What is to be gained from my death, from my descent into the Pit? Can dust praise You? Can it declare Your faithfulness? (30:10)
I am always struck by the difference in tone between Jewish and Christian obituaries in the Grand Rapids Press. Most often, the obituaries of faithful Christians speak about the joy of going to be with Jesus or God, a sentiment that is rarely, if ever, found expressed in a Jewish obituary.
One of the questions at the center of the difference between the two types of obituary is whether salvation is the primary goal of the religious life. For Christians, salvation achieved through belief in Jesus is the starting point for one’s religious behavior. The reward of salvation is union with God/Jesus. For Jews, one’s behavior with respect to the system of mitzvot (Divine commandments) is the goal of a religious life. The Psalmist reflects the belief that the ability to praise God or serve God through mitzvot ends with one’s death; therefore, the union with God after death ironically ends one’s ability to serve God.
Judaism and Christianity, each in its own way, encourage the individual to live a life of service to others and service of God. The path, though, are dramatically different. Christianity starts with belief, asserting that a sincere belief in Jesus go hand in hand with adherence to a Jesus centered set of behaviors. Judaism starts out with a detailed set of behavioral expectations, believing that adherence to mitzvot will nurture a relationship with God.