By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Contemporary English Version)
Quotation For Contemplation
“If a husband beats his wife, the cause-and-effect law of karma will cause him to be reincarnated in his next life as a wife who is beaten by her husband. That husband (who will have been prepared by his karma to be a wife-beater) must in turn come back in his next life as a wife beaten by her husband; a murderer must in turn become the victim of murder, and so forth endlessly. The perpetrator of each crime must become the victim of the same crime, which necessitates another perpetrator, who in turn must become a subsequent victim at the hands of yet another, ad infinitum. Rather than solving the problem of evil, karma and reincarnation perpetuate it.” (Dave Hunt, Occult Invasion: The Subtle Seduction Of The World And Church, 357-364 (Kindle Edition); Bend, Oregon; The Berean Call)
Questions For Consideration
Is suffering always the result of personal sin?
Is suffering ever the result of personal sin?
Why do we suffer?
Was Everything Job’s Fault?
In our studies of the Book of Job, we have seen that the philosophies of atheism, sadism, and dualism cannot account for the existence of evil, pain, and suffering in our universe.
Indeed each of these systems of thought is faced with multiple irreconcilable contradictions which show clearly that they are not true.
In this article, we will investigate another belief-system which tries to account for the reason behind the suffering in this life.
It is the belief that all suffering is a punishment that we deserve because of personal sin.
Throughout Job, we see that this was the pervading belief of Job’s friends. For example, consider some of the statements of these “friends” of Job:
Job 4:7-11-7 No truly innocent person has ever died young.
8 In my experience, only those who plant seeds of evil harvest trouble,
9 and then they are swept away by the angry breath of God.
10 They may roar and growl like powerful lions. But when God breaks their teeth,
11 they starve, and their children are scattered.
Job 8:4-6-4 He made your children pay for their sins.
5 So why don’t you turn to him
6 and start living right? Then he will decide to rescue and restore you to your place of honor.
Job 15:4-6-4 Your words are enough to make others turn from God and lead them to doubt.
5 And your sinful, scheming mind is the source of all you say.
6 I am not here as your judge; your own words are witnesses against you.
Job 22:4-11-4 Is he correcting you for worshiping him?
5 No! It’s because of your terrible sins.
6 To guarantee payment of a debt, you have taken clothes from the poor.
7 And you refused bread and water to the hungry and thirsty,
8 although you were rich, respected, and powerful.
9 You have turned away widows and have broken the arms of orphans.
10 That’s why you were suddenly trapped by terror,
11 blinded by darkness, and drowned in a flood.
It is clear from these passages that Job’s friends believed that he was suffering because of the sins he had committed against God and against his fellow man.
In their minds, the only possible way to account for suffering was to conclude that each persons’s suffering was the consequence of personal wrongs that they had committed. Even though the experiences of Job demonstrated this was not the case, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar continued to believe in this philosophy.
Sadly, even today many hold to the belief that if a person suffers, it must be because they had committed some terrible sin. It seems that many still have not learned this principle lesson of the Book of Job.
This leads us to the doctrine known as karma.
Many Christians use the term karma, but I am convinced that they do not realize what karma actually is. If they knew the meaning of this word, surely they would never believe in it!
Well, what exactly is karma?
The word itself literally means “action.”
It is the word used to describe a very particular teaching of several Eastern religions (such as Buddhism and Hinduism).
Karma is the belief that everything which a person suffers is due to a sin that was committed, either in this life or in a past life.
Josh McDowell provides an excellent working definition:
“Moksha, also known as mukti, is the Hindu term used for the liberation of the soul from the wheel of karma. For the Hindu, the chief aim of the existence is to be freed from samsara (the binding life-cycle) and the wheel of karma with its endless cycle of births, deaths and rebirths. When one achieves this liberation, he enters into a state of fullness or completion. The word karma literally means action and refers to a person’s actions and the consequences thereof. In Hinduism, one’s present state of existence is determined by his performance in previous lifetimes. The law of karma is the law of moral consequence, or the effect of any action upon the performer in a past, present or even future existence. As one performs righteous acts, he moves toward liberation from the cycle of successive births and deaths. Contrariwise, if one’s deeds are evil, he will move further from liberation. The determining factor is one’s karma. The cycle of births, deaths and rebirths could be endless. Samsara refers to transmigration or rebirth. It is the passing through a succession of lives based upon the direct reward or penalty of one’s karma. This continuous chain consists of suffering from the results of acts of ignorance or sin in past lives. At each successive rebirth, the soul, which the Hindus consider to be eternal, moves from one body to another and carries with it the karma from its previous existence. The rebirth may be to a higher form, i.e., a member of a higher caste or god, or down the social ladder to a lower caste or animal, since the wheel of karma applies to both man and animals.” (Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, A Ready Defense: The Best Of Josh McDowell, 273 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)
Many religious persons throughout time have subscribed to a belief in karma (or a variant form of it), and have come to believe that this doctrine accounts for the evil, pain, and suffering in our universe.
