Part 2: Answering questions from Christians
I thought it would be of interest to my readers to share this on my blog. Below are some questions that were emailed to me by Christians and my replies to them.
Question 1: “What do Jews believe in regards to heaven and hell? Are these real?”
Answer: Jews believe that G-d is the one who lives in heaven with His angels (and other supernatural creatures), although G-d is present everywhere and is not limited to heaven. Some Jews hold that souls of human beings also reside with G-d until He sends them to live in a body. However, the permanent place for human beings is on this earth, which G-d will renew at some point, both before and after resurrection. Hell (Gehinnom), in Judaism, is not the place for eternal, never-ending punishment or of fire and brimstone (although some medieval Jewish commentators referred to it as such, perhaps reflecting the Christian understanding), but rather a place where the dead sleep, awaiting their resurrection and judgement. Some Jews hold that souls return (in some fashion) to G-d upon one’s death, until the Resurrection and reunion with the body. Some Jewish sages viewed Gehinnom as a place 0f refinement and purification. Ultimately, Jews do not speculate much about the afterlife or put so much emphasis on the hereafter the way Christianity, Islam and most other religions do (the ancient Egyptians are a great example), but rather hold that some things will be revealed to us later: “The secret things belong to the L-rd our G-d, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this Torah.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
Question 2: “How do Jews determine who’s to live (eternally) and who is not?”
Answer: Only G-d determines that because only He knows the heart of every human being. However, the Bible says that those who lived a righteous lives and depended on G-d will not be rejected by Him: “The L-RD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18) I know it terrifies many Christians to not be absolutely certain about one’s ultimate destiny, because they believe that unspeakable and unending horrors and tortures await all those who do not believe in Jesus.
Question 3: “Where do you draw the line between good and bad? What is the spiritual life all about and where does one go after death?”
Answer: There’s no “line”, but G-d didn’t make it impossible to please Him nor does He expect perfection (although He does want us to perfect ourselves) or sets impossible standards – that’s not what the Hebrew Bible teaches anywhere. Don’t live wickedly, shun sin, pursue righteousness, love G-d and fellowman. The souls returns to her Maker, as it says in Ecclesiastes 12:7: “the spirit will return to G-d who gave it.”
Question 4: “What is God’s fairness?”
Answer: G-d is a judge and you can be sure that He judges fairly. At the same time, He doesn’t owe anything to anyone.
Question 5: “If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, what is the theory then, what happened to him? Who then did appear to the apostles and who was it they witnessed ascending into heaven?”
Answer: There are many theories. All we have to go by are the gospels, which means it’s all a matter of faith. However, Paul says that he saw Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:8), but of course we know that in his case he only saw a vision, a light, not Jesus in the flesh, since by that time Jesus ascended up into Heaven according to some of the gospels. Also, the resurrection accounts in the gospels all differ in many important details, including timing and locations (you’ll have to do your own research). Note that the Gospel of Mark, considered the earliest of the four gospels, completely omits the actual resurrection account of Jesus’ appearing to disciples and even the giving of the “Great Commission”, with bunch of verses added to the ending by the church scribes to “fix” the problem – see your NIV or this link).
Stay tuned for Part 3.