In the physical world there are many laws of science that govern the behavior of matter from the smallest to the very largest scale. We are familiar with the basic ones. Of course there is that universal attracting force known as gravity that binds everything together without which we would float off the planet into space. Then there are the electrical laws that are fairly well known in which opposite charges attract and like charges repel.
That the material universe is controlled by immutable and fixed laws, we shouldn’t be surprised to know that the spiritual universe is also regulated by laws, many of which are analogous to the principles of the physical world. The law of gravity may represent how in the spiritual world it is the virtue of love that pulls everything together, causing all souls to be knitted together in charity and affection. By extension, it could also depict how “birds of a feather flock together” which is the spiritual principle that like attracts like in the spiritual domain. Alternatively, we may interpret the law of gravity as an analog of the spiritual journey in which the forces of darkness attempt to pull a soul down to hell, and so consequently it struggles to wind its way upward toward God. Similar parallels could be found in the electrical laws, and so we can see the attraction between opposite charges symbolizing how male and female souls are drawn together while like genders repel.
While much could be said about these fundamental truths, we will focus our attention exclusively on one particular physical law and its very important spiritual corollary. Isaac Newton theorized three laws of motion, and it is the third that is of great interest to us. The scientist postulated that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This important axiom is needless to say not a cryptic law known only to rocket scientists but the layman is well acquainted with it as well. We observe it routinely in every day life and can all attest to its veracity. If one pushes on a spring to compress it, the spring will push back and recoil when we remove our hand. If we jump down on a trampoline, it will shortly bounce us back up again. And if we push on a rock wall, though we are not necessarily aware of it, it will push back at us with the equivalent amount of force to prevent our hand from penetrating through its surface.
A number of other physical examples could be cited, but we shall now examine the spiritual analog of this principle known among other names as the Law of Sow and Reap. For every moral action of man, he will necessarily receive a reaction good or bad depending on the nature of his deed. Such examples of cause and effect could be as simple as the idea that if one works hard, he will earn money. Whereas if one is lazy, he will become poor. Positive behavior is by definition rewarded to us in a positive way, while negative behavior is compensated in a negative way, though it is often the case that each of our actions is returned on us in a similar if not exact fashion to the way we carried it out.
This kind of theology is supported by the Bible in both Old and New Testaments. Solomon’s proverbs tend to adhere to the Sow and Reap principle in a number of places. He says, “The wicked man earns deceptive wages but he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward.” Additionally the wise king writes, “He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and rod of his fury will be destroyed.” In the New Testament, it is clear that the Apostle Paul believed in this concept, for he said, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” And before this Apostle to the Gentiles came on the scene, it was the Savior himself who attested to this spiritual law in the Garden of Gethsemane. After Peter had attempted to rescue Jesus from those who were arresting him, he took out his sword and cut off the High Priest’s servant’s ear. Immediately Jesus rebuked Peter for this action affirming “All who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
Indeed the Law of Sow and Reap was to play out in a particularly poignant way in the life of Simon Peter and the other apostles. After Jesus was betrayed into the hands of his enemies, the disciples scattered sorely afraid for their own lives, and most all of them remained in hiding until after the Resurrection. It should have been their duty to support their Master in his Passion, following him bravely up Calvary and keeping vigil with him as he died his agonizing death. Unfortunately all but the Apostle John, the one whom Jesus loved was to be found at the foot of the Cross. And we have recorded in his gospel how in a tender moment the Savior entrusted his mother to his care for the rest of her life.
Because the majority of the apostles did not have the courage to risk their own lives to support the One who was sacrificing his own for the life of the world, there was a great penalty to be paid. Ultimately the Rule of Sow and Reap ensured that they would each pay with their lives for their moment of weakness, and we know from Church history that each of these men died a martyr’s death. Like Christ, several of them were crucified like Peter who was hung on a cross upside down. Others were flayed alive, sawed in half, beaten to death with a club, or run through with a spear to mention a few other grisly executions.
It would seem that none of these martyrdoms would have been strictly necessary had most of the apostles risked their own lives in the midst of their Master’s passion. At least it would appear that because John stood boldly at the foot of the Cross, he was therefore entitled to die in his own bed as an old man of nearly 100 years old in Ephesus. Though at times the enemies of the Church tried to kill him, they were always unsuccessful. After attempting to boil him in oil or making him drink poison didn’t work, eventually they just gave up, and the apostle ultimately died of natural causes.
