What is karma? It seems like the word is used now everywhere I turn, but I don’t really understand what it is. How does it relate to Christianity, because I hear Christians using it too?
W K from Georgia
Definitions (Part 1)
I agree with you that the word has successfully wormed its way into our culture in the last several years. It has come to be the shortcut word to loosely explain the concept, “what goes around comes around.” It’s real meaning is rooted in belief systems that embrace reincarnation, mainly, Hinduism and Buddhism and Jainism.
There are differences between how each religion sees karma played out, but they all believe that your actions and deeds in your current life accumulate and determine where you will end up in your next life. For instance, in Hinduism, if you live a bad life this time, you might have to devolve into a lower life form next, such as a frog or perhaps a fly. It may take you many lives just to work your way back up to being a human being.
Karma is also used to explain the circumstances of your present life. Karma believes that if your current life is in terrible condition, it is the result of what you did in your past life. In other words, you are getting what you deserve based on past decisions you made. Of course you don’t remember those decisions, so you enter lifecycle after lifecycle, a helpless puppet in the hands of a pitiless system. I once heard of a Hindu man explain to his Christian friend that reincarnation is the cruelest of all possible systems. I think he’s right.
Sowing and Reaping (Part 2)
Is this concept different than the Christian understanding of reaping and sowing? Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” There are also many other scriptures that discuss this spiritual principle. Well yes, there is a HUGE difference between Christian sowing and reaping and karma. Christians believe that we have one life. Where we go after that one life is a matter of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and whether we have appropriated His atoning death for ourselves.
Karma is based on “works” and Christianity is based on grace. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). The reaping that is done in this life speaks to natural consequences from our actions—but those consequences do not follow us into a future life. “…It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
While use of the term karma is popular now, I don’t believe it has any place in the vocabulary of a Christian. It is a doctrine completely incompatible with Christianity, and should never be mixed with Christian life or beliefs, even in a casual way. I believe many Christians don’t know what they are really saying when they speak of karma. The same goes for those who aren’t followers of Christ, but also don’t believe in reincarnation. Unless you subscribe to multiple lives, best to let karma sit idle on your vocabulary shelf.
If you would like a little more information about reincarnation, please see these related articles: