KARMA– literally means, ‘deeds or work.’ What we say, what we do and even what we think all records as a rating of good or evil. This accumulation will determine the sort of life we will have in our next reincarnation.
Looked at retrospectively, karma is the cause of what is happening in one’s life now. – Man’s Religions. John B. Noss, p.90
REINCARNATION – literally means, ‘to come again in the flesh.’ Our being or part of our being at death passes on into another body and another life.
A person’s soul, according to this doctrine, is eternal and is part of the ‘world soul’ or ‘ultimate being’ (sometimes called ‘God’). A person emanates out of this ‘cosmic energy’ and passes through multiple cycles of rebirths until he is finally absorbed back into unconscious reality. One is ‘fallen’ now and of subject-object relationships to the world (I – Thou and I – It). Through cyclic rebirths he will return to an impersonal nonconcious fusion with ultimate reality. In other words, the person was nothing, is now in trouble because he thinks he is something, but will return to being nothing through Karmic cyclic rebirth. – Reincarnation and Christianity, Robert A. Morey, p.12
It is usually believed that reincarnation came from the East and this is predominately true, however there have been a number of influences from the West too. This has resulted in a number of slightly different types of reincarnation. However with all of the differences there are some clear similarities that must be borne in mind when looking at reincarnation. These are well summed up by Dr. Norman L. Geisler,
Goal of perfection
Gradual evolutionary progression
Doctrine of ‘second chance’
Doctrine of Karma
Survival of self
Multiple perishable bodies
Multiple worlds or realms – The Reincarnation Sensation, Norman L. Geisler &J. Yutaha Amorer, pp.35/36
Belief in the concept of reincarnation is increasing. It was estimated by a Gallup poll in 1969 that at least 25% of Europeans believed in reincarnation. Today that figure is probably higher if you take into account every variant of doctrine.
In the West, the belief is usually a very respectable one without the possibility of returning in a future life as a rock or rabbit or even a carrot.
Eastern transmigrational philosophies practise ascetic vegetarianism and teach that the eating of meat is evil. For the transmigrationist, to eat insects or animals is to run the risk of eating someone who has been reborn into an insect or animal body as his Karma.
Western reincarnationists, generally, have also followed Eastern asceticism. But Eastern ascetic vegetarianism is redefined so that the prohibition of eating meat is based on such vague clichés as ‘meat makes one violent and aggressive,’ or, ‘a vegetarian diet makes one at peace within oneself.’
It is also on the surface of a comfortable belief because it gives the opportunity of a second chance and of a ‘heavenly’ destination sometime within the next 1,000 lifetimes! ‘ Many too will claim that modern therapy techniques ‘prove’ reincarnation. Under some form of therapy, e.g. hypnosis they will be made aware of a past life and this in turn will convince them that they are in a new reincarnation.
This is no proof of reincarnation as indeed a number of the practices themselves agree. They don’t know what is really happening but if it makes people feel better they will use it. We of course should also remember that therapies such as hypnosis are themselves open to much abuse as they are opening up into the realms beyond the normal human field of understanding.
The fact remains that reincarnation has become a comfortable belief because it does not cause any disturbing thoughts about heaven or hell and how to ensure eternal life. It may not be as comforting if the facts are worked out carefully. At the end of Life 1 you will have committed more bad than good. The accounts will not balance and you will not be able to be released from the body into your ‘eternal inheritance.’ You have what could be called your karmic debt. At some time later you start Life 2 with your original karmic debt. Try as you might you still do more bad than good and so what happens at the end of Life 2 – you have a bigger karmic debt. Reincarnation is not an easy payment plan it is a hard taskmaster. You will never be able to balance the accounts no matter how many lives you lead. There is no hope just an endless round of lives going nowhere.
Reincarnation v. Bible
Although many will try to harmonise reincarnation and the evangelical Christian understanding of the Bible, in the end, we believe it is impossible. See our understanding in the following areas:
We have already mentioned the fact that reincarnation does away with eternal punishment. However the Bible clearly teaches that although God wishes none to perish some will refuse the saving grace he offers. [2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 20:13-15]
The Bible shows that the only hope of salvation is to trust in the finished and completed work of Jesus Christ. Reincarnation feels it must add to this several hundred or thousand lifetimes full of striving. [John 14:6; Acts 4:10-12]
The Bible states that there is one life, one death and then we stand before the judgement seat of Christ. Reincarnation talks about multiple lives and deaths and no once and for all judgement. [Hebrews 9:27]
The Bible teaches the marvellous doctrine of justification – God pronouncing us righteous and treating us accordingly. Reincarnation gives no hope of justification, we will never be in such an intimate relationship with the living God. [Romans 5:1]
One of the key themes of scripture is the peace of knowing our sins forgiven. Reincarnation only ever offers the potential of counteracting the negative Karma with the positive Karma. Sin is never actually dealt with and so there can be no dealing with the guilt of the past. [I John 1:8-9]
Grace similarly is neglected by reincarnation. God would never ‘lower’ himself to pick us up and give us that which we do not deserve. We only receive what we ‘deserve.’ The Bible however spells out the abundant grace of God again and again. [2 Corinthians 8:9]
The following are the most commonly used verses from the Bible that will be used to prove that it teaches reincarnation.
Job 1:20-21 – Job was not talking about entering his mother’s womb again and being born a second time in another life.
Jeremiah 1:4,5 – this verse simply means that God knew Jeremiah after conception while he was in the womb. In other words prenatal but not pre-existent.
Matthew 17:11-13 – John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah. On the surface this may seem a logical argument but there are a number of problems to it as pointed out by the following,
The first logical problem… is that it was impossible for John the Baptist (or anyone else) to be Elijah reincarnated, for Elijah never did “disincarnate” in the first place. The fact of the matter is that Elijah could never reincarnate because he never died… A second logical problem… The reincarnationist is hard pressed to explain how Elijah could have appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration if he, beforehand, had already reincarnated into John the Baptist… Several relevant texts pose problems… John the Baptist explicitly denied being Elijah… – Does the Bible Teach Reincarnation, Richard G Howe.
John 3:3 – Nicodemus’s answer to Jesus shows that this is not referring to being born again physically. How could he enter his mother’s womb again? The word literally means born ‘from above’ and this is shown when Jesus talks about being born of the Spirit.
John 8:58 – Jesus claimed to have existed before Abraham. The teaching of Scripture is that Jesus always existed, He was eternal. He was therefore before Abraham and has always been in existence since then. He did not live before Abraham, die, and then come back as someone else later.
John 9:1-3 – the disciples asked if it was this man’s sin that had caused him to be born blind. Hence reincarnationists say Jesus was referring to a previous life. Nothing here can be used to ‘prove’ reincarnation. There is life before birth, in the womb and as the disciples asked if it was the parents or the man it is the more logically the meaning to draw from the text.
1 Corinthians 15:35-55 – the context is very clear, Paul is talking about resurrection not reincarnation.
Galatians 6:7 – if we reap what we sow this must mean that there is karma and reincarnation. However if you read the context of these verses Paul is clearly talking about one life, one death, and one reward. There is no hint of another life to live to pay of the debts of this life.
Hebrews 7:3 – Jesus in his priesthood resembled Melchizedek, He was not the reincarnation of the person of Melchizedek.
James 3:6 – ‘the course of our life,’ can be translated ‘wheel of beginnings’ and as such reincarnationists say it shows the Bible teaches the subject. However the context is about the power of the tongue and what it can begin not that a man will come back and have a new beginning.
Fuller notes are available from Reachout Trust in booklet form.