Describing the position of New Age religions in this regard, we are told:
“Many New Agers base their ethics on reincarnation and karma. The process of reincarnation (continual rebirths) is said to continue until the soul has reached a state of perfection and merges back with its source (God or the Universal Soul). Karma refers to the “debt” a soul accumulates because of good or bad actions committed during one’s life (or past lives). If one accumulates good karma, he or she will allegedly be reincarnated in a desirable state. If one accumulates bad karma, he or she will be reincarnated in a less desirable state. Many New Agers explain the existence of evil in our world strictly in terms of karma. Popular New Age writer Gary Zukav, for example, says we must not presume to judge when people suffer cruelly, for “we do not know what is being healed [via karma] in these sufferings.”38 What Zukav calls “nonjudgmental justice” relieves us of having to be judge and jury regarding apparent evil; the law of karma will bring about justice in the end. Would Zukav really have us believe that when soldiers in Ceylon shot a nursing mother and then shot off the toes of her baby for target practice, this was somehow bringing “healing” to her and her child’s souls? When Shiites in the Soviet Union ripped open the womb of a pregnant Armenian woman and tore the limbs from the fetus (real events reported in the newspaper), does Zukav really expect us to place our faith in “nonjudgmental justice” instead of becoming morally outraged? Where is the divine and the sacred in this? There are numerous problems with the doctrine of reincarnation. Practically speaking, one must ask, Why does one get punished for something he or she cannot remember having done in a previous life? Further, if (as we are told) the purpose of karma is to rid humanity of its selfish desires over many lifetimes, then why has there not been a noticeable improvement in human nature after all the millennia of reincarnations? Why has evil continued to grow? Still further, if reincarnation and the law of karma are so beneficial on a practical level, as New Agers claim, then how do they explain the continued social and economic problems—including widespread poverty, starvation, disease, and horrible suffering—in India, where reincarnation has been systematically taught throughout its history?” (Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, Who Made God? And Answers To Over 100 Other Tough Questions Of Faith, 44-45 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
Did Some Hebrews In Bible Days Believe In A Form Of Karma?
Not only did Job’s friends believe in a form of karma, but so also did others throughout the Bible. The belief that suffering is always the result of personal sin was clearly espoused by even the Apostles of Christ:
John 9:1-3-1 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who had been blind since birth.
2 Jesus’ disciples asked, “Teacher, why was this man born blind? Was it because he or his parents sinned?”
3 “No, it wasn’t!” Jesus answered. “But because of his blindness, you will see God work a miracle for him.
Many of the Hebrews of Jesus’ day could not conceive of suffering apart from sin.
Sadly, they had a view very much like Job’s friends. While most of the Jews in the first century did not believe in the specific doctrines of karma and reincarnation (although some did), they believed in teachings which were very similar.
William Barclay, commenting on the incident here recorded in John 9, explains to us:
“When they saw him, they used the opportunity to put to Jesus a problem with which Jewish thought had always been deeply concerned, and which is still a problem. The Jews connected suffering and sin. They worked on the assumption that wherever there was suffering, somewhere there was sin. So they asked Jesus their question. ‘This man’, they said, ‘is blind. Is his blindness due to his own sin, or to the sin of his parents?’ How could the blindness possibly be due to his own sin, when he had been blind from his birth? To that question, the Jewish theologians gave two answers. (1) Some of them had the strange notion of pre-natal sin. They actually believed that it was possible to begin to sin while still in the womb. In the imaginary conversations between Antoninus and Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, Antoninus asks: ‘From what time does the evil influence bear sway over a man, from the formation of the embryo in the womb or from the moment of birth?’ The Rabbi first answered: ‘From the formation of the embryo.’ Antoninus disagreed and convinced Judah by his arguments, for Judah admitted that, if the evil impulse began with the formation of the embryo, then the child would kick in the womb and break his way out. Judah found a text to support this view. He took the saying in Genesis 4: 7: ‘Sin is lurking at the door.’ And he put the meaning into it that sin awaited human life at the door of the womb, as soon as a child was born. But the argument does show us that the idea of pre-natal sin was known. (2) In the time of Jesus, the Jews believed in the preexistence of the soul….They believed that all souls existed before the creation of the world in the garden of Eden, or that they were in the seventh heaven, or in a certain chamber, waiting to enter into a body. The Greeks had believed that such souls were good, and that it was the entry into the body which contaminated them; but there were certain Jews who believed that these souls were already good and bad. The writer of The Book of Wisdom says: ‘As a child I was naturally gifted, and a good soul fell to my lot’ (Wisdom 8: 19). In the time of Jesus, certain Jews did believe that a person’s affliction, even if it was from birth, might come from sin that had been committed before that person was born. It is a strange idea, and it may seem to us almost fantastic; but at its heart lies the idea of a sin-infected universe.” (William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel Of John-Volume Two, 43-44 (Kindle Edition); Edinburgh, England; Saint Andrew Press)
Jesus clearly taught here that not all suffering is the result of personal sin.
