A lot of Christians like to use the term “Karma” while others feel that it is wrong because of its connection to a wide variety of Eastern faiths including, but not limited to, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
For me, a word is just a word. It is a neutral symbol until a meaning is associated with it. (of course connotations are harder to remove from a term than denotations, so one must be circumspect in grabbing a term and changing it). So to judge the word, one first has to judge the meaning or meanings. I am not an expert on karma as an Eastern concept… and in fact it does not take a lot of research to discover that there are a lot of meanings for karma within Hinduism, Buddhism, and other faiths. One can’t really speak of a “Hindu” understanding of karma, since there are many such understandings. Some are tied to reincarnation. Some seem to allow free will while others seem to work against it. Rather than dealing with all of that (definitely a worthy topic for a different blogsite) lets break it down to broad categories.
1. Kosmic Karma (Kharma from Universal principles). Some see the universe working with karma in a similar way (perhaps) to how it works with the laws of thermodynamics (zeroth through third) and gravity. How, Who, and Why are outside of the concern. If you do good… you create a positive credit in our karma account (or a reduction through doing bad) and the Universe responds naturally in your life (or perhaps future life or lives).
2. Kreator Karma (Karma from Divine action). With this one, there is a divine being, “God” who keeps track of Good and Bad and ensures that one “reaps what one sows.” (the passage by Paul on reaping what one sows… is that divine action, social response, natural response, or word of wisdom? Food for thought for some, perhaps)
3. Kommunity Karma (Karma from Sociological response). “What goes around, comes around.” You treat people bad… the community doesn’t forget and some time when you need mercy, you will get none. And when one does good, others will remember and be there when you need them.
Are any of these true… or, that is, FULLY true. I would say that none are fully true. The first one (universal principles) may appeal to the atheistic, pantheistic, or perhaps panentheistic (maybe even dualistic) views… none of which are Christian. I have a hard time seeing this going along with God’s Word.
Karma from Divine Action sounds Christian. We describe God as a righteous judge… but karma sort of breaks down fast when it is applied here. First, God’s defining characteristics are HOLINESS and LOVE, not justice. Holiness means that no matter how much good stuff we do… it is not enough to come to Him. Some try to define God’s role here as just… but if it is impossible for our good to overcome our bad… in essence it is a matter of holiness not justice. In other words the Karma account doesn’t work to be saved. Likewise, salvation is through faith, not through actions (or motives or anything else). In other words, nothing in our Karma account saves us. When Christians try to apply karma to God they tend to go in one of two directions. They see injustice today and say that God will make it all balance out in the end (justice in heaven, not on earth). For those who see salvation (through God’s holiness, love/mercy) as evidence that karma doesn’t happen in the hereafter, they suggest that it exists now (even if we don’t always see it). For me, it is pretty evident that the initial part of the argument for both sides is sound (no absolute justice in the hereafter because of God gives unmerited (non-karmic) favor to us; and in the present there is no absolute justice since we clearly live in a fallen world where evil sometimes prospers and good often suffers). In the end, karma is not absolute as pertaining to divine action. (It is interesting to note, than some Eastern faiths do accept the idea of “Transfer Karma”… an idea interestingly similar to the Christian concept of substitutionary atonement… but one might argue that transfer karma is a “patch” for the concept… and admission that karma sometimes fails.)
Karma as community action (sociological response) is often true (help a neighbor and be helped in return). But individuals are unjust and larger social entities can be shockingly unjust at times. The writer of Ecclesiastes noted this well… and we only have to look at the life of Jesus to find one in which “karma” did not work on a sociological level.
So… is karma simply untrue? Is it unChristian?
For me, since there is no set definition for “karma” Christians can use the term as long as they use it in a manner in line with Christian truths.
I believe KARMA is TRUE in terms of Wisdom.The book of Proverbs is a book of wisdom… of general principles in how things are or are supposed to be. In Folk Christianity there is the temptation to treat proverbs as laws (it is amazing how many Christians who live under grace, want to find laws to live by and live under). Some take them further as promises… but other places (one is directed again to the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, as well as Job, to see that wisdom principles are neither laws nor promises. They are principles… words of wisdom.
I believe KARMA is also TRUE in terms of Guidance. Throughout the Bible… I might refer one to the 6th chapter of Micah for example… we are told to side with the poor, the downtrodden, the weak, the innocent, the unfortunate. In other words, rather than passively assuming good happens to good and bad happens to bad, we are to stand on the side of social justice or righteous action. We are to close the loop on sociological karma.
For Christians, karma is not passive… it is not cosmic, not divinely absolute, nor sociologically determined (at least not consistently). Rather, God commands us to stand on the side of the righteous, particularly those who have been wrongly misused by the evildoer.