Is there evidence of karma

For people who still believe that death is not all over, the idea of ​​reincarnation is becoming more and more attractive. According to a survey from May 1997, belief in reincarnation outweighs the belief in resurrection in the new federal states. What is behind this idea?

Above all in Hinduism, and partly also in Buddhism, there is the belief that a person does not only live once. The earthly body is something like a garment that is removed in death before the soul "incarnates" again in a new body, i.e. flesh, i.e. a new earthly body. There is no final end, no judgment, no eternal bliss and no eternal damnation. In which body and under which social circumstances the soul is born again, whether as a queen or a slave, as a child condemned to starvation or as a prosperous baby, that depends, according to this view, on how well the person concerned does his job in his previous life has met.

What is hidden behind belief in rebirth and reincarnation

If the rather bad deeds predominate, he has accumulated bad "karma" - very simplified: he has a lot of negative points that he has to work off in the next life, especially through suffering. If, on the other hand, he has fulfilled the tasks well, then he has "good karma", i.e. a more favorable starting point for his next incarnation. For the Indians, this idea is overwhelming. They “sigh” under the wheel of rebirths, and the ultimate goal for a devout Hindu is to “step out” of this eternal cycle.

In the West this concept has undergone a significant change. In the East there is a cyclical, i.e. circular, understanding of time: everything comes, goes and comes again. Just as the seasons alternate in an eternal cycle, so is everything in the world, and so the souls keep coming back. There is no beginning and no end, time turns like a wheel. In the West, on the other hand, especially in the Bible, but also in the Greco-Roman cultural area, a linear understanding of time has emerged, which is expressed in the time arrow: There was a beginning, nothing is repeated, everything is unique and individual. There is a story, there are permanent changes and developments.

Belief in reincarnation and the biblical understanding of life

Now these developments were initially seen rather negatively: In the Bible there is the story of the good beginning in the Garden of Eden, which is followed by the fall - the world gets worse and worse until it is destroyed by God under great apocalyptic pains and created anew, at the end currently. Only at the time of the Enlightenment did that change fundamentally. Now an upward development was seen: Man is developing ever higher, in science and technology, but also in moral, artistic and political areas. The modern western ideas of reincarnation connect the circle and the arrow to the spiral. Everything keeps coming back, but each time on a higher level.

Human beings continue to develop through their incarnations, they realize more and more the divine that supposedly lies in each of us. Karma is now no longer understood as "punishment", but every soul takes on a developmental task in the "intermediate state" between two earth lives, which it would like to fulfill in the coming life - and if it does not make it in this life, then in the next. What is fascinating about this idea is the optimistic picture: things are looking up. It is also tempting that there is no eternal damnation, but always new opportunities.

It seems comforting that the suffering can be explained: the soul has "picked out" it for itself in order to grow from it. But this is where criticism comes in. If the individual human life is not devalued, does it not lose its dignity if it is only seen as one in a "chain" of a thousand others? In any case, there is no biblical justification for the idea of ​​the transmigration of souls. The prevailing conviction in the Bible is clearly that man has a life for which he must be accountable at the end of time.

Biblical passages which are supposed to "prove" the transmigration of souls

Now and again some biblical passages are cited to support the claim that there is also the idea of ​​the transmigration of souls in the Bible. There is above all the question of whether the prophet Elijah has returned, or rather the statement of Jesus that the Baptist John is the returned Elijah (Matt. 11: 11-14). However, it is overlooked that precisely the prophet Elijah according to 2 Kings 2 did not die at all, but was raptured into heaven. His return is interpreted as a sign of the end of the world (Malachi 3:23), at which judgment is held - no thought of a general transmigration of souls.

The other passage that is often used is the healing of the blind born in John 9. The disciples ask whether he or his parents had sinned that he was now born blind - as a punishment from God. The crucial point in this story, however, is not the question of a previous life, but the question of God's righteousness. The Old Testament precludes children from being punished for the guilt of their parents (Ezekiel 18) - but he himself cannot have sinned before he was born, unless in a previous life.

No evidence of reincarnation in the Bible

The disciples' question only becomes sharp when we assume that they did not believe in reincarnation: Punishing the child instead of the parents is unjust. It would also be unfair to punish someone for something they have not done yet. Now when a person is born blind it calls into question the righteousness of God. Jesus' answer also shows that he does not care at all about the "why". His mission, and that of his disciples, is to alleviate suffering and cure illness - not to look for explanations.

As fascinating as the idea of ​​the transmigration of souls is, as well as it seems to explain some otherwise unsolvable questions, it cannot be justified biblically. What we should do with the alleged "evidence" of reincarnation - regressions, near-death experiences - is another matter. For Christians: "You have been told, man, what is good and what the Lord demands of you: namely, keep God's word and practice love and be humble before your God" (Micah 6: 8). That's what matters. And on the trust that God is gracious to me and loves me, good or bad karma or not.