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.