Focusing again on Peter, it was clear that divine retribution would eventually see him crucified for his failure on the night of the Last Supper, but the chief of the apostles was also due another significant yet smaller repayment for the events of that evening. Of course we remember that Peter denied the Lord three times when he was questioned by others about his association with Jesus of Nazareth. Because he couldn’t man up to admitting that he was his disciple, let alone acquainted with Jesus, it became necessary through the spiritual law that he should also be questioned three times by the One he loved. After the Resurrection, Jesus reinstated Peter by the Sea of Galilee in a manner notably reminiscent of the disciple’s denials. In what must have been just as hurtful to Peter as his disavowal of the Savior was to the Master, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Though of course it was never Christ’s intention to inflict any pain on his disciple, nonetheless the thrice stated question we are told was painful for the Apostle.
More anecdotes could be related from the New Testament, but there are certainly plenty to share from the Old and so we turn our attention now to Genesis and the life of the patriarch Jacob to see more of the Sow and Reap principle in action. We are all very familiar with the story of the two brothers, Esau and Jacob which is certainly a classic of the Bible. As the older brother, Esau was by definition the principle heir according to the custom of primogeniture. It was he who would receive a double portion of his father’s estate compared to his younger brother Jacob. Additionally, Esau was entitled to the patriarchal blessing which was much coveted by his younger brother.
In a conspiracy with his mother who favored Jacob, the two tricked the boys’ father Isaac who was nearly blind into bestowing the all important blessing on the younger Jacob. As the old man couldn’t see, he thought he had imparted the benediction on Esau, but when he found out this was not the case, he shook violently. The knowledge of the outright deception was disturbing for Isaac to say the least, but it was infuriating for Esau who vowed to kill Jacob, and so the younger brother fled for his life to his mother’s relatives up north.
While it wasn’t immediate, it would seem that Jacob’s shameful duping of his own father had set in motion a spiritual reaction that would play out at least a couple times during the rest of his life. After arriving in Paddan Aram, Jacob came to live with his uncle Laban who had two daughters, Rachel and Leah. Jacob fell in love with Rachel who happened to be the younger of the two women and pledged to work for Laban for seven years that he should take her hand in marriage. When the time of the wedding arrived, a veiled woman entered Jacob’s tent and he slept with her presuming her to be his beloved Rachel. But in the morning it was discovered that Jacob had been duped by Laban, for it was Leah that he had espoused in the night.
Laban had felt that the older daughter should be married first, and so in poetic justice Jacob was tricked and was forced to give the older girl her due to compensate for how he had taken the birthright from his own older brother. And to make matters worse, he needed to work another seven years in exchange for marrying Rachel who was his prime interest. But this retribution apparently only scratched the surface in making amends for what he stole from Esau through his deception.
As we know, Jacob was the father of twelve sons who went on to become the forebears of the twelve tribes of Israel. As many parents do, he had a favorite who happened to be Joseph, his second youngest and son of his beloved Rachel. Unfortunately Jacob didn’t hide his favoritism too well, and he lavished on his son a coat of many colors that became the envy of his siblings. They grew to hate their younger brother not only for this but because he was a braggart and used to tell them his dreams of superiority over his older brothers.
Eventually when they were alone with Joseph in the field they conspired to do away with him and proceeded to sell him to the Ishmaelites who were going down into Egypt. After having done so, they couldn’t obviously go back and tell their father what they had done. So they took his robe and dipped it in the blood of a goat they had slaughtered and taking it back to Jacob reported that he had been killed by a wild animal. And so once again Jacob the deceiver was himself tricked by his own sons just as he had duped his father many years earlier. Consequently he lived for many years in sadness bereft of his beloved child.
As we know, ultimately the family of Jacob came to live in Egypt and Jacob was overjoyed to discover that his son was really still alive after all, though we must note that all of that lost time and grief for Jacob was a necessary payback for his iniquity decades earlier. It seems that Jacob desired to right this wrong even at the end of his life, for the patriarch did an unexpected thing when Joseph brought his own two sons to Jacob for a special blessing. Manasseh was the older boy and Joseph placed him under Jacob’s right hand for the blessing of primogeniture while setting the younger Ephraim under Jacob’s left hand. In a surprise move, the old man crossed his hands putting the right on the younger and the left on the older. In some way it seems that he was attempting to make good on the deception of his own father Isaac many years earlier.
