I stopped in at Starbucks looking for a little late afternoon pick me up. Two middle-aged Iranian ladies were in line in front of me having a good time making their order.
I enjoy engaging people from other cultures so I just mentioned that my Farsi was a little rusty. In fact, “Farsi” is the only “Farsi” word I know.
So, they taught me to say a few words while we waited for our brews.
Then, they asked what I do and I told them.
Pastors should think twice before revealing what they do. It’s usually a conversation killer.
It’s best to keep that a secret and just come up with something really cool instead.
“I train monkeys to shop for the elderly.”
“I test pilot rockets to Mars.”
“I run a non-profit that rescues kittens.”
Something like that would have turned the conversation in an entirely different direction.
Even so, they asked me to join them. We ended up talking for 90 minutes – about everything!
At one point one of them asked, “Do you believe in karma?”
I asked, “What do you mean by karma?”
She answered, “That if you do good things then good will happen to you.”
I replied, “No and I am glad because if I got what I deserved from all the bad stuff I have done then that would not be good. We don’t always reap what we sow. Some people live well even though they do bad. Some suffer even though they do good.”
Not a bad answer I guess. But then, I am one of those guys who thinks of what they should have said 5 minutes after they had the opportunity to say it.
Looking back, rather than just telling what I think, I would have asked a couple of questions instead.
New Iranian friend: “Do you believe in Karma?”
Me: “Let me ask, do you believe that everything good in your life is a result of some good you have done?
New friend: “I would have to say no. There are good things I have experienced that I have not earned.”
Me: “Well, who do you think you owe gratitude for those things?”
New Friend: “Yes. I believe everything good in my life is a result of some good I have done. Even if that means that good from a previous life has been passed on to me in this lifetime.”
Me: “Tell me then, how much good did you do? Who sets the standard for how much good you have to do in order to have good returned to you?”
Now I trust that they way the conversation actually went was helpful. And, her question about karma did get me thinking about what the Bible teaches on the subject.
The Bible does teach the law of sowing and reaping. That sounds like karma in some sense, that you sow what you reap (Galatians 6:8). In context, however, the verse is referring to the fact that God cannot be mocked, not whether or not we will experience good things in life by doing good things.
God is a relational God in the Bible, not an impersonal law of the universe like the idea of karma. God cannot be mocked means that you will reap what you sow. If you sow to please the flesh (read selfishness, lust, pride) then God will see to it that eventually you reap difficulty.
If, however, you do the things that nourish the soul you will benefit greatly.
Jesus taught that suffering comes to the good and bad. It rains on the righteous and unrighteous. The idea of karma easily leads to the idea that if someone is suffering it is due to some bad they have done.
So, even a person’s social status could be due to good or evil they have done in this life or a past one.
But, Jesus teaches we are all as guilty as anyone else of doing evil. Our good never outweighs our bad. Unless we all repent, we all will perish. (Luke 13: 1 – 5)
As it says in James,
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
All good comes from God and is not due to the good we do. Sure, life can be better if you do good. But there are many places in this world where the righteous are persecuted, jailed or even killed. The example of Jesus is that if you truly live a good life, you will likely suffer greatly.
The fact is that we have all received good that we have not earned, and to God we owe thanks.
We have all experienced evil that we have not deserved, and to God we ask strength and mercy.
But to say that our lives are subject to some impersonal law of the universe that somehow keeps track of what we do is to miss the very personal God who created the life we actually experience.
Karma sounds like cold, impersonal ‘justice’ to me. You get what you deserve.
But God is merciful and generous, who, in Christ, has given us something we could never deserve.
So, no, I don’t believe in karma because I DO believe in Christ.
Oh, and be sure to say “salam [sa-lom]” if you see two Iranian ladies in Starbucks.