[FYI...I edited this a little today out of respect for the folks I was speaking with 5/21/07. I'm afraid I was cynical in my original post. I'm sorry.]
My conversation with the rabbi…
The couple I was speaking with earlier (on 5/16/07) left and I walked into the rabbi’s back room and said, “I think that couple I was talking with out there was explaining things to me wrong.” He said, “Well, what did they tell you?” So I proceeded to tell him how they said that basically when we sin against God there are no repercussions, “He’s just bummed a little.” I asked him if that’s correct in his view.
At first he started to discuss how if we break kosher or mitzvah (commands) then we are sinning against God. I was assuming this meant what Scripture teaches about the fact that since God is an eternal God a sin against His holiness would mean that it is an eternal sin that merits eternal punishment…but that’s not what he meant.
I said, “Then when we sin against God and break His commandments then we merit eternal punishment in hell, right?” He said, “No!” So I asked if Judaism believes in a heaven and a hell. He said, “Not in the same way that you do.”
So I asked in what way does Judaism believe in heaven and hell? What he described was interesting to say the least. He didn’t describe either in regard to places that one goes to either be with or without YHWH. I’ll try to explain what he described.
Heaven…he didn’t have much to say other than that democracy as it exists in the U.S.A. is built on torah (laws of God). Seems like it’s a concept that by following the torah we can achieve a God pleasing society?? I asked about the afterlife and he didn’t have much to say at all. This was difficult for me to understand! From what I understood the rabbinical worldview believes in an almost post-millenial view of the kingdom of God (only without Jesus)…that God’s kingdom is being built on earth now through us. I haven't had the opportunity to ask how they believe the mosiach (messiah) will come...but hopefully I will. I pray I can share the gospel clearly, somehow.
Hell…this was interesting. He went back to the parent analogy that the couple I was speaking with early alluded to. He said that God loves and is merciful…why would he create children and then send them to a place like Christians envision hell to be. I said, “Well, we believe that when we sin against God’s holiness and justice it merits eternal punishment…that’s not what you believe?” He said that God’s not like an angry parent handing out punishment for something His children couldn’t control. (It seems that he considers all humanity to be children of God. I thought Jews would not consider all humanity as children of God…only Jews as chosen children of God maybe this is just my misunderstanding.). He described that God isn’t just an angry being handing out condemnation eternally. He drew another analogy to nakedness. He said that to a Jew being seen in your true essence of nakedness is the ultimate shame. I started to relate that to Adam and Eve’s response to God when they were ashamed of their nakedness (Gen 3:7, 10-11) and Noah (Gen 9:22-23), but he didn’t have much to say about this. He proceeded to tell me that in Jewish culture that if he was to see me naked in the shower that is the ultimate shame and ignominy that could happen and we very well may never speak to each other for the rest of our lives. I was trying to understand what this had to do with hell…so I said, “So if you break the mitzvah (commands) and torah (laws) of God then you will suffer in hell eternally.” He said, “No!” I asked with him to explain clearly what they believe. So he said that when we don’t follow God’s commands it is sin. These sins get in the way of us being able to please God, and be happy ourselves. As we miss these “opportunities” to experience God in His law they pile up like garbage in the essence of who we are…he said it’s like, “being filled up our clouded with sin.” The punishment for sin is basically the consequences of not being able to please God and experience punishment on earth for sin. He talked about the soul as being free from the sinful body by following God’s laws…sounds similar Gnosticism to me. Like murder (another analogy)…he started to tell me about Jeffrey Dahmer and how his punishment or hell was the terrible things in life that he experienced and the punishment that he experienced in jail and the death sentence. He told me that he believed that the Christian view of hell is why people are leaving the Christian churches. He said, “I can’t tell you the countless number of women that come into my deli afraid of God…and His wrath and punishment.” I said, “But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10).” And he said, “Yeah, but not that kind of fear.” When I read the interactions of the Old Testament between God and humanity it seems that they were pretty AFRAID, TERRIFIED, and SCARED. Just seems wrong to say that…
There was almost no reference to the afterlife in our discussion regarding heaven and hell. It was hard to understand. I don’t know how one can come to these conclusions with an honest measured and rational reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the future I will try to understand more by reading the Scriptures instead of talking philosophically like we were.
We’re not meeting next week, but I’ll be sure to post more of our discussions in the future. Interesting stuff. If you have the opportunity please pray for these folks. Please pray that they might be receptive to the gospel.