Certainly the life of Jacob reflects the fundamental spiritual principle of Sow and Reap in a remarkable way but no more so than that which happened in the life of King David. The one who was called “a man after God’s own heart” was generally very faithful to God, but the monarch committed a major sin halfway through his life that would haunt him for the rest of his days.
After spending most of his earlier years often running for his life, ultimately with the death of King Saul, David became established as king and had relative peace within his kingdom. Without major conflict, it seems that at a point in the middle of his life the king became bored, and as we know that “idleness is the devil’s workshop,” the great king was ripe for a major fall. Not satisfied with the several wives he already had, David’s eye began to wander and beholding a beautiful woman named Bathsheba, he arranged to sleep with her despite the fact that she was married. And just his luck, she got pregnant.
But rather than own up to his transgression with her spouse, he tried to cover it up. Bathsheba’s husband Uriah had been off fighting the Ammonites to advance David’s kingdom further, and so David arranged that he be brought home on leave with the intention that he should sleep with his wife. Ultimately the king hoped that Uriah would then believe the child Bathsheba would bear would be his own. While this seemed like a good plan, it turned out that Uriah was a much better man than he anticipated. The humble foot soldier simply could not justify having a night of pleasure while his comrades were sleeping in the open fields, and so he spent the night at the entrance to the palace.
When David could not succeed in getting him to go home, even after getting him drunk, he ordered him back to the war and arranged for him to be put on the frontlines so that he would surely die in the fierceness of battle. And when Uriah was in the thick of the fight, his fellow warriors retreated from him that he was slain. Perhaps at this point David thought his troubles were over, but sadly they were only beginning.
Though David might have thought his adultery and murder could be swept under the rug, God certainly took notice of it, and so the prophet Nathan was sent to confront the king about his grave sins. In what is probably the most poignant commentary on the spiritual law of Sow and Reap, the man of God prophesied to David, “You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own … Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes [God] will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but [God] will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.”
Not long after this message of retribution was announced, the fruit of David’s iniquity began to ripen and the illegitimate child whom Bathsheba bore died. But this was only the beginning of woes, for the seeds of trouble that would lead to prolonged suffering for David began to spring up as well. The king had a number of children and it turned out that his eldest son Amnon fell in love with his daughter Tamar. In an unthinkable act, this heir to the throne raped his sister and became the enemy of David’s third and favorite son Absalom. Perhaps if David had taken some punitive action against Amnon, things would not have gotten out of hand, but after two years of letting the older son go scot-free, Absalom had had enough and murdered his elder brother.
Of course things would only escalate from this point on, and as Absalom was exiled for a few years living far away from the royal family in Jerusalem, feelings of resentment began to build against his father. Eventually in a conspiracy, this favorite son brought civil war upon the kingdom and forced his father to flee for his life. With Absalom in power in Jerusalem, he thought to fortify his position in whatever way possible. At the suggestion of his advisor, Absalom slept with each of David’s concubines on the roof of the palace in broad daylight to imprint on the minds of the Israelites that he had assumed royal power and had made a permanent break with his father. Of course this came about just as Nathan had predicted it would. For sleeping with another man’s wife in secret, David would also have to endure his own wives being embraced by another man against their will.
That David used the sword against another man also necessitated that the sword come upon him and his household, and so tragedy came to his firstborn Amnon and at the end of the civil war also to his beloved Absalom, and even in that event we see the subtle hand of divine justice. We are told that Absalom was a very handsome man with thick hair that he was apparently inordinately proud of. In the final conflict at the end of the war, Absalom was riding his mule through the forest and his head got caught in the branches of an oak tree. Hanging helplessly by his rich tresses, the servants of David slew him against the king’s wishes and this too was a major blow to “the man after God’s own heart.” But this tragedy was not the end of David’s sorrows, for even at the close of his life another son would die by the sword. When Adonijah attempted to usurp the throne by taking one of David’s concubines as a wife, Solomon had him executed to secure his position. In all, three of David’s sons met a violent end not to mention his infant child who died as a result of David’s transgressions.
Clearly an undeniable pattern of Cause and Effect has been presented in the lives of apostles, patriarchs, and kings to illustrate the Divine Law of Sow and Reap. Yet some would undoubtedly protest that this principle is far from universal because of the apparent lack of justice we see in the lives of countless more people. Many an evil soul has gotten away with murder in his lifetime, and on the other side of the spectrum, many a good soul has suffered inordinately despite having lived a fairly pure life. How do we explain these inequities yet maintaining that the Law of Sow and Reap is still a universal truth of the spiritual realm?
