Yesterday, I joined a crew of Tablers as we took a look at some Psalms that’ll blow your hair back: 69, 109, 137. The technical term for these is ‘Imprecatory Psalms’, in that they are prayers for the Almighty to put the hurt on one’s enemies. So, creditors siezing funds, spouses dying, orphaned children, and babies smashed on rocks. Yikes. Vengeance is everywhere, and (as one person put it) refreshingly in prayers, as well.
One thing that I didn’t have time to wedge into our very engaging discussion time is this tidbit I found in my research: the ancient Hebrew people didn’t seem to have a belief in an afterlife. So, no strong idea of heaven or hell, but just death. Which, it is suggested, might incline a person to be more concerned about God bringing justice in the here-and-now, rather than postponing it. If you can’t count on an evil person burning in hell, you might be more inclined to ask God to put the hurt on them today.
So while we moderns might feel more civilized and sophisticated– we’ll have no talk of bashing babies on rocks around here, thank you!– I’m wondering if our general belief in the afterlife is acting as a kind of proxy. I’m wondering if we’re hiding behind ‘hell’. Does the idea of hell allow us to sublimate our desire for vengeance, even as it asks God to execute our enemies for eternity? Does ‘hell’ make us more or less vengeful?