Hope & Meaning

Before I knew any Jews or anything about Judaism, I got all my information on the religion from my pastor and his wife. On several occasions the pastor’s wife made it sound as though she had numerous Jewish friends with whom she had theological conversations.

One of her friends once said, “We all know it’s true. We all know Jesus is the Messiah.”

Then another friend said, “If I were to admit Jesus is the Messiah, my parents would bury me.”

The pastor’s wife responded, “So you’re just going to go to Hell?”

Her friend said, “Yes.” And continued, “It torments me at night.”

Once I learned more about Judaism, I saw many holes in her stories. For one, Judaism has no need for one to put faith in the Messiah. When the “Messiah” comes, everyone will know it. There will be no question. Secondly, Jews are not tormented by the concept of Hell. They do not teach that a person is destined to Hell simply for existing. Torah does not mention the afterlife therefore, the idea is not a big deal in Judaism. Furthermore, Jews don’t keep the commandments because they are afraid that breaking one will send them to Hell. They keep the commandments because they love their god and they desire to obey him, simple as that.

Last spring, the pastor’s wife and I attended a Jewish Passover Seder together. As I drove her home I questioned her about her Jewish friends. It came to light that one of her “friends” was someone she met on a trip to Israel and the other was a high school friend she hadn’t seen or talked to in years.

After further questioning she admitted, “Well, she didn’t say IT tormented her at night, but that I tormented her.”

She explained further that upon reuniting with her Jewish friend years after graduation, she was told, “You tormented me in homeroom.”

It seems that many Christians assume that everyone believes in Hell and that they know they are going there. That’s why I hear Sunday in and Sunday out how Christians are the only ones with hope. Or perhaps this “hope” is simply escaping death – living forever. Either way, Christianity only works if you already believe that you have no hope.

It’s not as if atheists, agnostics, Buddists, Hindus, and Jews have no hope. Hope is objective and relative. “Hope” to a Christian is going to Heaven and seeing loved ones again. Yet, there is no assurance that all of a Christian’s loved ones will be there. Ironically, Christianity offers less hope than any other worldview. When I was a Believer, I only had assurance for myself and for my husband. I received no hope or peace in regards to the rest of my family. In fact, I have more peace now that I know Hell does not exist.

Furthermore, Christians also seem to think that not believing in an afterlife indicates that life is meaningless, when in fact, the opposite is true. For me, and other atheists/agnostics that I’ve heard from, read about, and talked to, having a finite life provides more meaning. It does not make us want to go out and murder, lie, cheat, and steal. It makes us want to make the world a better place. It gives us reason to be proactive instead of waiting around for God or the Messiah to make everything better. It gives us reason to enjoy and make the most of each and every day.

 

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2 thoughts on “Hope & Meaning

  1. April, I am encouraged by your reflection and the way it reminds us that people can sound like experts and mislead others on very flimsy grounds. Thanks for sharing the story. I think the existentialists tried to (and still) address that question of meaningful life, especially the certainty of death and how living fully means living with the reality of life.

    ‘It’s not easy to live every moment wholly aware of death. It’s like trying to stare the sun in the face: you can stand only so much of it. Because we cannot live frozen in fear, we generate methods to soften death’s terror. We project ourselves into the future through our children; we grow rich, famous, ever larger; we develop compulsive protective rituals; or we embrace an impregnable belief in an ultimate rescue.’
    (Irvin Yalom, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death)

    I’m about the start an online course in meaning-centred therapy which I hope will further equip me to support and counsel those who are exploring meaning and purpose whatever worldview they hold to. If someone maintains a vital sense of God in his or her life that enriches them and sustains them, I help them explore that.

    I think that’s why I have always been a somewhat troubled Christian, a bit of a black sheep and restless soul in the flock – deriving deep hope from what is there in an eternal future never really worked for me. Whenever I preach on a text which refers to life forever or eternal life, I emphasise the original sense of the word which is a deeper life in the here and now, experience God’s presence fully now rather than assuming there is some great paradise. Again this is a Judaic concept of being with God ‘eternally.’ If there is a great paradise that is delightful, but I think one of the challenges is to access hope and meaning within our actual life, whatever happens beyond that.

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  2. Mm, I resonate with a few points this post makes! A little funny, in a definitely sad way, that thing tormenting your pastor’s wife’s Jewish friend turned out to be… well, her. And for some reason, I really don’t find myself surprised.

    The anti-Semitism in fundamental Christianity is honestly just… astounding. My ex-church once had a pastor who deconverted from Judaism and would basically shit on it and Jews he knew, and all it did was confirm the completely uneducated view we all had on Judaism. We barely knew anything about it – and of course, constantly learning about how the Israelites were foolish, selfish, and a lesson on human failure to love and please God did NOT help.

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