Perhaps we can start to address this by retelling a story, an old story that comes from India and speaks to this very matter:
Many, many years ago, in India, there dwelt two men in the same city. The one was rich and fortunate, yet he was selfish, extortionate and wicked. The other, a kind and truly pious man, was dogged by misfortune all his days. And this fact became a byword in the city, for as the first man passed through the streets men would wag their heads and say, “Assuredly the Evil One watches over his own,” and of the other they would say, “There goes the pious, but unfortunate, Friend of all the World, but avoid him, for assuredly misfortune walks ever at his side and to be associated with him is unlucky.”
And to some this matter became a jest, whereon they composed ballads after the fashion of the age, but unto him who was called “The Friend of all the World” it seemed a mystery difficult to understand and an injustice hardly to be borne. But there came a day when his cup of bitterness was filled to the brim, for, having given away his scanty store of food to relieve the starving children of a poor widow, he was returning to his humble home in a mean street when he stepped on a sharp stone and cut his foot severely. He therefore sat down by the roadside and, suffering acute pain, tore a strip of cloth from his ragged turban to bind up the wound. At that very moment who should pass by but the wealthy money-lender, for such he was by trade, and by his extortions had ruined many an honest, but unfortunate, citizen who had come to him for help.
“Ha, ha,” he cried, “see what I have found!” And, waving in the face of the other a bag full of gold, added, “I see that the gods have also sent you a gift as some slight recompense for your numerous acts of charity.” And with a contemptuous snigger he went on his way rejoicing. Then he who had been thus addressed cried out against Heaven at its gross injustice, and spoke many bitter and impious words, saying, “Lo, now I see full well that God loves iniquity and hates justice and mercy.”
And even as he made an end of his lamentations there stood before him a figure of light, whose radiance was so fierce that hardly could he gaze upon the countenance of that Shining One. And the unfortunate man trembled, till the Stranger spoke: then did terror depart from him and a great peace entered in. For the voice of the Stranger was gentle and soft as the breeze at evening, when it breathes on the palm trees and bends the growing crops before it, and was filled with music like the song of many birds, and a fragrance as of something exquisitely holy pervaded the narrow streets.
And the stranger smiled upon the unhappy man and said, “My son, I have heard your lamentation and your bitter cry has ascended even unto Heaven, and therefore have I come unto you. Cry not of injustice, for in very truth your own life is a perfect example of the justice and mercy of God, Who hates iniquity and loves kindliness. And lo, I will reveal unto you the secret of this mystery which for so long has perplexed your soul.
“Know then that in your last life you were selfish and evil, yet were you powerful, and unto you was given bounteously all that man desires. Yet you were like unto this other, using your power to oppress the weak and your wealth to corrupt the mighty. Wherefore the Masters of Fate sent you into this life in a mean estate and to be the bed-fellow of poverty and misfortune, in order that thereby you might learn, through suffering, pity for those who are even less fortunate than you.
“And you have learned that hard lesson and have responded to the noblest within you, wherefore your fate has been ameliorated, and each year it grows less harsh. And this day it had been predestined for you that you should die the death of a criminal, but because of your many acts of kindness this dread fate has been mitigated, so that instead of losing your head you have but hurt your heel.
“But as touching this other. In his last life he was a good man and of a generous disposition, comforting the afflicted and giving freely to the poor. But oft-times he prayed to heaven that when next he was born on earth he should be reborn in such wise that he should be wealthy so that he might the better be enabled to assist the poor, and powerful, that he might alleviate the sufferings of the weak.
“And because he was a good man, the Masters of Fate granted his request, that they might test him, and as you see, lamentably has he failed therein. But because of the good that he had done fortune has smiled on him: yet because of the evil he now does that good fortune has wilted, little by little. It was predestined for him that on the self-same day whereon you were to be led to execution he should be crowned king, but because of the evil he has done that crown has become merely a bag of gold, whereof by ill-gotten methods he has already gained more than he truly requires.
“Just is the Law, my son, and in the eyes of God you are the fortunate man and he the unfortunate, for God sees ten thousand years in a moment of time but men see but the passing hours of a day. Farewell, till we meet once more, for the good which you shall continue to do shall avail you hereafter in a manner far beyond your comprehension.”
