WORKS AND FAITHBy Shlomoh Sherman
January 15, 2019
This essay was first published on QUORA in response to the question, "WHY IS IT THAT IN JUDAISM, GOD APPRECIATES YOUR WORKS BUT IN CHRISTIANITY, GOD APPRECIATES ONLY YOUR FAITH AND YOU CANNOT PLEASE HIM WITHOUT IT?"
Another responder, Ilana Newman, gave a pretty good answer, in particular, her acknowledgment that Christianity was heavily influenced by Gnosticism. Gnosticism asserted that the universe was inherently evil and polluted due to its materiality. The world of matter and the world of spirit were mutually incompatible and therefore could have no direct contact with each other. The material universe was evil and humanity the evilest expression of materiality because, paradoxically, humanity had an inner spirit that sought release but was hampered by the flesh. The founder of Christianity, probably some kind of gnostic, expresses this most explicitly when he writes, in his letter to the Church at Rome,
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. - Romans 7:18,19
He continues with a logical exposition, based upon his own personal feelings,
For I delight in the TORAH of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. - Romans 7:22,23
According to this logic, man, so inherently polluted with the materiality of evil, has no way to connect with God Who is all-Spirit, hence cannot follow any God-given Law to God´s satisfaction. Yes, it is a paradox that God has given to man a TORAH which he cannot fulfill. For the moment, let´s forget that God did not give the TORAH to mankind in general; only to the Jews who, taking God seriously, never doubted that the nation of Israel COULD fulfill it.
In this man´s gnostic thinking, since humans cannot approach God and hence cannot fulfill a divine Law, then humans need an intermediary through which they can approach God and be saved from some kind of punishment for being human. The constructed story is that God took it upon Himself to take on human form so as to be able to come into contact with the impure universe and with sinful humanity. The story uses Jewish religious language and symbolism to connect it to real human history. Yes, unlike Zeus or Achilles, Christ the intermediary was a real-life historical person, the incarnation of the Spiritual God, offering himself as an eternal sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind just like Jews offered a sacrifice from sin. After accepting the story as the only means of salvation, Christianity evolved into a religious faith that makes the acceptance of Christ´s sacrifice the sole means of salvation from eternal punishment for being human. From Paul to Luther, and beyond, only faith in Christ can save, works not.
In contrast, the religion of Israel never saw the universe as completely evil. Yes, there is evil in the universe but man can overcome this evil by acting in accordance with God´s will for ethical behavior. God accommodated this wish to act in accordance with His will by giving the TORAH. Jews do sin but they have a blueprint for overcoming sin and correcting their behavior. Sacrifice may be the outward sign of correction but the true mechanism for correction lies in repentance. No one needs to die in order for me to repent and ask God for His good graces.
Christianity´s development concentrated on Who is God and what is His nature? Wars were fought over these questions and millions died because of disagreements over them.
Judaism developed with constant seeking on how best to follow God´s plan for a holy life.
One last word. The answer I have given here is, at best, simplistic. Beyond my answer, there is the fact that both Judaism and Christianity [based on Jewish religious ideas] have inspired their adherents to live lives as decent and loving people. History is filled with awful people and awful deeds but history has always managed to be redeemed by the lives of decent Jews and Christians, as well as decent and kind people of other faiths.
Judaism and Christianity teach many things and above all, the Golden Rule of treating one´s neighbor with the same kind of consideration that one wants for him/herself.
Return To The Essay Index Return To The Literary Index Return To The Site Index Page Email Shlomoh