The Golden Rule vs. Karma


The Golden Rule vs. Karma

Obadiah 15-21

For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations.

As you have done, it shall be done to you;

your deeds shall return on your own head.

For as you have drunk on my holy mountain,

all the nations around you shall drink;

they shall drink and gulp down,

and shall be as though they had never been.

Israel’s Final Triumph

But on Mount Zion there shall be those that escape,

and it shall be holy;

and the house of Jacob shall take possession of those who dispossessed them.

The house of Jacob shall be a fire,

the house of Joseph a flame,

and the house of Esau stubble;

they shall burn them and consume them,

and there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau;

for the Lord has spoken.

Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau,

and those of the Shephelah the land of the Philistines;

they shall possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria,

and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.

The exiles of the Israelites who are in Halah

shall possess Phoenicia as far as Zarephath;

and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad

shall possess the towns of the Negeb.

Those who have been saved shall go up to Mount Zion

to rule Mount Esau;

and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.

Matthew 13:10-17

The Purpose of the Parables1Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:

‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,

and you will indeed look, but never perceive.

For this people’s heart has grown dull,

and their ears are hard of hearing,

and they have shut their eyes;

so that they might not look with their eyes,

and listen with their ears,

and understand with their heart and turn—

and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

Everybody needs saving, but nobody wants to save anyone else. God let Israel know, through the prophet Obadiah, that this attitude won’t get us far. “As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.” The idea of universal reciprocity is not a new one, especially in the Eastern Hemisphere, through the philosophical and spiritual concept of Karma. I must profess ignorance as to how Judaism and Islam respond to this concept, but Christian apologists claim that karma does not exist, especially on a spiritual level, because of grace.

The West seems to fall in love with it over and over again because it seems fair, and we like the idea of getting what we think we deserve. This is really attractive if we are an extremely good person and deserve reward. However, if you believe, as the Apostle Paul did, that we are all sinners and deserve punishment, karma is not a comforting thought. Paul believed that any good we receive in life is not our just rewards served to us by the karma-infused universe.

I think there is another reason to question karma as well. Justice does not always happen. That may be why the concept of karma was created. On the whole, lets say the guilty are punished and the benevolent rewarded 75% of the time2. That would make karma the rule unless it is broken by the 25% of the times that justice does not occur. In those occurrences, the idea is that sins not punished in this life are punished in the next, through a cycle of endless reincarnation. Here is where it really breaks down for me though. Since the proponents of karma fully admit that justice is not always received in this lifetime, they apply the idea of past-life consequences to present day ethics. What that means is that, to them, if something bad happens to you, you probably had it coming, perhaps from a past life, and if something good happens to you without reason, it was from a former good life you lived. The next step of this philosophy is applied to socioeconomics which creates levels of society based upon wealth and then reinforces it morally so that the wealthy are viewed as good, whether they act so or not. Their sin is excused away as either something that will be dealt with in the next life, or as something they deserve to get away with because of good they have done in a former life. The whole moral structure is built upon the assumption that we live many lives and are only judged across the span of them, not in the present.

Jesus, on the other hand, taught that justice is coming for everyone, but not until the very end. In the meantime, we are all given grace, simply by the postponement of judgment. Further grace is given in forgiveness – which sounds simple at first, but involves a substantial cost. For God to be just, a price must be paid, but rather than exact it from us, God took that punishment upon Himself by giving up His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. In doing so, God demonstrates the Golden Rule as a way to live life, even when justice does not reward you immediately. Whereas karma teaches us to live unselfishly for selfish gain, God’s Law encourages us to live unselfishly for unselfish reasons. With no guarantee of reward, it looks like God is crazy, and that is why Jesus explains that many people just won’t get it because they are looking out for themselves, not looking to obey God and be good. God’s way seems harder, true, but in the end, there are no guarantees for reward for the good we do. And if Paul is right, justice may not bring the happiness we desire anyway.

How do you desire to be treated?

How do you treat others in your life?

Where do you yearn for justice to be accomplished?

You can find out more about Jesus and Justice by checking out my book Jesus Politics here.

  1. (Mk 4:10–12; Lk 8:9–10)
  2. Although I think this is a high estimate

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