And lo, the voice was silent, and the street empty and dark, for it was evening and the sun had set; but he whom men called The Friend of all the World limped home to his mean dwelling and his empty cupboard rejoicing, and in his heart was peace, born of true knowledge, than which there is no greater blessing.
This colorful narrative is full of many theological points that we could consider, yet our main interest shall be in how it beautifully addresses the issue of apparent injustice in the world. Throughout the ages, men and women have asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” And just as often they have asked the opposite question: “Why do the wicked prosper?” We will examine both of these profound questions in the light of the central truth behind this classic story from India, that of reincarnation.
Though a very small minority of Christians now believes in this doctrine, this is not to say that it wasn’t more widely recognized in the earlier days of the faith. In fact there are quite a few examples in the writings of the Early Church Fathers which affirm an ancient belief in the idea that man exists before he is born, and a careful study of the Bible will reveal that belief as a subtle thread working through both Testaments. Sometimes it appears as a cryptic reference as in the words of Job who said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there.” Likewise, it may show up as a passing remark as in the Wisdom of Solomon where the prophet says, “And I was a witty child and had received a good soul. And whereas I was more good, I came to a body undefiled.”
Suffice it to say, there is ample evidence for the idea of reincarnation in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and while it is not our purpose to make a defense of it at this time, we will assume it to be the key doctrine to make full sense of the Law of Sow and Reap, a principle that in the East is known under another name, that is the Law of Karma. A term which appears almost exclusively in Eastern religion, karma simply implies that whatever a man sows, good or bad will stick to him and be repaid in like manner at some point in the future, and not necessarily in the same lifetime. Karma is therefore something that one possesses like a debt or a credit that needs to be reconciled. For the purposes of our examination of this principle as it appears in the bible, we will be mainly concerned with using the term in its negative sense, that is bad karma or debts of sin. In fact it is the negative sense that has many an illustration in the scriptures.
With this background set, we return again to the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”, one that is well answered in the classic Indian story. Though the one who was known as “the Friend of all the World” was a very good and loving person, he clearly suffered much and lived in poverty, and we are informed this condition was not at all a reflection of his current life but of his previous one.
David made a profound observation in the Psalms asserting, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” Indeed good people tend to suffer the most in this world, and undoubtedly it is for a very good reason. Clearly for any soul to enter into the kingdom of heaven, it must pay off all debts of sin to merit that blessed state, for the scriptures state, “Without holiness, no one shall see God.” If a man is close to this goal of achieving sanctity, then in his final life on earth he must essentially cram in all remaining payments into those last few decades of life so that he can close out his earthly account with a clean slate.
This means that whatever balances of sin are carried over from previous lives needs to be dealt with in that last life, and for this reason many of the famous saints of the Bible and the Christian era have endured great misery before “finishing the race.” We are very familiar with the hideous deaths of the martyrs and the persecution of the early Christians, both vehicles of settling bad karma in a big way for those who would enter eternal life.
We can only speculate on what evil some of the early Christians did in previous lives to merit being fed to the lions, but ultimately we know that it was just. While for almost all biblical characters we have no knowledge of what they did or who they might have been in prior incarnations, there is one individual that we do have a clear link between an earlier and later life. That figure is the illustrious John the Baptist, the final prophet of the Old Covenant and forerunner of the Savior. Christ told his disciples that John was in fact the ancient prophet Elijah returned once again, for the Book of Malachi promised that Elijah would come before the Day of the Lord.
We may remember Elijah as a saintly individual of the Old Testament and wonder how it would be that he would ever need to return to earth in another life. What sin did he have outstanding that needed to be atoned for? Though many readers don’t take it so seriously, the Fall of Elijah actually happened shortly after his great victory on Mt. Carmel where he proved that Yahweh was the true God of Israel. In his zeal he slew all the false prophets of Baal, and unfortunately this incurred the wrath of Queen Jezebel who promised to kill him. Rather than stand up to her as well, he fled in terror into the desert running for his life, something that in the eyes of God was an extremely cowardly action.
Elijah knew he screwed up and became depressed. He begged God to take his life after having failed in a big way. It seems that for reasons known to God, the prophet was not given the opportunity to make amends in his lifetime for that failure, but as John the Baptist he most certainly paid the price for his earlier mistake. The test of faith for Elijah was being willing to stand up to an irate queen and believe that God would help him in that situation. Presumably if he had done so, God would have protected him and perhaps enabled him to continue to cut down the enemies of Yahweh including Jezebel herself. But the prophet’s faith wavered and so this necessitated that he should come face to face with what he feared, death at the hands of another irate queen.
