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Is Karma Compatible with Christianity?

Is Karma Compatible with Christianity
Image Credit: Wouter de Jong from Pexels

A common feature among the Yogic religions (which include Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, among others) is the concept of karma. Karma “is the cosmic law of cause and effect that ensures that whatever a person does, good or bad, has ultimate consequences.”[1] Such consequences are distributed through the process of reincarnation “into a better status if a person has behaved well; if badly, a person can be reborn and pay for past sins by suffering.”[2] But if a person’s circumstances are the result of karma, should anyone seek to try to help their common man? Where karma fails to encourage a believer to serve the community around them, Jesus succeeds. Click To Tweet

When one sees a person struggling through life or suffering from some affliction, it may be natural to feel a certain sense of compassion.[3] Yet, under a karmic worldview, one’s suffering is justice done as a result of the bad deeds of a prior life. If suffering poverty, etc, is what a person deserves, by what right would anyone else feel they should alleviate it? To help the poor or the sick in such a worldview would be to stand in the way of karmic justice being done. The Buddha himself, when approached for help, told his followers that suffering was a brute fact of life and that the only hope was to not to solve external problems, but to rid oneself of all want (and thus alleviate the experience of suffering in one’s own mind).[4]As a result, karma acts as a demotivator to help others.

In contrast, Jesus taught that suffering was not necessarily the result of divine or just punishment.[5] Under the Christian worldview, suffering and poverty cannot be easily overlooked but must be addressed. Jesus taught his followers:

​​”‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it for Me.’” (Matthew 24:45-46)

Jesus commanded His followers to serve the needy, help the sick, and minister to the suffering. Where karma fails to encourage a believer to serve the community around them, Jesus succeeds.

[1] Irving Hexam, Encountering World Religions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 59-60.
[2] Paul Carden, Christianity, Cults & Religions: A Side By Side Comparison Chart of 20 Cults, Religions, and World Views (Peabody: Rose Publishing, 2013), 11.
[3] Kim Armstrong, “‘I Feel Your Pain’: The Neuroscience of Empathy,” Association for Psychological Science, last modified December 29, 2017. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/neuroscience-empathy.
[4] Douglas Groothuis, “Jesus and Buddha: Similarities and Differences,” February 3, 2014, YouTube video, 1:30:16, https://youtu.be/0lUB4P8XbqE.
[5] See John 9.

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Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner's son) is a detective and holds a BA in Psychology (from UCLA) and an MA in Theology - Applied Apologetics (from Colorado Christian University).

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Duncan Hamra

    June 30, 2022 at 7:49 pm

    There are “unhelpful” interpretations of Buddhism just like there are “unhelpful” interpretations of Christianity. You have discovered an unhelpful interpretation of Buddhism. The good news is that most Buddhist do not agree with that interpretation. If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out the bodhisattvas. “A bodhisattva, who is an “awakened (or awakening) being,” is someone dedicated to the ultimate welfare of all sentient beings.” Its a common aspiration amoung Buddhist to become one of these being. Sounds to me like a Buddhist idea which complements the Christian view you shared above. Hurrah for synergy and helping people! https://www.quora.com/How-do-Bodhisattvas-help-others

    Another note, the reason why someone would want to overcome suffering ( also translated as unnecessary clinging due to greed hatred or illusion) is so they can help others to do so as well.

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