by Rob Lundberg
Introducing Two Competing Philosophies
You can listen to the podcast episode by this same title:
Is Karma Compatible with a Biblical Worldview?
It has been said, that if you make a philosophy look totally ridiculous, the chances are that you have not understood it. Let me say that if you take a popular look that takes away the essence of the philosophy, the result is the same, a lack of understanding and the risk of committing informal fallacies to make it sound palatable.
Such is the case in a recent posting I made on Twitter that transferred over to my Facebook page about the subject of karma. The Tweet said the following, pointing out the huge chasm between the to concepts,
Karma is getting what we deserve
Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.
Let’s imagine we are talking to someone who is a professing well meaning Christian. And the subject is that there is a person we both know living an immoral lifestyle. During the conversation, our well meaning Christian conversant says that, “Karma would eventually catch up with that person.” What would you think of that?
Let me state right out of the gate that I do not believe in karma. Let me also state that contrary to many well meaning Christian opinions, while the Bible does teach that you reap what you sow in Galatians 6:7, that is NOT karma. Now I know that some of you might take issue with this, and state in unison that “It’s the same thing!” I get it, but let me ask this question, “Are they the same?” As we go through this post together, I hope you will see why my answer is an emphatic “No!”
While on the surface they may appear to be congruent, however what we will see is that the idea of karma is totally incompatible with Christianity and the teachings of Christ.
I. Defining Karma and What are the Non-negotiables?
What is the essence of karma
When it comes to wanting to find out the meaning of terms, the most popular website out there is . . . Wikipedia. When we look up the definition we read,
“In non-theistic religions such as Buddhism, Jainism and the Mimamsa school of Hinduism, karma theory is used to explain the cause of evil as well as to offer distinct ways to avoid or be unaffected by evil in the world.”
Karma is a law of cause and effect and denotes “action, work or deed. Here’s how it works: “If you do evil, then you’ll reap evil or suffering. If you do good then you’ll reap inner joy and peace. Those who teach karma, believe that every action or thought has a corresponding reward. Human suffering, therefore, is not explained as being caused by God’s anger but as a result of ignorance of the divine law.
The Non-negotiable: Reincarnation
Reincarnation is taught by true believers in karma. Reincarnation is the rebirth of the soul into a new body. Depending on the religion or the particular philosophy the soul can make an appearance as another person, animal or plant as it makes its way to an eventual escape from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
And since every action must be rewarded, most do not get fully compensated in this lifetime, which means that there is the necessity for a person to return again and again to satisfy the karma that is coming to them. And, of course, they create more good and bad karma in each lifetime. What is the result, the cycle can goes on indefinitely and there will never be a balance. It’s a vicious circle with no resolution.
Karma has an “atheistic” flavor to it.
The Eastern religions hold to the view of God is being impersonal or nonexistent. There is no belief in a personal god in a karmic religious system. “God” is more like a consciousness that pervades everything and everyone. And you cannot really define the term in the sense that different religious traditions have varied beliefs in who or what God is or whether he even exists at all.
For instance, Hinduism teaches that there is one true god, the supreme spirit that is called Brahman. Brahman has many forms and pervades the entire universe. Most would say that Brahman is present in every person as the eternal spirit called the Atman.
While saying this we need to note that a Buddhist would say that they don’t believe in any god. One Buddhist put it this way:
“We don’t believe in a god because we believe in humanity. We believe that each human being is precious and important, that all have the potential to develop into a Buddha – a perfected human being. We believe that humans can outgrow ignorance and irrationality and see things as they really are. We believe that hatred, anger, spite, and jealousy can be replaced by love, patience, generosity, and kindness. We believe that all this is within the grasp of each person if they make the effort, guided and supported by fellow Buddhists and inspired by the example of the Buddha. As the Buddha says: ‘No one saves us but ourselves, No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path, but Buddhas clearly show the way.’ “
When talking in the historical context about Buddhas, the followers of this religion could be referring to the historical figure called the Buddha (awakened one), or they could be referring to anyone who has attained “full enlightenment.” They supposedly have awakened from the sleep of ignorance and are able to see things as they truly are. In Buddhist teaching, these men are free from faults and mental obstructions. So, in order to escape the cycle of karma, a person would do well to follow these fully enlightened persons.
II. What the Bible Says About Christian Reaping and Sowing?
As we look at this biblical teaching, we will see some vast differences from the law of karma and the biblical teaching of sowing and reaping.
A Personal God and Judge
By comparing the biblical idea of sowing and reaping with karma it becomes immediately clear that they are not in the least bit compatible. The Christian worldview begins with a holy God, who is Creator and Sustainer of the universe. It is ultimately to Him that all men and women must give an account for the things done in this life. Scripture explicitly states in many places that there are no other gods except one. As an example, there is Deuteronomy 6:4 which tells Israel:
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!“
Another passage from the Old Testament which teaches this truth is Deuteronomy 4:35,39. It states:
“To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him. Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.“
Of course, we see that the New Testament follows suit that there is only one God and he is a personal Deity. For instance, Paul tells Timothy:
“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Also, as we’ve stated earlier, it is to this one God that we are to give an account. Peter tells us:
“For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:3-6).
