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Thursday, January 6, 2011

No Weapon Formed Against You

"No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.  This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me," declares the Lord.--Isaiah 54: 17 NIV 2010

There are people who believe in karma, and say that when someone does something rotten to us, rotten things will happen to that person in return.  At first glance, this verse may seem to confirm that belief, but I know the Bible is really talking about something better than karma.  What is the difference between karma and punishment or vindication from God?

Define Karma

First, what exactly is karma?  It is a Hindu teaching that Christians ought to understand and reject.  The Hindus believe that the spirit of the universe, a distant, abstract concept called the Brahman, is a cyclical force that creates and destroys the universe continually, and that keeps everything in balance.  This force (personified as literally millions of deities in India) repays bad behavior in a person's present life with consequences in that person's next life (reincarnation), for instance, a lower social station or menial job, loss of children or family members, etc.  This is called karma.

Karma, then, doesn't actually mean payback from the universe, since the Hindu Brahman is not a thinking being with a need to punish or reward.  It is not punishing, just balancing, like water.

People in extreme poverty and so forth are taught that they are just reaping the bad karma of a previous life and they are expected to accept their troubles as part of their lot in life and hope for something better in the next.  Thus, the karma teaching negates human rights concerns and deters people from trying to advance themselves.  It also separates the consequences of decisions from any personal responsibility or liability.  Fear of bad karma can actually deter people (especially those who are well-off) from listening to missionaries or converting to Christianity.

The Bible on the Subject of Karma

It's important to point out that the Bible doesn't recognize reincarnation.  We do talk about being "born again," but we don't literally mean that our spirits enter new bodies after we die, are born, and live out another life like the one we are living.  When we Christians speak of being "born again," we are talking about being transformed in our hearts; literally we have taken on a new kind of thinking, motivation, and behavior, much like starting our life with a clean slate.  As Paul wrote, "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit," (2 Corinthians 3: 18 NIV 2010).  We are still inhabiting the same bodies and living the same lifespan on this earth, only we are living it differently, as if we were new people.

After we die, the consequences of our decisions are irrevocably set, and we alone reap them--not a future generation.  God challenged karma when speaking to the prophet Ezekiel, saying:
What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
     "The parents eat sour grapes,
     and the children’s teeth are set on edge?"
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.... Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.  The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them. (Ezekiel 18: 2-4, 19-20 NIV 2010)
Thus, each man's bad deeds are only his to repay.  There is no karma, or any requirement that a previous generation's bad deeds be "balanced" by punishment of the next generation.  In fact, God goes farther than merely saying that a bad person must be accountable for his own sins:
But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.  None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live.  Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?...Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. (Ezekiel 18: 21-23, 30 NIV 2010)
 There is only one way of escape, and it begins for us with repentance.  We can be forgiven, through acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as our Lord, and through repentance (turning away from bad behavior and never doing it again).  When we accept Jesus as our Savior, He takes on the consequences of our sins, not because He was required to do so, but because He chose to do so.  He literally took our place, reaping the consequence of our sin (death), and when we make Him Lord of our lives, His righteousness supersedes or replaces our unrighteousness in God's sight.  Only Christ was righteous enough to keep all of God's requirements and laws, so only Christ fulfills the requirements of this passage in Ezekiel.  If we want this way of escape, we can only get it through Jesus Christ!

No Weapon Formed Against You Shall Prosper

So, back to the lead Bible passage from Isaiah.  Here it is again, so you don't have to scroll up to re-read it:
"No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me," declares the Lord. (Isaiah 54: 17 NIV 2010)
  How is this different from karma?  First of all, God is a thinking being, and He has an agenda with His rewards and punishments.  He wants people to follow His rules, and being God and Creator of all, He has both the power and the right to make it so.  Why should He stand by and allow people to go on hurting others?  Why should He allow people to go on pretending that He doesn't exist, or that His rules don't apply and are not good?  There is no reason.  Even so, He is abundantly patient, even with wicked people, so that even they can have a chance to repent and obey Him.

In the meantime, while wicked people go on living in defiance of Him, He is working on behalf of the ones who have chosen to obey Him and trust in the Salvation He has offered through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Taking on for us the real consequences of sin (and I have explained just how little that resembles karma) is just the beginning.  God goes further, rewarding His followers beyond what is earned or deserved.  He doesn't just suffer the consequences of our sins on our behalf--He works behind the scenes, confounding the plans of those who would do us harm, and punishing the wicked specifically for these evil plans.

He even goes so far as refuting the words spoken against us, like a lawyer defending us in court.  In fact, Christ is our advocate in Heaven, as the Holy Spirit is our advocate on earth (1 John 2: 1-2; John 14: 16-17, 25-27).  We are never without a defender who is capable of winning our case!

Though the philosophies and teachings of men and religions can sometimes resemble the Bible and what we believers hold to be true, they always fall short.  The promises of God are bigger than their promises, and the fulfillment of those promises is bigger than any fulfillment their words can create.  I can boast of this, because I know it is true.  This is my heritage, and I know that it will not be taken away or shamed!

Until next time, this is me reminding you to hold on to the promises of God and not turn away from them.  This is what it means to be a savvy sheep!