Lent 2012: Day Fifteen

Genesis 44:29 If you take this one also from me, and harm comes to him, you will bring down my grey hairs in sorrow to Sheol.

Sounds like a bit of a depressing verse doesn’t it? The context to this verse is that Joseph (the famous multiple coloured coat owner) having been discarded by his brothers was rescued and became leader in Egypt. There was a famine, and so it happened that the brothers went to see the leader to ask for food. They did not recognise Joseph. Joseph decided that he wanted to see his father, and to get the brothers to bring him (still keeping his identity hidden) he says he will keep hold of the youngest brother until the father comes.

The brothers are distraught as they recall the words of their father (as in the verse quoted). The father cannot bear to lose the young Benjamin, who reminds him so much of the beloved wife he lost. If harm came to him it would bring him “in sorrow to Sheol”. In sorrow.

Sheol is a word in the Bible that is often translated as one of the words for “Hell”. And it is clear here that the Hell that the father would experience is earthly. And not from divine punishment, but from the pain of loss.

There was little importance given to any idea of life after death in the Old Testament… Hebrew religion was not concerned with life after death. It was much more interested in life in this world, and for a person’s children.

– Keith Ward: What The Bible Really Teaches

The Jewish people, although rather conflicted about their ideas of God – read the Psalms and see how in their prayers God is one moment compassionate and peaceful and the next wrathful and angry – seem to have this one right. They thought about the afterlife, of course they did, but they didn’t think too much about it.

And isn’t that key for us? Suicide bombers jump because someone tells them that a god will reward them. Wars are fought in the “holy” land because they believe their god will protect their side and reward them for massacring the opposition. Too many live blocked lives living by archetypal laws that are no longer relevant – if they ever were – and believe themselves to be such bad and diseased people from the moment they are born that they spend their whole lives waiting to die, to be “saved” and rewarded for a life of blindness.

Hell. I believe that Hell exists, but not as a place that anyone is sent, and certainly not pre-destined to go to. Hell, in the afterlife, is a place where even in death one chooses to be apart from God. That may not be eternal though. And Hell, is not just about the afterlife. If we want our world to escape Hell – and so many of us “religious” folk say that often in a day – then we need to focus on the present as well. To escape the Sheol of our lives, we have to avoid sorrow. Sorrow is inevitable, but can be so greatly reduced, and one day – I hope – gone. Pain can be gone. Because love can blossom. Think about the present. Think about the Hells today, the Hell of Syria for example, where not just the young Benjamin but all the sons of the father may die this evening.

A depressing thought. So what can we do? We can either give up, give in, and let this hell spread, or we can remember the past inspirations, the people that stood up for what is right and made such a difference, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Jesus, to name a few. And as MLK had a dream, as each had a vision, I have a vision, that I hope you share with me. A vision of a world of freedom, love and peace. Of the perfection of God’s creation. Of love.

So spread that vision with me. And it will grow.

Genesis 44:29 If you take this one also from me, and harm comes to him, you will bring down my grey hairs in sorrow to Sheol.

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