by George Sidney Hurd
Among those of us who believe in life beyond the grave there are two very distinct belief systems. One is that we only die once and await the resurrection of our immortal spiritual bodies at the end of the age. The other is that one repeatedly reincarnates in different mortal bodies eon after eon before finally achieving perfection, at which time one ceases to reincarnate, losing their personal identity, becoming one with the cosmic consciousness.
When I had a personal encounter with the Lord and began seriously studying the Scriptures for myself fifty years ago, the belief in reincarnation wasn’t even considered a viable option among Christians. However, around that same time there was a major shift taking place. The counter-culture movement in the west rejected traditional Christianity and began looking to the east for its spirituality. Combined with the influence of western predecessors like Madame Blavatsky and Edgar Cayce, a new westernized version of eastern spirituality began to emerge, forming what is now known as the New Age Movement.
A concerted effort was made to introduce eastern spirituality into the Christian community, either by discounting the authority of the Bible, or by revisionism and the use of biblical phrases used out of context in such a way as to make the Bible appear to be teaching reincarnation. As a result, over 25% of professed Christians in America today say that they believe in reincarnation. But is it even possible to reasonably conclude from the Christian Scriptures that we are reincarnated rather than being resurrected? Can the belief in reincarnation even be seen to be a logically coherent theory? These are the two questions that I hope to answer in this and the following blog.
The Logical Incoherence of Reincarnation
While I normally give priority to the scriptural arguments for a given belief before considering the logical implications, since I consider the Scriptures to be the Word of God and authoritative, recognizing that many who believe in reincarnation do not share the same high view of Scripture as I do, I will first consider the logical implications of the belief in reincarnation.
1) The Problem of Increased Population
Logically, if there are a fixed number of souls who are evolving through a finite series of reincarnations, with all eventually becoming incorporeal and one with the cosmic consciousness, then the human population should be decreasing rather than increasing. However, rather than decreasing the human population is exploding. When my mother was born in 1920 the world population was 1.8 billion. When I was born in 1950 the population was at 2.5 billion. By 1970 it had increased to 3.7 billion. Now, only 40 years later it has more than doubled, reaching 7.8 billion. According to the theory of reincarnation the population should actually be decreasing rather than increasing as souls reach Brahman and cease reincarnating. How do they resolve this logical contradiction?
Some proponents of reincarnation would argue that the increased population is the result of a dramatic increase in the number of souls who are now reincarnating as humans that had formerly been lower lifeforms such as plants or insects. Others speculate that the increase in population could actually be the result of a cosmic migration of souls from other planets who are reincarnating on our planet as humans.
However, such fanciful explanations are a grabbing at straws at best. The human growth in population is better explained as a natural exponential growth. The Scriptures present it as the simple process of procreation in which one couple begets or engenders offspring with each soul’s existence beginning at conception. The increase in population is best understood as simple mathematics.
As more people are born and scientific understanding is able to extend the average lifespan, the human population grows. On the other hand, as the human population increases the lower animal lifeforms become endangered with many species becoming extinct - however not by the transmigration of souls from one life-form to the next, but simply due to man’s disregard for the delicate balance of nature. Contrarily, we see a greater number of domesticated animals such as chickens and cows – not because karma required that more souls should reincarnate as chickens or cows, but simply because humans like to eat them.
Therefore, the biblical model in which each soul lives and physically dies only once, followed by a resurrection unto immortality at the end of the age is logically compatible with the increased human population, whereas reincarnation is not.
2) The Problem of the Origin of Bad Karma
According to eastern belief, every soul is eternal, without beginning or end, going from an original state of perfection and returning to that same state, ceasing to reincarnate, and returning to oneness with the cosmic consciousness. Incarnation is said to be an inferior state but necessary in order to pay for the bad karma acquired in previous lives.
The logical dilemma which this presents is: how could the cosmic consciousness have originated bad karma, thereby requiring the initial incarnation of these billions or trillions of souls? If bad karma is acquired in the lower state of a mortal body, necessitating a reincarnation in order to pay for it, how did the perfect cosmic consciousness initially produce souls with bad karma while yet being disembodied?