At the end of his life, John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas after having criticized him for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. Apparently for this objection Herodias held a grudge against John and desired to kill him, but Herod would not go through with it because he feared the people who saw John as a legitimate prophet. But finally she had her way when at a great feast, Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod and all the guests. He was so pleased he promised to give her up to half his kingdom in return. At this opportunity Herodias pounced and instructed her daughter to ask for John’s head on a platter, and so the guards went into the prison and dispatched the great prophet. Having finally faced the death he once ran from, he settled his remaining debt to God and took his place in the Kingdom.
Like with John the Baptist, it is certainly a burden to have to pay for sins from another lifetime, but it is an even greater load to have to also atone for sins of one’s current lifetime. This was certainly the case with the apostles who fled from their Master during his Passion and was also the case with David and Jacob whom we have considered, for all of these were on track to achieve sanctity and make that life their last incarnation. Even Moses whom we believe finished the race of earth life had to pay the big price of not entering the Promised Land after failing to respect God in one moment of anger.
What must be suffered in one’s final life on earth will obviously vary from individual to individual, but some like the Apostle Paul have had to pay dearly making up for what karma they bring from their prior existence along with the misdeeds of the current life. As a zealous Pharisee, the former Saul persecuted the Church when it was just a fledgling sect of Judaism. Overseeing the stoning of its first martyr and dragging other off to prison, he oppressed the early Christians vehemently.
When he was miraculously converted on the way to Damascus to arrest more Christians, a believer named Ananias was sent to attend to him but at first resisted the divine instruction out of fear. He could hardly believe that a man who so persecuted the new faith should make a sudden and complete turnaround. But Ananias was assured by God that this was no mistake. He told him, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
And suffer he did for the rest of his life. In his own words he attests, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” But even all of this was not quite enough to settle all his debts, for like the other apostles the final payment demanded martyrdom, and according to tradition Paul was beheaded in Rome on the same day as Peter was crucified upside down. Indeed as Paul is quoted in the Book of Acts, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
So we have a basic understanding now why the righteous suffer many afflictions and difficulties in their lives as preparatory to their imminent departure from the world forever. But now we must address the other question we posed about the often carefree life of evil and unbelieving people. Jeremiah had to inquire of God about this vexing question. He asked, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” David also noted the seeming injustice of it recalling, “I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil.” He also remarked, “This is what the wicked are like – always carefree, they increase in wealth.”
And so we ask how it is that evil people thrive despite their sins without any divine backlash? Of course from what we have learned, we know that such souls are not really avoiding their just deserts but simply are delayed for a season from reaping their sinful harvest. But why should this be so, and why is divine repayment not swift for either good or bad? We can answer this question by considering the length of the human journey. Often a soul spends thousands of years weaving into and out of incarnation, perhaps spending as many as twenty lives as a human being in different settings throughout the world. Clearly if a man or woman earlier in their earthly sojourn chooses to accumulate a lot of bad karma, there is no real rush to settle it right away, for there will be many lives ahead of it to do so before the balance sheet must be reckoned once and for all.
And so evil people tend to rack up many debts, and according to the plan of the forces of evil, this is exactly what they want to happen. While of course there are angels of light that would seek to lead us toward God, there are also angels of darkness whose goal it is to turn us away from God as far as we are willing to go. It is their interest to delay divine punishment as long as possible so that a soul will continue to fall deeper and deeper into sin before having to “face the music.” And of course this is also to their advantage, because once a person who has been steeped in evil decides to stop going on the downward path and take fledgling steps toward God, the forces of evil will be sure to bring down the weight of that soul’s bad karma upon him to discourage him from climbing up the ladder heavenward.
Indeed there is no free lunch. Man reaps what he sows, and the more debts he accumulates the greater struggle he will have to break free of them. However, let it be said that no one can continue to accumulate bad karma indefinitely. Even if a soul does not decide to reverse course and begin inching toward God, the backlash of karma will eventually catch him. This is because the principle of karma is like a rubber band that can only stretch so far before it snaps. Like a fault line that builds up stress for years before it finally releases it in the form of an earthquake, so it is with the buildup of debts. At some point the avalanche of trouble we have sown will begin to come down upon our heads and often it will be a few lives of suffering that will be required to relieve that negative load.