No Reincarnation but Resurrection
Further, Christianity knows nothing of reincarnation. We don’t have multiple chances to get it right if we don’t do it in this life. And when we die we don’t come back as an insect or a cow. Nor do we become a different person. In other words, I was never an Egyptian Pharaoh in a previous life. And no one else was either. The writer of Hebrews informs us: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27).
It also should be noted that the body is at least as important in the Christian worldview as the soul. Karma teaches that we have to be released eventually from this physical world, which would include the physical body. Scripture does, in fact, teach that when we die we are absent from the body. And if we are Christians it says we are present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). However, it also just as plainly states that we will not be absent forever from our bodies. They will be resurrected and we will live eternally in a new body that will not die again. (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). And we will do so on a New Heaven and a New Earth (Revelation 21:1).
To get a better understanding of what these bodies could be like, we need only look at the resurrected Christ. With the exception of his appearance on the road to Emmaus to some of his followers in which his identity was briefly hidden, he was recognized by those he met after his resurrection. So he must have had the same appearance or they couldn’t have recognized him. He wasn’t someone else entirely. He was the same Jesus that had been on the earth for over thirty years. People could touch him and interact with him just as they had before. He also talked about eating and drinking in his future Kingdom (Matthew 26:29). It was a glorified body he had but a body nonetheless.
Scripture tells us that our bodies will be similar. The apostle John informs us:
“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.“ (1 John 3:2,3).
All of this is a far cry from the other Eastern religions with their seemingly endless cycles of souls going into one body after another with various identities.
The Law of the Harvest
It is with the understanding of the law of the harvest that most people equate the Christian worldview with karma. While there is indeed an idea of reaping and sowing in both, that is where it ends.
The Christian teaching is that God created all things and that He placed within nature and the spiritual realm a law that cannot be broken without consequences. That law is known as the law of the harvest.
The Old Testament nation of Israel was an agrarian people. They lived off the land and relied upon crops for survival. From the very beginning, in the book of Genesis, God promised that: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat,
and summer and winter, and day and night Shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22). God placed patterns within nature that allowed for people to harvest what they have sown.
There are several aspects of this law which need to be emphasized. First is that when we reap, we reap what we sow. If you sow apples, you won’t get pears. You will get apples. Negatively, if you plant thorns and thistles, that is what you will get as well.
Secondly, you reap more than what you sow. You plant one apple seed and you will receive multiple apples.
Thirdly, sowing and reaping are proportional. If you sow sparingly you reap sparingly. If you sow bountifully you will reap bountifully.
Finally, you reap later than you sow. A farmer cannot expect to get a crop a day after he plants the seed. It takes time and cultivation in order to reap an abundant harvest.
Let’s Apply This Law of the Harvest to the Spiritual Life
The Apostle Paul applies this law to the spiritual life in Galatians 6:7-9. He warns:
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.“
The truth is that if you sow lies, deceit, theft and other things that pertain to the fleshly nature, you will eventually reap its just rewards for the evil that you’ve sown, either in this life or the one to come. And the same is true for goodness, kindness, generosity and the like.
Admonitions Regarding the Law of the Harvest
Two things need to be pointed out here. First, the Apostle Paul was talking with Christians in this passage. Those who don’t know Jesus Christ as Savior can do nothing to please God for they don’t have the Spirit of God living in them. And the Bible says that there is none that does good or seeks after God on their own. All that they do will be sown to the flesh. (Romans 3:10-12). They reap nothing but eternal damnation and separation from God forever. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit, Christians can sow spiritual seeds that will be rewarded.
The other thing we need to remember is that we are not promised all of our rewards in this life. In fact, we are told we will have tribulation (John 16:33). We have to realize that we always reap later than we sow. Doing good will not necessarily bring riches and prosperity in this present age, contrary to what some preachers are telling their congregations.
Sometimes bad things happen to believers. And, at times, it seems that unbelievers are better off, even if they are sinning. That is never the case, however. It is by God’s grace that their punishment is delayed. Ultimately Christians can be sure of the rewards for faithfulness that the Lord has promised us in the life to come. Paul tells the Galatian believers:
“Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have an opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:9).
When all is said and done, it is God who is the perfect and holy judge of all the earth. He will see that righteousness is rewarded and that sin is punished. When we cite karma as the force that will do these things we are taking the glory away from the one who alone deserves our fear and our praise. Now I know that people will use it in a trite manner. But when they do, they do it out of ignorance.
As one who believes that the meaning behind anything is found in its origin, karma is not real. Karma is a pagan concept which promotes a form of salvation by works and the believer in Jesus Christ would do well to remove it from his or her vocabulary.
One day you may find yourself speaking with an American Hindu or one who embraces a form of Buddhism. If the subject of reaping and sowing comes up, and you use the term karma in the conversation, you might confuse them with the term. If, on the other hand you still want to hold on the “pet” term, and use it in your own context, caveat emptor, if ever involved in that conversation who understands the real idea of karma. You will really find out how seriously wrong you are in using the term.
I believe that our communication and knowledge of the terms ministering to people of a foreign worldview is important, and has no place in our daily slang. It is easier to leave it alone and give God His proper place in the universe- for in the end He will not be denied!
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