The biblical model does not face this dilemma. It presents a personal triune God as creating free moral agents capable of abiding in Him or acting independently in rebellion against Him. Evil originated in Satan’s heart and through his influence it passed on to the human race through Adam’s disobedience.
3) The Problem of Perpetuated Evil
According to the law of karma, the very evil which one commits in a lifetime must come back upon him in the next life. However, this would perpetuate evil rather than eradicating it. For example, John Wayne Gacy, infamously known as the killer clown (because he dressed as a clown), sexually assaulted and murdered at least 33 young men and boys before finally being convicted, receiving the death sentence and being executed in 1994. According to the law of karma, in his next reincarnations he must also be raped and murdered 33 times. This in turn would require that those 33 who rape and murder him in his subsequent lives also suffer the same fate for their offense, which means that those who murder them also must be murdered, ad infinitum. One can only imagine how much havoc the evil deeds a man like Adolf Hitler would wreak to the karma of future generations!
In contrast, according to the biblical model, one can repent before God and be forgiven without having to pay for his sins because God in Christ propitiated the sins of the whole world upon the cross, satisfying God’s justice, dying in our stead (1Jn 2:2; Rom 3:23-26). When one comes to Christ not only are all their sins forgiven but Christ comes to live in them, making them a new creation and producing in them His own perfection – something unattainable even in a million reincarnations.
Some would insist that the Bible is teaching karma when it says, “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Gal 6:7). However, there are two considerations which make God’s law of sowing and reaping distinct from the law of karma. In the first place, the law of sowing and reaping in Scripture is not tit-for-tat as is karma, but rather it primarily refers to the natural consequences of living a life of sin and excess. If you drink too much you can destroy your marriage, your family and your health. What one reaps is corruption or ruin:
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption (thora ‘destruction, ruin’), but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” (Gal 6:7-8)
In the second place, God’s principle of sowing and reaping is not an impersonal law which cannot be circumvented by grace as is the law of karma. While God means it when He warns us that sin will have its consequences, He is a loving Father and when we truly repent of our sins He forgives us, just as any loving father would do, and He relents of any corrective judgments pronounced against us, often even healing us of the infirmities we inflicted upon ourselves by our sinful behavior.
When I came to the Lord in 1969 my health was failing me due to drug abuse. I had contracted Hepatitis A, B C and Delta from sharing used needles with my companions. While the Lord didn’t immediately heal me, He promised me that my sickness wouldn’t result in death but in His glory. In 2012, in a miraculous manner I received a new liver and by 2016 I was totally free of the Hep C virus. While we shouldn’t presume upon God’s intervenient grace in such instances, I definitely saw God’s grace in my life, resulting in me not fully reaping what I had sown to the flesh during my troubled years as a youth.
The Traditional model of eternal torment for the majority of mankind, popularized by Saint Augustine in the fifth century, likewise perpetuates evil, albeit in a different manner. It presents God as perpetuating evil by maintaining lost sinners in a conscious state of torment forever without end. According to this model God doesn’t eradicate evil from His creation – He simply maintains it in a perpetual quarantine.
However, in the Scriptures we see that evil is not a creation of God. It is not eternal but had a beginning in time, and will be fully eradicated at the end of the ages once the last enemy – death, has been destroyed and all have subjected themselves to Christ, at which time Christ will subject Himself to the Father and God will become all in all (1Cor 15:25-28; Rev 21:4-5). I present the scriptural basis for the full eradication of evil and the restoration of all in my book, “The Triumph of Mercy (the reconciliation of all through Jesus Christ)”
Therefore, rightly understood, the Scriptures do not perpetuate evil as does the law of karma and the doctrine of eternal torment. Rather than an impersonal law we have a personal God who has determined that all will ultimately be saved, bowing the knee in adoration and confessing Jesus Christ as Lord (Isa 45:22-24; Phil 2:10-11; Ps 86:9).
