Are Karma and Christianity Compatible?
I recently talked with someone who believed in Karma and also identified themselves as Christian. Basically, they were talking about a person who was living an immoral lifestyle and said that Karma would eventually catch up with that person. When I told them that I didn't believe in Karma they looked a bit puzzled at me. Then I told them that the Bible does teach that you reap what you sow in Galatians 6:7. The person said: "Exactly! It's the same thing!" But my question to him and to you as well is: "Are they the same?" My answer to that is an unqualified: "No!" Though on the surface they may appear to be equal, the idea of Karma is totally incompatible with Christianity and the teachings of Christ,
I. What is Karma?
1. Definition of Karma
According to Wikipedia: "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, which literally means "action, work or deed", is the law of cause and effect. 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.
2. The Centrality of Reincarnation
Reincarnation is taught by true believers in Karma. Reincarnation is the rebirth of the soul in 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.
Since every action must be rewarded and most do not get fully compensated in this lifetime it makes it a 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 so the cycle can go on indefinitely.
3. No Personal God
There is no belief in a personal god in this religious system. It 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 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. Christian Reaping and Sowing
1. A Personal God and Judge
By comparing the biblical idea of reaping and sowing with Karma it becomes immediately clear that they are not 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 thy God is one LORD."
Another passage from the Old Testament which teaches this truth is Deuteronomy 4:35,39. It states:
"Unto thee, it was shown, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him. Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else."
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 between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." (I 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 we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason, the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." (I Peter 4:3-6).
2. 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 as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the 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 (II 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. (I 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 will 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, we are now the children of God, and what we will be has not been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like him, for we will see Him as is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.…" (I John 3:2,3).
All of this is a far cry from other religions with their seemingly endless cycles of souls going into one body after another with various identities.
3. The Law of the Harvest
It is with the understanding of the law of the harvest that most people equate the Christian world-view with Karma. There is indeed an idea of reaping and sowing in both. However, 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 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: "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." (Genesis 8:22). God placed patterns within nature that allowed for people to harvest what is sown.
There are several aspects of this law which need to be emphasized. The first is that you reap what you 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.
3a. The Law of the Harvest and 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 cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return. The one who sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; but the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
The truth is that if you sow lies, deceit, theft and other things that pertain to the fleshly nature, you will eventually reap the just desserts 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.
3b. Admonitions Regarding the Law of the Harvest
Two things need to be pointed out here. First, the Apostle 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. Karma is not real. It is a pagan concept which promotes a form of salvation by works and the believer in Jesus Christ must remove it from his or her vocabulary. Let us give God his proper place in the universe- for in the end he will not be denied!
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© 2018 Jeff Shirley