This reality is captured in the Book of Exodus when God passed in front of Moses on the mountain. Describing himself, he proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” Naturally it would be unjust for God to punish someone else for one’s sins, and so that is not what is in view here. In this case we should understand children to represent the soul’s subsequent incarnations, and so “to the third and fourth generation” means that up to three or four future incarnations the evil man will suffer for his sins before the weight of karma is once again eased.
Exactly which kind of repayments a soul must make when it is forced to start settling karma is a broad subject. Generally as we have seen in the lives of various biblical characters, one suffers in an analogous way to how he mistreated others or failed a particular test given to him by God. Sometimes in our lives, difficulties may overwhelm us and it might seem that the only way to escape from the pain is to end it all. Suicide can appeal to the desperate soul as a means of running away from the hardship that is plaguing it. Certainly chronic illness or emotional trauma may push someone to contemplate taking his own life. While the prospect of immediate relief is very enticing, of course the soul who commits suicide does not realize that the difficulty it is enduring has been part of the plan of God and to dispatch itself prematurely is to fail a test that it has been given. Ultimately those who kill themselves to escape whatever pain they are enduring will need to return again in another incarnation and be tested in a similar way. They will be forced to cope with similar circumstances (if not harder ones) that drove them to take their own lives the first time, and if they should persevere through that life to die a natural death, only then will they have settled the karma of self-murder.
To cite another common sin in the modern world and its likely consequences, we could consider the ugly practice of abortion. With the rare exceptions of medical necessity, often it is a motive of selfishness that drives a woman to kill the child within her womb. Often the karmic effect of taking the life of her baby will be that she will be unable to conceive another child when at a later date she does in fact desire one. And it will frequently be the case that there are no medical reasons for this but purely psychological ones instead. If it does turn out that the woman is able to bear a subsequent child, it is most likely that feelings of guilt concerning the child she has slain will remain with her for the rest of her life. Alternatively, it could well turn out that the woman who aborted an undesired child will herself give birth to what in the eyes of the world is an undesired child. Perhaps she will have to raise a profoundly physically or mentally handicapped child. Such an arrangement would undoubtedly give her the opportunity to love what to the world is unlovable and make amends for her earlier sin.
To illustrate one more fairly common sin, we could mention the sin of pride, particularly intellectual pride which often is the case with those who are born with high mental ability. Such people will be very boastful of their accomplishments and look down on others who have not achieved as much or who are incapable of producing the caliber of their work. Pride is often intoxicating as it appeals to the soul’s desire for dominance, and allowed to grow unchecked will necessitate a strong form of retribution. Ultimately such souls will return to life in another incarnation as an idiot with sub-normal mental capacities.
Perhaps it is clear from these examples and the earlier illustrations of biblical characters that the Law of Karma is more than just an impersonal divine principle that governs the universe. That one must suffer in a similar way to his misdeeds is a concept that hints at the greater purpose of divine retribution. Of course God always works out of love, and it is with the greatest affection for his children that he allows them to learn from their mistakes. In this way, karma is a teacher that encourages the soul to choose good over evil. The Psalmist wrote, “It is good that I have been afflicted that I might learn your statutes.” He writes, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word … I know O Lord that your laws are righteous and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”
The Apostle Paul recognized this truth, for he wrote, “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” God is not interested in overwhelming us with suffering in retribution for our sins. He doesn’t take any delight in doling out punishments any more than a parent does for its child. Even if a soul racks up an enormous weight of karma, it will not be rewarded for its misdeeds all at once which the soul would be incapable of bearing. Rather, the schedule of repayments is optimized by the angels in whose care we are so that we may best learn from our mistakes and progress on the spiritual journey. God who does not give us more than we can bear lovingly arranges that the kind and timing of our karmic settlements is always in our best interests.
The Law of Karma functioning as a teacher is evident in so many stories of the bible, but we see it particularly in the legal code that Moses gave the Israelites. When the people came up out of Egypt, it was necessary for them to have a civil law that would constrain them. The overriding principle in that law was that the punishment should fit the crime. Moses wrote, “You are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Though the system was undoubtedly harsh, the people learned through it that they couldn’t get away with anything, for the penalty would be just as severe as the nature of their crime.