4) The Problem of Ignorance concerning Past Lives
It is thought by some that the law of karma is a just system which explains why some suffer in life more than others. Granted, it would appear to be a just system if one were conscious of the wrongs that were committed in previous lives. However, with the exception of a very few who claim to have some recall of past lives through hypnotic regression or other psychic means, no one has any memory whatsoever of past lives.
In reality, our memory is an essential part of personhood and without it the reincarnated individual would essentially be a different person altogether. So, in essence, according to the theory of reincarnation, when someone suffers for deeds done in a past life, he is suffering for the sins of another. And, who in our generation could be said to be paying for the bad karma accumulated by someone like Hitler? Even if we could think of someone who might be suffering for Hitler’s sins, in what way could we reasonably call that justice?
In order for us to learn from our past mistakes it is essential that we at least have some memory of them. Even in our justice system, if it is determined that an individual had no recollection of his crime it is taken into account as an extenuating circumstance and his sentence will be lightened. But karma is said to be a rigid impersonal law which shows no mercy.
We all have a tendency to qualify and nuance our cherished beliefs when confronted with their logical fallacies rather than abandoning them, but who of us in all honesty feels it would be just to have to suffer for wrong deeds you have no recollection of ever having committed?
The traditional model of infinite punishment for finite sins presents an equally – if not greater moral contradiction than that of the law of karma. However, contrary to what has been traditionally taught since the fifth century, God’s judgments are just and measured according to the works of each one – not infinite. I treat this subject with more detail in my books, “The Triumph of Mercy” and “The Universal Solution.”
In Scripture we see that men are judged according to what they did in their one lifetime rather than suffering for previous lives they have no recollection of (Heb 9:27). Also, we see in Scripture that our Judge is a merciful Father and for the repentant sinner His mercy triumphs over judgment (Jas 2:13). Because justice and peace kissed each other at the cross God can be a just Judge and at the same time justify those who repent and believe on Jesus (Ps 85:10; Rom 3:25-26). Actually, the very passage which says that it is appointed unto man to die once and afterwards be judged emphasizes that Christ took our judgment upon Himself at the cross:
“And as it is appointed for men to die ONCE (hapax “once and for all”), but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered ONCE (hapax “once and for all”) to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Heb 9:27-28)
Christ, being the Son of God incarnate (not reincarnate), having been put to death once and for all for the sins of the world was resurrected from the dead and ever lives to make intercession for sinners who want to come to God the Father through Him (Rom 6:10; Heb 7:23-27; 9:12). As Paul says, there is now therefore no condemnation (nor bad karma) for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).
That is not to say that we do not have to pass through the purifying fire. Everyone will be salted in fire in order that we may come forth as pure gold, since nothing impure can endure God’s presence (1Cor 3:13-15; Matt 5:8; Heb 12:14; Rev 22:14-15 NIV). Those who die outside of Christ will not be raised until the second resurrection unto judgment (Jn 5:24,29; Rev 20:5,6). They will be resurrected and judged according to their works, receiving their part in the purifying Lake of Fire (Rev 20:14-15).
I discuss the subject of the Lake of Fire in my blog, “Sulfur, Salt and the Refiner’s Fire.” Its purpose is purification – not torture, and it does not last “forever and ever” as eis tous aionas ton aiónon is mistranslated to read in most nonliteral versions. The phrase eis tous aionas ton aiónon means “into the ages of the ages” or extending into the coming ages. Each one will receive their part (meros) according to the works of each one, rather than the fire enduring forever.
So, rather than one suffering for some impersonal law of karma for wrongs done in previous lives which we have no memory of, we see in Scriptures that each individual who has ever lived, once having died, will be judged by a just Judge according to their own works, rather than the works of individuals of bygone generations. Having briefly considered some of the logical arguments against reincarnation, in the next blog we will consider the Scriptural arguments presented for reincarnation vs. resurrection.