On another occasion, He proclaimed:
Luke 13:1-5-About this same time Jesus was told that Pilate had given orders for some people from Galilee to be killed while they were offering sacrifices.
2 Jesus replied: Do you think that these people were worse sinners than everyone else in Galilee just because of what happened to them?
3 Not at all! But you can be sure that if you don’t turn back to God, every one of you will also be killed.
4 What about those eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Do you think they were worse than everyone else in Jerusalem?
5 Not at all! But you can be sure that if you don’t turn back to God, every one of you will also die.
Please notice that Jesus makes it clear that the horrible deaths of these people was not as a punishment because they were terrible sinners.
Not all suffering is the result of personal sin.
Is Suffering Ever The Result Of Sin?
The Bible does indeed teach that sometimes suffering is the result of personal sin:
Proverbs 13:15 (Amplified)-Good understanding wins favor, but the way of the transgressor is hard [like the barren, dry soil or the impassable swamp].
Galatians 6:7-8 (NKJV)-7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
However, the teaching that ALL suffering is the result of personal sin is clearly not supported by the Word of God.
Some Of The Effects Of The Teaching Of Karma On The World
There are many negative effects of the teaching of karma in our world today.
One of the most obvious effects of the teaching of karma in our world deals with compassion.
Belief in karma hardens the hearts of people to the suffering of their fellows.
If a person suffers, and that suffering must be the result of their personal sin, then why feel any compassion for them?
Why not let them suffer instead?
One author elaborates:
“The incredible aspect of this teaching is that the more painful one’s existence, the more certain that the previous life is successfully paying its dues. So that when one picks up the body of a little child, deformed from birth, karma is in operation. One might not wish to admit this, but that is the existential reality of this teaching. Some years ago, I was told of a group of missionaries and their families who had been killed in a bus accident near a village in a Buddhist country. Within minutes, the bus was ransacked and the bodies pillaged for loot. The reason— those who died were only receiving their karma, and there is nothing wrong in taking what is left from one who is paying his or her dues.” (Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing), 122- 123.)
When I was researching my book on reincarnation, I was amazed to learn how the doctrine of karma had fueled one of the most horrific practices of mankind’s history: the act of human sacrifice.
I had often wondered, How could parents sacrifice their children?
How could entire societies buy into the lies of the fallen angels to the point that they would condone such horrible atrocities?
Part of the answer, amazingly, was found in the doctrine of karma.
Writing of the practice of human sacrifice among many tribes of Native Americans in the last two hundred years, we are told:
“Another pagan doctrine remained to be dealt with. Tribes that scarified only outsiders did not concern themselves much with the state after death of those they dispatched. Those that killed their own members, however, had designed elaborate justifications for the victim’s death. The most powerful of these justifications, one that remains today as part of Hindu, and now New Age, doctrine, is the combined dogma of karma and reincarnation. Reincarnation literally means “fleshed again.” It is the doctrine that after death we simply are born again as another person or creature. This means you never really die; you just pass on to another life. Karma is the bad or good you store up for yourself in previous lives. Everything that happens to you in this life is considered to be a direct effect from something good or bad you did in a previous life. Everything you do in this life will also lead to good or bad karma in future lives. Therefore, any suffering you receive is your own fault, and not to be pitied. And since suffering patiently leads to good karma in a future life, relieving pain is positively an evil act. Mix these doctrines with human sacrifice, and you end up with victims who sincerely believe they will be benefited by being scarified, and executioners who feel positively noble about murdering the victim. Also, since being sacrificed benefits the victim, there is no theoretical limit on the number of executions. All other forms of sacrifice had to justify some benefit to a third party or society. Only karma/reincarnation makes being sacrificed the benefit. This explains the incredible amount of sacrifice that went on in both Hindu and Aztec civilizations. Both cultures strongly stressed that people who submitted to sacrifice in this life would receive a superior station in the next.” (Paul de Parrie & Mary Pride, Unholy Sacrifices of the New Age (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books), 16- 17.)
