Have you ever heard someone say, “What goes around comes around!” when something bad happens to someone else? Or maybe you’ve heard it used as encouragement to get someone to do the right thing. It’s a common enough saying here in America, one that people use for many situations. But is it biblical?
The idea behind the saying is that of “karma” or “the law of cause and effect.” Here in the West, we use the cliche to explain why someone goes through times of happiness, sadness, pain, poverty, wealth, and a host of other things. In essence, it is the idea that we can store up goodness for ourselves by doing good things. Thus, when things happen in ways that make us happy, it is because we must’ve done something good in our past to warrant such rewards. (Does this sound familiar? You might remember this concept from the Bridgestone Super Bowl Ad, The Sound of Music or Justin Timberlake’s 2007 song “What Goes Around...Comes Around.”) However, the reverse is also true: if you experience poverty or sickness or death or any kind of suffering, it’s because you did something bad in the past.
Karma actually originates in Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism and, in its most basic form, describes how one can reach enlightenment. These religions believe that, through karmic cycles, one can eventually transcend this world and become one with the universe. Conversely, the karmic cycles can prevent one from reaching enlightenment if one’s bad deeds outweigh his/her good deeds. Ultimately, it is the idea that you get what you deserve.
The difference between the West’s version of Karma and the East’s version of Karma is its focus: in the West, Karma affects the here and now, the things that happen to you in this lifetime. In the East, Karma affects your eternity.
Most of us probably know that Karma comes from Eastern religions, but what may surprise us is just how prevalent it is in American thought. Even if we don’t claim to believe in it, we tend to act like we believe in it when we say that God is either punishing or blessing us based on things we’ve done. So is it possible that the Bible speaks of a similar concept?
Galatians 6:7 says that “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” In addition, Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:52 have spawned the sayings, “violence begets violence” and “live by the sword, die by the sword.” These seem to carry the same meaning: that if you do good, good things happen to you (and vice versa). So is this “Christian Karma”?
Absolutely not! While it is true that there are consequences to our actions, the Bible does not speak of these things as if they are set in stone or “laws of nature.” Rather, God’s Word is speaking practically, reminding us that it is foolish to believe that we can act in certain ways and believe that there won’t be consequences, either good or bad, for what we do. But this concept found in the Bible is also accompanied with an immense measure of grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:8), something that is absent in Karma and Eastern religions.
The Word is clear that God is not keeping tabs on what we do, waiting to dole out blessings or curses based on our actions. Instead, it says that God does not want any to perish but instead to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), as well as that He wants to give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13). If we were under a law like Karma, then none of would have been saved from the punishment of our sins, let alone have anything good in our lives, because none of us deserves it!
What other movies, songs, TV shows, or books have you found that talk about Karma and can be used as a good illustration? Is this even an important topic for a Christian to understand? You may comment below...