What does the Bible say about karma? It is important that we examine what Scripture says and understand why this belief is damaging and the exact opposite way than the life of Christ. My husband and I have the sweetest neighbors on both sides of our house. As we have begun to get to know them, we share meals together, play with the kids, and have bonfires on occasion. Most recently we have started, “Who can bake the most for the other.” When My neighbor sends a loaf of bread, I send back some muffins. They send rice pudding, then we send some candies for the kids. Although something kind is given and that generosity is returned, the concept of karma is not supported by the Bible and we should be very cautious when we allow our theologies to entertain combining this secular view with our Christian truths.
You might be thinking, “Emma, I don’t believe in karma, so why is this relevant to me?” Whether you know it or not, there could be an area of applying this belief to your life. You may also have good friends who live this way in life. It is vital that we know what we believe and have confidence in the word of God.
1 Peter 3:15-16 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
I love how these verses emphasize the value in keeping Jesus first in your heart, knowing how to support your faith, and being gentle in your approach with others. As we approach this topic if you have believed in karma or been curious about the concept, this is not a condemnation, but an opportunity to share my opinion based on what I see in the Bible and the freedom of living life in Christ.
What Is Karma?
The definition of karma as defined by Wester’s Dictionary is, “The force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.”
The foundation of karma is from Hinduism. However, the term has become so mainstream that it is used casually in American culture. I recently helped an older woman in the grocery store and the employee told me that I would be “getting more wings in heaven.” Although I took this as a compliment, I disagreed with the idea that I was doing something nice for someone else in order to get something back for myself.
The Crosswalk Editorial Staff defines karma as, “The philosophy of karma is closely associated with the idea of rebirth in many schools of Indian religions as well as Taoism. In these schools, karma in the present affects one's future in the current life, as well as the nature and quality of future lives.”
What Is the Origin of the Phrase Karma?
As mentioned above, the phrase karma was founded in Hinduism and Buddhism. It has become more of a popular phrase in American culture over the past couple of years. Celebrities are trendsetters. In February 1970, John Lennon released a song titled “Instant Karma.” As we look back at this decade of American history, this was the peace and love era when hippies gathered in large numbers. As the American culture continued forward and the life of Christianity became undesirable by media and the people, American celebrities sought out how to be more religiously neutral. Some of them picked up a lifestyle of karma as a result.
Why Do Christians Not Use the Term Karma?
The concept of karma is self-focused, the way of Christian love is others-focused. In my faith, I do good for others to model Christ and bring glory to God. Yes, He might bless me in a special way, but that is not the goal of the action. Yes, it is wonderful to love others and to do good deeds, but what is at the heart and reason behind those deeds? My challenge to people living out the motto of karma is, what if you did a good deed but there was no evidence of good coming back to you? Would you still make choices to love others even if you received nothing in return?
Luke 6:30-33 says, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.”
It is easy to give to someone who gives back to you. These verses do not encourage being taken advantage of, but being willing to hold items, money, and time loosely for the sake of blessing others. We are all sinners, but the term, “Even sinners” refers to all people, even those who are not Christians, who do good to others who return that goodness. It is easy to love others who love us back, but what about those who do not? Karma cannot support the unmerited and undeserved grace that is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
Luke 6:34-36 continues, “And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
If someone believes in karma, what does he think if someone gets cancer, or someone is in a car accident, or what does he believe if someone gets a bad grade but actually studied hard for a test? Karma is a dangerous belief because it can cause a spirit of judgment on those who struggle, it creates a feeling of shame and condemnation if we ourselves suffer, and it places our destinies upon our own works.
Katherine Britton from Crosswalk shares about people groups who believe in karma. She shares, “The community pulls away from its members who are suffering. Lose a job? It’s a karmic effect – you must have cheated your employer or at least talked badly about him. Did you – heaven forbid – lose a child? Somehow, that’s your fault too, as the universe balances out some evil you’ve done. If such horrible things are somehow your fault, it would also make sense for people to pull away. That’s the bond of karma.”
In a society where karma is the foundation for living, perfectionism runs people down. The belief that the better you behave and live, then the better your life will be is plain unrealistic. The sad thing is that people who are at the top of this way of living are putting their hope that all of their successes and blessings are attributed to their own good works. On the other hand, you have people born with disabilities or going through life challenges who cannot change their circumstances and are outcasted.
What Is the Biblical View of Grace and Retribution?
I once made a friend who had no legs. She was a beautiful young woman who had the brightest smile. Her job was ironing for money. My friend however was outcasted by others because they believed in karma. In their minds she had done something wrong and therefore, they needed to disassociate with her. Karma separates people to be self-focused. However, Jesus went to the pariahs of society. He even ministered to the lepers (Luke 17:11-19). When the world tells us to pull back, Jesus tells us to press in. Grace says that even though this woman suffered and was not up to my “social norm,” that she was equally valuable as a person and I should even go out of my way to love on her more in her hardship.
This week I was doing Kelly Minter’s new Bible Study called, “Finding God Faithful” on the life of Joseph. In today’s lesson, we studied Genesis 45:9-24. Joseph just revealed himself to his brothers and showed beautiful mercy. Kelly says, “I grew up in an environment where often the message was, Do the right thing, and you’ll be blessed. Don’t do the right thing, and you’ll be punished. As a stand-alone concept, this has a measure of truth to it, but it doesn’t take grace into account. It doesn’t allow for God’s love expressed through the person of Jesus to step in and give us what we don’t deserve and spare us from what we do deserve” (Week 6, Day 4 | pg. 140).
The karmic worldview is harsh, but God through Jesus has lavished kindness and love through Christ to die for our sins. Karma says, “You deserve death and separation from God forever for your sins.” Christ says, “Yes, you deserve that, but I’m going to take your place, die for you, and reconcile you back to an eternal relationship with God!” Mercy triumphs over judgment through Jesus (James 2:13). The Bible says in Romans, 8:1-2 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set you free from the law of sin and death.” If you are living under the burden of karma, please know that you can find peace in the Savior, who is Jesus.
God has given us grace upon grace (John 1:16). Even if we love Him back, we can never love Him perfectly as He has loved us. We find our freedom at the cross of Golgotha and the empty tomb where Jesus died and rose for our shortcomings. We find the truth of grace even in the midst of trials. Karma misses out on the growth in trials and the blessing of community and closeness to the Lord (Romans 8:28). May we love all people and show them that no matter what happens in their lives that Jesus died and rose for them to have acceptance and confidence in their identity in Him. Whether rich or poor, whether healthy or sick, whether a good day or a bad day, we can find true joy and purpose in Christ.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Tetiana Soares
Emma Danzey’s mission in life is to inspire young women to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. Emma is a North Carolina resident and green tea enthusiast! She is married to her husband Drew and they serve international college students. She enjoys singing, dancing, trying new recipes, and watching home makeover shows. During her ministry career, Emma recorded two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, ran the Refined Magazine, and served in music education for early childhood. Currently, she is in the editing stages of her first two writing projects: a Bible study on womanhood and a non-fiction book on singleness. You can visit her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com