Book Review: The Life Worth Living

The Life Worth Living: Faith in Action

Author: Byron L. Sherwin

bsherwinPublisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009

165 pages, including Bibliography, ISBN 978-0-8028-6293-8, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Rabbi Dr. Sherwin is a prolific author, internationally acclaimed theologian, ethicist, and Distinguished Service Professor at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, and has made significant contributions to Jewish-Christian dialogues.

   This volume is addressed mainly to those interested in the realm of faith, open to further, deeper inquiry and growth in their faith and life journey; without being bogged down by technical, theological jargon.

   The work contains a preface, eleven chapters, and a bibliography. The chapter titles give readers some sense of the book’s direction, and are as follows: Where Are You? The Quest for Success; What Do You Mean? Life as Art Form; Where Is Wisdom to Be Found? The Gift of Love; Thank God; Ego Management; In Partnership with God; Ups and Downs; Exquisite Living. Each chapter begins with a story drawn from a wide variety of sources from both Jewish and Christian literature, which set the tone for the chapter’s theme. One of my favourites is chapter seven, Thank God: Once there were two little girls who were best friends. One was Christian, the other was Jewish. After Christmas, the grandfather of the Christian girl asked her: “What did your best friend get for Christmas?”

   “Oh, she’s not Christmas, Grandpa,” the little girl replied. “I am Christmas, and she is Hanukkah.” Then she paused for a moment, smiled and said, “But we’re both Thanksgiving.” (p. 94)

   The first chapter, Where Are You, is the question that God asks Adam and Eve after they have eaten the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, (Genesis 3:9). Rather than viewing this as a question however, the rabbi suggests that we look at it as a problem instead. “God is asking, What is your situation? Where are you in your life, now that you have eaten the forbidden fruit?” (p. 2) Such an awareness of where one is in life helps one to realise their responsibilities for what they have done in one’s life.

   Echoing the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, Rabbi Dr. Sherwin believes that: “For the person who loves, life is never devoid of meaning. Other moral virtues may contribute to a life of meaning—like faith, integrity, or courage—but love does more than contribute to meaning; love underlies it.” (p. 78)

   Citing the Talmud, the rabbi emphasises the destructive nature of gossip, stating that a gossiper is like a murderer, and “in effect kills three people: the one who speaks gossip, the one who hears gossip, and the one about whom the gossip is said.” (p. 137)

   Speaking of the importance of gratitude, the rabbi observes that it lifts human beings out of the ruts of self-pity and depression and allows them to be content with life.

   Addressing the matter of repentance, which in Hebrew, literally means return-teshuvah; Rabbi Dr. Sherwin speaks of it as “spiritual rehabilitation.” He suggests that it “is grounded in optimism, in hope, because it assumes the possibility of improvement. As an old myth reminds us, hope has two daughters: anger and courage—anger at the way some things are, and courage to try to change the way those things are.” (pp. 140-141)

   Overall, even if one does not always agree with Rabbi Dr. Sherwin, this work is an engaging read, chock-full of creative, insightful life-and-faith observations helpful to both clergy and laity, and giving the reader a deeper appreciation for the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity.