Many people that we talk to today have a worldview that embraces reincarnation rather than resurrection. It is therefore necessary for us to both understand what we are talking about andknowhow to communicate sensibly with someone who has that worldview.
This subject might be more useful than you would at first imagine. For many I have found this a great way of making a ‘reasoned defence’ of how much more certain Christianity is than any faith or worldview that embraces reincarnation. Many of those into occult and new age practices would also believe in at least a form of reincarnation and so a comparison can be made between the sure hope of Christianity and the “hope” offered by these other faiths.
Karma and Reincarnation go hand in hand and so first we will give a basic definition of both terms.
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 incarnation.
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.
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, and means when you are talking about reincarnation you may need to define the term precisely. For instance, some believe your reincarnation can only be human whereas others that it can be human, animal, vegetable or mineral.
There is also the question as to where you actually ‘go’ when your reincarnations are over and you reach your final destination. Some would believe we are absorbed into God, others that we reach some form of God-consciousness and still others that we live in heaven.
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
These points are even true of those who would seek to bring reincarnation into Christianity. One example of this can be seen in the thinking of Michael Perry.
Is God not capable of tailoring our future to the needs of our present and the constrains that our past have put upon the personality which now describes us? Perhaps reincarnation is only necessary for some and not for all? – Psychic Studies: A Christian’s View, Michael Perry, P.186
Belief in the concept of reincarnation is increasing. It was estimated by a Gallup poll in 1947 that although 49% of those asked believed in life after death only 3% of those believed in reincarnation. By 1969, that 3% had increased to at least 25% of Europeans believing in reincarnation. Today that figure has risen to around 33% of those believing in life after death also accepting some form of reincarnation.
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.
It is also on the surface 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, for instance, hypnosis subjects are made aware of a past life and this in turn will convince them that they are in a new incarnation.
Please remember though that this is no proof of reincarnation, as indeed a number of the practitioners themselves agree. They do not 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.
Presentation without the Bible
It may not be as comforting to those who believe if the facts are communicated clearly to them. There are a number of questions and suggestions you can bring to these folks even if they do not believe in God and the Bible. Some of these include:
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.
Some may not like the terminology, ‘bad’ and ‘good’ and so you can you can use ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ in such cases. Also, for any that feel they are ‘ok’ don’t start on the basis of whether they are better than someone else. Ask them what is the pass mark? Whatever background they come from and wherever they place the ‘bar’ it is inevitable that at some point you have missed the goal even by 1%. The fact that someone else has missed it by 20% is irrelevant – you still have not passed. Whatever they want to call it, ‘wrong’, ‘bad’, ‘negative’, they had to have accomplished as much ‘right’, ‘good’, ‘positive’ in their life to balance their karma. Most are honest enough to admit that is not the case.
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.
Once you have got to that point of showing just how hopeless the position is you can ask them how they would feel if someone came along and offered to pay off all their debts when they next died. How different they would feel about life; what certainty they would have; how they would begin to look forward to the future life knowing what was to come instead of simply hoping that this may be the one!
You have, of course, introduced the concept of redemption without at first mentioning sin or the cross etc. You can then, through your testimony, show that this is what has happened to you and from their you can also show that this is the Bible message. How much more certain than the ‘hope’ of reincarnation.
Reincarnation v the Bible
Then there are those who believe that reincarnation is taught in Scripture and try to harmonise reincarnation and the Bible.
For such, some or all of the following should be noted:
Belief in 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-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 because we only receive what we ‘deserve.’ God would never ‘lower’ himself to pick us up and give us that which we do not deserve. The Bible however spells out the abundant grace of God again and again. [2 Corinthians 8:9]
In summary, we would have to say that the central theme of the Bible is that the Love of God wants to deal with the root problem (sin) in our lives so that we can know a life of contentment in the Lord. Reincarnation on the other hand will often do just the opposite because of the fear of upsetting the positive Karma the person might be receiving by suffering.
Fatalism, lack of concern for the suffering of others, and general inaction are often traced to the two doctrines of Karma and reincarnation. If one attempts to alleviate the burden of the sufferer, then the sufferer must endure greater hardship in the next life because she did not ‘pay off’ her prescribed karmic debt. And ironically, this interference with karmic law would then constitute a ‘sin’ and the would-be humanitarian would accumulate more karmic deposits. But if the reincarnationist does not interfere, that is, by not doing what he could do to prevent evil, he is doing an evil. Hence reincarnation becomes a service of what is evil, unjust, and inhumane. – Geisler & Amorer, p.109
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.
Actually scholars have found that the Hebrew word for “womb” (shammah) is used here in a figurative sense to depict the “earth” from which we came. This alludes to Genesis 3:19 where God curses Adam with physical death: – Geisler & Amorer, p.134.