Speaking of how these concepts of karma and reincarnation have fueled pagan religions for thousands of years (and how these are symbolically reenacted in modern day Wiccan religions), one former Wiccan turned follower of Jesus Christ has written:
“Basically, the rite of Divine King teaches that the High Priest and/ or King is magically linked to the land over which he ruled. If the High Priest King (HPK) sickens, the land suffers. If he prospers, the land prospers…Like most Pagan myths, this one has a dark side. There comes a time when the HPK (High Priest King) can no longer rule, so he must be slain for the good of the land. His blood must spill out upon the land to restore its fertility. Wicca honors this myth in its cycle of sabbats in which the god dies, and is reborn. A High Priest is only allowed to reign in traditional covens for seven years. Then he must retire and be replaced by a younger, virile Priest….If, however, the land of the covendom (his “kingdom”) becomes infertile, then the High Priest was slain in an act of ritual sex with his High Priestess…I was fully prepared (and indeed felt honored) for this if things grew bad under the years of my High and I lived to become a High Priest emeritus. This ceremony is a reflection of countless myths of slain and risen gods13 all the way back to the slain Nimrod in Babylon. Nimrod’s wife Semiramis asserted that her child by him was the new “Nimrod,” and the old Nimrod, now dead, became a god. 14 This fraud religion began this myth, which is reflected to this very day in the Wiccan concept of the eternal Goddess (Semiramis) and her son/ lover the Horned God (Nimrod and Nimrod, jr.) who dies and is reborn every year…This ritual slaying of the HPK is so deeply enshrined in Witchcraft and Paganism that Dr. Margaret Murray, the woman most responsible for the Wiccan revival in this century and its patron scholar, spends an entire chapter of one of her books discussing how various kings of England (or their ritual substitutes) were thus ritually slain and how integral this ritual cycle of the Divine King is to Wicca…Wiccans are either performing blood rituals, or they are betraying the very historicity which they claim to cherish so highly.” (William Schnoebelen, Wicca: Satan’s Little White Lie, 1587-1617 (Kindle Edition); Ontario, CA: Chick Publications)
It is difficult to estimate the incredible harm which this wicked doctrine of karma has done in our world.
Problems With Karma
The first major problem with the doctrine of karma is that it does not actually explain why there is evil to begin with.
Why is there evil?
How did the completely impersonal universe somehow give rise to personal beings?
What is the source of the original evil?
How does free will fit into the equation?
On this, occultists provide much speculation, but no substance.
The second major problem with the doctrine of karma is that it is contradictory in nature.
If we are supposed to be using our present life to pay for the debt of our past lives, then what about the debt that we incur in the present life?
How can we ever pay off the debt?
This would lead to an infinite regress, which would in turn lead to an infinite number of contradictions.
Furthermore, how are we supposed to pay off the debt for past lives since we cannot remember our alleged past lives?
It just doesn’t add up.
Third, another major problem with karma is that the Bible teaches that not all suffering is the result of personal sin.
If the Bible is the Word of God (and we have plenty of evidences to support this conclusion-from the supernatural unity of the Bible, prophecy and fulfillment, miraculous validation as corroborated through archaeological discovery, etc-), and if the Bible teaches that not all suffering is the result of personal sin (as the Book of Job and the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles do), then it is the case that not all suffering is the result of personal sin.
Fourth, the doctrines of karma and reincarnation are clearly refuted by the teaching of the Apostle Paul who declared that it is appointed for men to die once (Hebrews 9:27). People do not have past lives. Each person has one life to live in this world.
Fifth, the doctrine of karma does not in any way, shape, or form account for the existence of evil, pain, and suffering, nor does it in any way minimize it.
On the contrary, the doctrine that all suffering is the result of personal sin only serves to bring more confusion to the questions we are studying, and (as been demonstrated above) actually serves to further the suffering in our world instead of helping to remedy it.
The belief system of karma (and resulting teachings springing from this doctrine) cannot adequately explain the existence of evil, pain, and suffering in our universe.
Indeed, the Book of Job clearly establishes that not all suffering is the result of personal sin; and, going beyond that, we see that God can allow personal suffering into our lives in order to build and to bless us.
In our next lesson, we will examine whether or not the Bible itself can furnish an answer to the existence of evil, pain, and suffering in our universe.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.