My understanding of Karma is, admittedly, imperfect. I have not studied the concept at depth, only heard it described by various others who may not have been perfect in their understanding. In general, I understand Karma to be an impersonal force that balances all actions and energies in existence, returning good for good and evil for evil to every souce, spanning many potential lifetimes, for all of the being’s existence. Karma has no personal feelings toward anyone to mitigate its strict justice. There is no “mercy” involved. Karma does not love or hate. It simply reflects back to the source what that source puts out. If a person acts cruelly, then sometime in this lifetime or a following one, that person will experience similar cruelty in exact measure. Since most lives include times of misfortune or even tragedy, those who believe in karma believe it is always justified punishment for bad actions in this life or a prior life.

The consensus seems to be that the best one can do is accept with grace all misfortune, understanding that it is justified and will pass, and hoping that, when it does, there will be no other prior evil to atone for karmically so that one can be happy after that. Of course, none of us are perfect and even the best of us make many mistakes, so there will always be something to suffer. Therefore, the “wise” believers in karmic systems seek to escape them by “transcending” this world. Transcending is, apparently, done by disengaging as much as possible from the world in all ways. If the people describing it to me were accurate, it is essentially seeking an ultimate self-annihilation as the only means to fully escape the trap of this karmic system. In other words, the karmic system is, apparently, so horrible that it would be better to cease to exist as an entity than to continue in it.

Thank God I believe in God!

I believe in a divine creative intelligence, also known as God, who intentionally created this whole world (beyond our single planet) and all the beings within it. This God did so from love, which is His essence. He is still present, still creating and functioning in the system He designed and set in motion, and He is able to mete out justice, but also to temper it with mercy when appropriate. He works toward the ultimate good, not only of the world in general, or the people who honor Him, but also for each and every individual whom He specially made with their own purpose, in His image, with all His love for them.

God will allow bad things to happen to us for many reasons. Sometimes it might be as a punishment for our bad behavior. How else can we learn that our behavior is bad if we don’t feel the results of it? He can also test us through trials, as much or more to teach us something of ourselves, and He can use apparent misfortunes to build us and teach us, much as a sports coach builds his athletes by forcing them through difficulties and stresses. God also, more often than we may realize, blesses us with things that seem like misfortunes at first, but lead to far better good than we could have imagined. I find myself more and more often viewing my abusive marriage in this way, as I realize the strength, insight, and personal growth I gained through it. I begin to wonder if all misfortunes might not be, in some way, blessings in disguise. The only thing that misfortunes are not, is random. God is in control, working for our greater good, and we need to trust Him.

Even more than merely trusting in God, we need to do our part through our misfortunes by looking for the potential good that may arise from them. In the midst of suffering, we need to look for a benefit to our pain and a way to turn our suffering into good for others as well as ourselves. Many people have done this beautifully by creating scholarships and endowments in the name of loved ones who tragically died. MADD, Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers, was famously created by a family whose son had been killed by a drunk driver. The impulse to spare others from suffering the agony we are currently experiencing is an amazing testament to love, strength, goodness, and God. It ends up making the whole world a better place. God bless those who do this!

I wonder, however, why this impulse is so strong in Biblically based beliefs, like Judaism and Christianity, but not in karmic beliefs. Why do Jews and Christians look to turn tragedy to good, but those who follow karmic beliefs more often seek to escape the world and transcend, as if no hope for good were possible? The difference between Karma and God is that Karma lacks the intention, the love, and the mercy of God. It is strictly just – returning bad for bad but also good for good. It is an impersonal and unwavering system. As such, wouldn’t it make more sense to use that by doing more good than evil – so much so that doing good, putting forth love and kindness, becomes a habit so deeply ingrained that one can scarce avoid it? Of course we’ll make mistakes – all humans do – but if we do so much more good than evil, then we’ll get back so much more good. Isn’t that the essence of Karma? If we do more good than evil, we’ll suffer a little for the evil but enjoy a lot for the good. You can make your own future lives all happy by striving to be as good as possible whenever you can. With such direct ability to create such blissful lives, why then would anyone choose to “transcend” and escape – especially since transcendence seems so difficult? That way, the best you can hope for is to cease to exist.

In the Biblical perspective, God made us and is making us. We aren’t done yet. We’re in this world to learn and grow, and growing pains can be awful at times. Our tests and trials, necessary to become our best selves, can feel like temporary agony. We must learn to love, but all love is tinged by the imminent loss as those we love can suffer and die, even if they do not slip into harming us or betraying us. Eventually we learn the difference between true love and false love. We learn that true love never dies, that all separations are temporary, that joy is the goal of even passing through our worst sufferings, and that we are part of creating a glorious, wonderful world we can all enjoy together.

Is the problem with the karmic view, which gives us directly the power to create our happy lives by doing good, loving others, and acting with kindness, and therefore earning joy, the fact that we doubt ourselves, in whom all the control lies? Is it the lack of a God we can trust, Who is directing us and helping us, the difference that makes karmic systems seems so horrible? Or is it just the lack of mercy – that we know we will suffer for all our mistakes, no matter how innocent or well-intentioned they were? When an impersonal force makes the power wholly yours to create happiness or suffering for yourself, why is that seen as ultimately hopeless? Why is a loving and possibly merciful God the difference that makes joy in this world possible?

Without God, man is man. Although I believe mankind is tending to improve – grow kinder and more loving toward all other creatures, including other men – the fact is our history hasn’t been encouraging. Violence and cruelty have been apparently endemic. Each individual can endeavor to do better – and in a karmic system will inevitably be rewarded for that – but apparently we don’t trust ourselves to actually succeed. Better to transcend, escape this world, and ultimately self-annihilate. Without God, I guess, the world does seem bleak and hopeless.

Thank God for God.