[Note: holocaust means "burnt offering."]
As we all know, the cherem texts are some of the most difficult texts in the bible. They make God look like a genocidal monster. Which is why I offered a different, non-violent reading of those texts in yesterday's post.
For today, however, I'd like to make a comment about cherem and annihilationism.
Annihilationism is the view that hell isn't eternal conscious torment but is, rather, the destruction/annihilation of the wicked on Judgment Day. That is, the fire of God doesn't torture/burn people in hell forever and ever. Rather, the fire of God consumes and destroys the wicked. The wicked cease to exist--that is their punishment--and don't enjoy the blessings of eternal life.
While I do think annihilationism is a better view than eternal conscious torment, I have a few, pretty big, objections about annihilationism. And the biggest one is this:
Annihilationism is cherem.
And this isn't hyperbole on my part. I'm not trying to provoke. Defenders of annihilationism themselves point to cherem in the OT as a model for how to understand God's "consuming fire."
Annihilationism is cherem. Annihilationism is holocaust.
And that's why I recoil with a bit of horror at annihilationism. Really? I think. Holocaust is your view of God? The most monstrous texts in all of the bible are the texts you want to build your theology around?
For my part, as regular readers know, I believe in the ultimate victory of God's love--a love that will involve judgment and a moral reckoning. I take the hell passages very, very seriously. I also believe in holocaust.
But this holocaust is the holocaust the Christian mystics spoke about: The holocaust of God's love. This is the purifying and refining fire of God, the holocaust of God's love that consumes sin.
As I argued in yesterday's post, the practices of cherem were judged when the prophets began to reject the holocaust tradition. Or, rather, when the prophets began to radically reinterpret the burnt offering tradition. A reinterpretation that culminates in Jesus. God wants a holocaust of the heart. That is the burnt offering that God desires. That is the holocaust that God will bring upon us.
A holocaust that consumes sin, not human beings.