As a Christian, I can’t deny that other religions have some very attractive aspects to them. In this entry, let’s focus specifically on rewards and reward systems.
One of the key aspects to Christianity is the concept of Original Sin, stating that we are all born into sin and that it is only through God’s forgiveness that we can be purified. There is no amount of work, no set of good deeds, that we can do to earn this, because our sin is so great. We are so tainted, and continue to fail so regularly and to such degrees, that the bridge between humanity and God can never be completed by our work alone.
Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, forgiveness is extended to all of humanity, and those of us who are called by His name have been grafted into His family and will enter heaven when we die. We will transition from this life to the next in an instant, to spend eternity with our heavenly Father.
Our reward is assured because God promises it.
Buddhism accepts the karmic system as a natural law, in that good actions will return to the actor, just as negative actions will return to them. Good actions that fall within the Buddhistic laws earn an individual merit, or puñya, and an abundance of merit will ensure an improved rebirth. You will not escape saṃsāra, but you might be reborn as a god in the heavens.
This has a strong pull and attraction to me. As humans, or at least I perceive Americans this way, we want to earn what we have and/or receive. To work hard and do good works and thereby achieve godhood; to be reborn in heaven to live thousands of years and have immense power… well, it’s certainly appealing.
The problem is that it’s not true, no matter how appealing it is. My statement and subsequent arguments aren’t convincing to either believers or unbelievers, but I know what is true based on my relationship with God and His Holy Word. Buddhism and Christianity, despite the attempts of some, are simply mutually exclusive. Not to say there aren’t aspects of Buddhism, such as meditation, that can’t be employed by a Christian, but our focus and goals are entirely different.
We cannot save ourselves, nor can we earn our respite or rewards. I really wish we could, but in my (recognizably) limited experience, I am confident that we cannot earn heaven. And though there are certain things about God and this life that I must take on faith, I do so whole-heartedly.
So, what does it mean that our reward is assured by God, rather than our own works? Some have interpreted this to mean that we do not have to work for it, or something along those lines… and that argument has gone round and round for centuries.
The truth is, we owe Him our thanks and love, and I think if we really understood both God’s sacrifice and His love, we’d gladly give it. I’m only recently beginning to understand this concept, and intend to write more on it at length… just not now. Let me leave it with this:
Our earthly kings wear crowns of gold and jewels to denote their greatness. Our Heavenly King wore a crown of thorns, and gave His everything for us. Yes, earning our reward has a certain satisfaction inherent in both the belief and the action, but it’s not only false and impossible, it rejects the gift given to us by our King. We should work to serve, but we can never supplant Him.