I didn’t realize it, but apparently my son asked a theological question that divides Christians and Jews. Only fourteen at the time, and obviously contemplating the tempting life of a teenager looming before him, the boy asked,
“If there is no heaven, would being a Christian still be worth it?” He went on trying to clarify, “I mean, what if we’re all wrong? What if when we die there is no heaven? Would you be sorry that…”
“Sorry I didn’t have ‘fun’?” I interrupted.
“Well, yeah,” he said sheepishly.
To his surprise my answer was an emphatic “Yes.” I didn’t become a Christian for the gold star at the end of the day or a mansion in the clouds for that matter.
In this week’s reading of Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesusthe rabbi spends several chapters explaining why Jews can never accept Christ in the manner Christians do. He states that the differences between Christianity and Judaism could fill volumes. I get that, and have no interest in debating or highlighting our theological differences. Rather, it’s my intention to find common ground and promote our shared values.
Boteach cites a separation between the faiths,
“Christianity is extremely concerned with heaven and the afterlife. This urgency entails a list of things people can do to ensure that they receive the best rewards in the world to come. This is very different from Judaism, which focuses almost exclusively on proper behavior in this world.”
I see an opportunity for unity. It’s tempting to divide Christians and Jews along these lines. However, it is an unnecessary division. Here is where we can learn something from the Jewish side of the family.
Boteach explains that “Jews do not follow Judaism for the purpose of reward in the afterlife.” Honestly, neither should Christians. And I would venture to say, most don’t.
It’s easy to see where that is the perception. That’s what most evangelists preach: the infamous knock on the door, followed by “If you die tonight where would you go?” style of evangelism.
Those who honestly seek to follow Christ, do in fact, live out what Boteach is trying to say that true Judaism is, by bringing more light into the world. Some of the best schools, hospitals and outreaches have been started and flourished by Christians living out this very principle.
When asked by Christians “Do you know where you’re going?” Boteach’s response is worth noting,
“My worship of God is not about me. It’s not about saving myself form hell. I’m not here on this earth to spend my life accruing virtue so I get some divine reward. I don’t worship God so it ultimately benefits me. I do it because I want to be in a relationship with Him. I do it because it’s right. And I do it to make this world a better place. I love God unconditionally and unequivocally. Not because I expect anything in return.”
Most Christians I know, could have said the very same thing.
Until recently few people could see any harm in desiring to spend eternity in the presence of God. I still don’t. However, the desire for a reward has some dangerous implications when taken to the extreme.
Boteach points out that by focusing on reward in the afterlife it implies that there is nothing worth redeeming here. As I thought about this I had to agree. This life is a gift from God. This is His creation, which pleases Him. It is only right and good that we leave it a better place than we found it — out of our love for Him.
To see the danger that comes with dismissing the value of God’s creation and the life it holds, one needs to only look at the headlines. Every day we see Islamists willing to martyr themselves, and take innocent lives with them — all for a hideous reward in the afterlife.
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Deuteronomy 30:19
Choosing life, standing for righteousness and caring for the world God created for us should be the life of followers of Christ and Jews alike.
Have you given thought as to exactly why you serve Christ? Is it for an eternal reward or for unconditional love?
Join the inter-faith conversation, check out Rabbi Shumley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus.
Photo credits Shutterstock, zebra0209