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, and the rabbis had developed a teaching that “There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity”. From this they concluded that a person might sin even in the womb, which would explain death and suffering (NIV text note). They also believed that punishments might be meted out to people for the sins of their parents. Thus, as the disciples asked if it was the parents or the man these are the more logical meanings to draw from the text.
1 Corinthians 15:35-55 – the context is very clear, Paul is talking about resurrection not reincarnation.
Christ was the first real resurrection. When Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20 that Christ is “the first fruits [aparche] of those who are asleep,” he is suggesting both priority in time and superiority in status. Christ became the first of all who will one day come back to life. Regarding the reincarnationist’s attempt to harmonize reincarnation with the resurrection, we find that the nature of reincarnation is fundamentally different from the nature of resurrection. – Geisler & Amorer, p.149.
Galatians 1:15,16 – same as Jeremiah 1:4,5 above.
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 off the debts of this life.
Hebrews 7:3 – Jesus in his priesthood resembled Melchizedek, He was not the reincarnation of the person of Melchizedek. In particular, Melchizedek is seen as a “type”, or shadow of Jesus because Melchizedek’s genealogy and fate are not known, making him appear to have no beginning and no end. Jesus is clearly portrayed in Scripture as having no beginning and no end.
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.
It is good to use two main principles of sharing when talking with someone who believes in reincarnation.
1. Ask questions to sow doubt
2. Communicate and bring any clear examples and illustrations that will help develop the subject you are talking about. Some will try and get away with one line answers – follow the issue up.
3. Share the truth in a way that will be understood
The type of questions you can ask, to make the reincarnationist think are:
If everyone is a reincarnation from a previous life why is the world population increasing and not decreasing?
A secondary question which might come out of this is;If there are new souls and not reincarnated ones, where do they come from?
And of course very importantly;Where did the first person come from – he or she could not have been reincarnated.
The vast majority of people have no pre-life recall. How then can they break out of the karmic circle when at first they don’t know what evil they have done and therefore they don’t know what they should alter in their lives.
Some might say to this question that we are purposely separated from our past lives as it is the new life that matters. Develop it further by asking;Who decided that the past would be erased from our memory and who has the power to do it?
Further if there is a ‘person’ able to do that, a simple law of fate could not, ask them;Why doesn’t this powerful ‘person’ help us by showing what is the right way and enabling us to get there instead of leaving us to thrash around by ourselves to find the best way?
Since each soul should be progressively purified of evil through their many reincarnations why isn’t the world becoming a better place to live in? If they answer that the world isn’t really getting better but everyone is having a chance to get better, then point out;The world is made up of individuals and if the world is not getting better, neither are the individuals and so many lives are not leading to a balanced karma.
Why is there so much human misery in Eastern countries where karma and reincarnation have been accepted for years? This question certainly has to be asked with tact and not hateful of the Eastern lifestyle, but help them to see that reincarnation has not produced a better world.
The Bible and its teachings have been shown to be true through archaeology, geology and many other sciences. Where is there any scientific proof for reincarnation? Do be ready to bring some simple examples to prove the point you are making.
In witnessing do not look for the opportunity to destroy the person but build a loving relationship and not a condemnatory hatred. Share the reality of the personal relationship that you have with God. Do not use ‘evangelical jargon’ but instead give a simple to understand presentation of the truth.
Concentrate especially on the debt that Jesus Christ paid. In reincarnation we are seeking to pay off our ‘karmic debt’ so that we can receive our ‘heavenly reward.’ However, are we told anywhere that we can pay off our karmic debt? Has anyone ever shown a way that man can go to do it himself? No, the only way that has ever been shown is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ – He paid our debt.
One of Christ’s seven last statements on the cross is recorded in John 19: 30. It has been traditionally translated into English as, ‘It is finished.’ The Greek word which is found in the text was not fully understood until recent archaeological discoveries in the Middle East. It was discovered that the word which had been translated ‘finished’ was actually a common word in the first century that was stamped on a bill of sale when that bill was paid in full. Thus, modern commentators and translators agree that what Jesus cried from the cross should be translated, ‘It has been paid in full.’ – Morey, p. 50
Emphasise the grace of God. He does not wish man to strive; He wants man to rest in what He has done for us, why should we complicate things? Didn’t He lovingly warn us that after one life, there is one death and then one judgement? We cannot move the goal posts that he has placed and so we should follow His sure way.
The number of our earthly lives is irrelevant to salvation, since God is completely unimpressed by our attempts to pay of a debt that He alone could and did pay on the cross of Jesus Christ. – Reincarnation v. Resurrection, John Snyder, p.60