust an angry, capricious God.  Instead of trusting such a deity, we try to buy him off. And in fact, that is what both ancient religions and modern legalism consist of: attempts to buy off God.  If this is true, if salvation does consist of a trusting relationship with God, then the first thing God has to do, is to establish that He is trustworthy.

It matters little what the afterlife is like, if the only way to get there is by trusting God, and the only gods you know are untrustworthy. In fact, the more vivid hell becomes, the more difficult it is to trust God, and the more likely we are to try to buy him off.  That’s one of the reasons Satan loves — if it can truly be said Satan loves anything — to make people believe that God will torture some people forever.  People rightly conclude that a God who would do such a thing is neither loving nor trustworthy.

So that’s where I come down.  I believe that the emphasis on God’s nature which I find in the Old Testament, and the relative silence on a number of other issues, arises because it is so important for us to understand that God loves us, and that He can be trusted.  If we don’t understand that, if we don’t come to trust him completely, then literally nothing else matters.  I don’t know if that’s enough for you, Cindy, I don’t know if that answers all your questions on this particular issue.  I’ll be glad to respond further if you desire.  But that’s my basic understanding.


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