Wednesday, August 21, 2013


My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Karma:

Q:  Does Christianity believe in Karma?  How does Christianity believe peoples actions toward one another are rewarded and punished in this world? 

Karma is an idea that originates in East-Asian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.  Their understanding of both time and life is one of repeating cycles rather than the linear progression that we in the western world understand.  So, while we illustrate the passage of time with timelines of history, they would draw a shape resembling a coiled spring that wraps back on itself. 

Part of this understanding includes reincarnation, which is the belief that souls are repeatedly born into a series of lives over the course of time.  Karma carries the result that those who do good in one life will advance in the next while those who do evil will regress in the next life.  Many in these religions also believe that Karma also influences events within lives. 

This means that those who do what is right in this life would receive good fortune in return while those who do evil in this life would suffer loss or tragedy in return.  These karmic responses are not seen as being guided by a personal god, but rather an impersonal universe which seeks to keep balance by repaying actions with consequences in kind. 

While such an understanding might seem quite sensible on its surface, such ideas are completely foreign to a Christian understanding of things.  When Jesus’ disciples encountered a man who had been born blind, they asked whether it was he or his parents who had committed a sin to cause such a thing to occur.  Jesus clearly denies that any such thing is true, saying that neither was the cause of his blindness. 

Even though sometimes sinful or unwise behavior has natural consequences, Christianity does not understand any system, with or without the guidance of God, which repays them in this life.  Instead, the unanimous witness of Scripture is that earthly tragedies are a result of sin in the world.  However, this is not a correspondence of one sin or one person’s sin to certain consequences.  Instead, the Bible portrays earthly suffering as the consequences broken by the collective weight of human sin. 

For Christianity, there are consequences to sinful behavior that go beyond the natural results of the action, but these consequences are eternal rather earthly, and complete rather than proportional—any deviation from perfection deserves eternal death and punishment in hell.

Rewards in Christianity are likewise opposite to the idea of karma.  Christianity sees no ability in humans to earn rewards from God.  Because they fail to achieve perfection, they fail the test of God’s law. 

Instead, rewards are received by the Christian based on Jesus’ performance rather than their own.  Whoever trusts in Jesus’ is promised to be rewarded on the basis of His perfect record which replaces their own.  These rewards are received as a gift rather than earned, and like the punishments deserved for sin, they are only realized in eternity. 

While trust in Jesus has benefits in this world such as peace with God and relief from the anxiety of relying on the uncertainties of our imperfect efforts in relation to God, these benefits are secondary to the primary reward of resurrected life with Jesus that will be initiated on the Last Day and continue without end. 

Karma is ultimately the complete opposite of the Christian understanding of rewards and punishments—both because it relies on a different basis (human performance vs. divine gift) and because it awards them in this life or subsequent lives rather than in an eternity which commences following only a single life in this world. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Doubt and Certainty

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about certainty and doubt in Christianity:

Q:  How can I be certain that I am really Christian?  If I find myself doubting, can I still be saved?

This is a question that Christians throughout the ages have found themselves considering.  Because humans are hard-wired for action for the purpose of survival, we almost automatically translate this capacity in earthly things into our consideration of spiritual things.  In keeping with this, many people even mistakenly attribute Benjamin Franklin’s proverb that “God helps those who help themselves” to the Bible instead. 

Because we are personally responsible for preserving the security of our earthly provisions, although doing so with talents and strength that were given by God, we too often assume that the same applies when we begin considering heavenly matters. 

Even for Christians who acknowledge that Jesus saves us as a gift, which we receive by trusting in and relying upon, the temptation arises to look within ourselves for a measurement of how well we trust in Jesus or how fully we rely upon Him.  But doing this introduces an element of doubt by placing the focus on our believing instead of God’s grace. 

When we consider our standing before God, however, Scripture makes abundantly clear that, spiritually speaking, there is nothing good in us that can cause or improve where we stand with God, and that there is no effort or worthiness in us that is sufficient to participate in saving us. 

Paul quotes the Psalms as evidence of this when he writes in the book of Romans:  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understand; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; toether they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

However, this is not bad news.  In fact, it serves to prepare us for even greater assurance.  If we were capable of contributing something, we would be expected to do so, and accountable if we failed.  Instead, as Paul tells the Ephesians:  “It is by grace you are saved, through faith…not by works.”  Nothing within man is the determining factor in salvation—not our decision, not our cooperation, not even the quantity or quality of our believing. 

Instead, we place all of our confidence and certainty on Jesus.  He has accomplished salvation.  He forgives sins.  He does it all.  Faith is not a degree of trust that a Christian works up within himself to come to or look to Jesus, but instead, it is the Christian’s denial of themselves and their own participation and their reliance upon Jesus’ death as the complete and already-accomplished cause of salvation. 

When the Bible warns against “doubt,” what it cautions against is unbelief—the prideful rejection of Jesus as the all-accomplishing savior or the denial of His forgiveness.  When the Christian who still trusts in Jesus, finds himself questioning in search of confirmation or feeling a degree of uncertainty because of his own weakness or the deceit of false teachers, this is not the doubt which condemns, but rather, a part of the spiritual battle that rages as long as this life endures.

If embraced or allowed to fester, such doubts could eventually grow like a cancer to endanger a Christians soul, but when treated with the antidote of Scripture and the Sacraments and relieved by the support of fellow Christians, they often prove to be the experiences which ultimately serve to advance the Christian in their understanding of and perseverance in the Faith, as James says:  “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”