Karma and Exodus (borrowed from The Pews of Hope)

I edit another blog, partly written by me, but intended as a vehicle for expression and conversation for the laypeople of my church, Hope Episcopal Church (Houston).  It is called “The Pews of Hope” http://thepewsofhope.wordpress.com/ 
I wrote the following piece last May, in reaction to an incident in our Sunday eve Bible study, which I did not think we handled particularly well

That site doesn’t get a lot of traffic yet, and thus not a lot of comments. I would particularly welcome some other thoughts, so I thought I would place it over here as well.

Last Sunday afternoon, May 26, our Bible Study group was reading in Exodus. We read the Ten Commandments, and we continued with laws relating to a variety of subjects, most of which our legal system would call tort law – or how to deal “with what is fair?” when one person has, intentionally or accidentally, caused harm to another.

I have to confess that this not my favorite part of the Bible – it is not exactly action packed, and there are a number of pronouncements that I have a hard time with. Along with the genealogies – all the “begats,” these are the passages where I most want to just skip ahead. But I have also learned that “ALL scripture is given by the inspiration of God” and is profitable for… Thus, the parts that are least appealing to me may well be the parts containing the things I most need to wrestle with. God obviously desires me to read them, or they wouldn’t be in the Bible. And I know that He did not ordain it so, that I may have an entertaining read!

In the midst of the discussion, someone introduced the concept of “Karma.” What does the Bible have to say about it? I’m afraid we may have been less than charitable in our response, pointing out (accurately) that “Karma” comes from the Hindu/Buddhist tradition, and has no place in the Judeo/Christian Scriptures. But that doesn’t mean it was a bad question! And in shutting down the questioner, we may have had the result of shutting down other “inconvenient” question. I am of the firm opinion that it is in wrestling with such questions that the truth of God is revealed. No, I most emphatically do not believe that all religions are the same, or it doesn’t matter what one believes as long as ones faith is sincere. That is a path to death. But I do believe in the usefulness of “bashing together” different ideas, so that the true can be distinguished from the false, and that the flakes of rust can be hammered off of my own understanding, making the truth clear and bright.

OK, so with all those pretty words…
What DOES the Bible have to say about Karma?
Well, in one sense, nothing. As I said above, the idea developed in India, and there are many permutations throughout those systems. I won’t even pretend to understand the technicalities.  But what or the idea itself? Forget the word, what of the idea we might express as “What goes around comes around” Or from “The Sound of Music” .

“Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could… so
Somewhere in my youth or childhood,
I must have done something good.”

That idea has enormous appeal to most of us, even if we have never been to India. Our sense of justice demands that it must be true –Somewhere, Somehow, justice must and will be served, for good or bad.

And it seems that the Bible does speak to that underlying idea. “Cast your bread upon the waters, and you shall find it after many days” seems to relate. I don’t have the time to chase down all the verses, but I seem to recall a lot of suggestion that good will be returned to the righteous, while for those who do evil, well, their evil will find them out.

But against these “karma-like” suggestions, I come across a number of verses in the psalms where the psalmist groans that he just doesn’t see it happening – that he sees the righteous destroyed in misery while the sinners die peacefully in their beds, full of years and surrounded by grandchildren. Even more, the whole of the book of Job is devoted to wrestling with this question –Why is this righteous man suffering? His friends all say it is because of some un confessed sin. Job protests that he is innocent. And at the end, God says that only Job has spoken rightly.

And central to the New Testament, Jesus disciples see a man, blind from birth, from before he could have sinned. The “karma” model would say that such a disaster comes from sin “nothing comes from nothing” But this man was blind from birth! Maybe it was not for his sin, but the sin of his parents? (The eastern folk may have suggested sin in a previous life, but nothing in Jewish thought, or in Jesus’ teaching supports that.) Such a calamity MUST be the result of justice taking its due. Sin.

But Jesus said that it was neither for his sin, nor that of his parents was this man born blind –But that the glory of God may be displayed.

I think that we are correct to think that justice matters. But also that all things that exist, all things that happen, all things that will EVER happen will one day be seen as bringing forth the glory of God.

I find that a much more satisfying answer for why things happen than karma, and much more in line with the biblical story, although the people in the Bible struggle with the idea quite a bit. It’s worth the struggle!

What do you think?


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Filed under Bible, Church, Theology

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