Thus far we have examined the Law of Sow and Reap particularly as it applies to individuals. But as a universal principle, it is just as relevant on the corporate scale. Certainly individuals accrue karma but so also do groups of people from small parties to large collections of souls on the order of nations. And the same rules apply on the small scale as on the large scale.
Group karma in action is something we witness fairly regularly in the world in various forms. Those plane crashes or mass shootings that take the lives of tens or hundreds of individuals at once are certainly tragedies, but they are no accidents from the perspective of God who arranges for them to take place to settle the karma of groups of people. In recent times we have witnessed natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis that have wiped out as many as 200,000 people at once, and we perceive in these events the hand of God dealing with large collections of people simultaneously.
We shall examine several cases of God dealing with groups of people as they are chronicled in the Bible beginning with the Canaanite nation known as the Amorites. On one of the occasions that God appeared to Abraham in the Book of Genesis, he related to the patriarch the future of his offspring. He told him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You however will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
We have spoken of karma as a rubber band that will eventually snap when it builds to a critical level, and this is exactly what God is telling Abraham in this prophecy. At the time of this prediction near the beginning of the 2nd Millennium B.C., the Amorites were a strengthening Middle Eastern power. During the early centuries of that millennium, they would go on to devastate much of the region similar to the way that the barbarians brought down the Roman Empire. But it would take several hundred years before the accumulated iniquities of the nation would require retribution. Of course this is because God is patient and gives to nations as he would to individuals the opportunity to turn themselves around before he is forced to discipline.
It was a promise to Abraham’s descendants that they should take as their own the land of Canaan where many Amorite peoples lived. However, from God’s perspective they could not invade the Promised Land before it could be karmicly justified. That is to say, only when the Amorites had gone beyond the point of not return would the Israelites have their opportunity for conquest, and this is at least part of the reason that they needed to remain in Egypt for so many centuries awaiting the right moment.
Of course it wasn’t until the late 15th century B.C. that the invasion of Canaan began, and with a divine mandate, the Israelites began to cut down the inhabitants of Palestine with the sword. Notably, a coalition of five Amorite kings banded together to face off with the Israelites in an attempt to protect their lands and repel the intruder. The kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon joined forces but to no avail, for the Lord had appointed their demise through the hands of the people of Israel. It is recorded in the Book of Joshua that “the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky, and more of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.”
A few chapters after God’s revelation to Abraham about the Amorites, we find another story involving group karma but this time involving a couple of cities whose morality had slipped to a point where it was getting God’s “attention.” We are told earlier in the Book of Genesis that “the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.” Apparently these sins involved all sorts of sexual depravations, and the magnitude of Sodom’s evil was reaching a tipping point. The Lord himself who was on earth at the time decided to investigate the matter for himself, and so he told Abraham, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
So wicked had the city become, that when two messengers came to the home of Abraham’s nephew Lot who lived in the city, the people stormed his door and demanded that his guests be turned out into the street to sleep with them. It would seem that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and after escorting Lot and his family out of the city, it was slated for destruction. From archaeological evidence we understand that an earthquake occurred near the cities which released into the atmosphere bitumen, petroleum, natural gas, and sulfur. Under great pressure in the ground, these combustibles sprayed up into the air and ignited only to rain down on the inhabitants of the city to their demise.
Moving ahead in time, we can see a good example of collective karma affecting the people of Israel early on in the conquest of Canaan. After they had taken Jericho, it was decided that all of the precious metals found within the city were to be dedicated to the treasury of the Lord. All of the children of Israel complied with this instruction except for one man named Achan of the tribe of Judah who buried some of the gold and silver in his tent. As a member of the Israelite community, his transgression became part of the national sin of Israel, and when the nation attempted to capture another city called Ai, they were routed by their enemies. We are told that “the Lord’s anger burned against Israel” which is to say that even though only one member had sinned, it was collectively impeding the whole nation.
Once Joshua investigated the source of this sin, he discovered what Achan had done. The leader of Israel proceeded to have Achan stoned thus making reparation for the sin. At that point, Israel was free to attack Ai with assured success, because the group karma that had clung to it for one man’s wicked act was settled.
Jumping forward to the time of Christ, we see yet another case of group karma in action just a couple years after Jesus’ birth. When Herod learned from the Wise Men that the Messiah had been born roughly two years earlier in Bethlehem, the jealous king had all the male children two years and younger slain with the edge of the sword to ensure that a rival did not threaten his throne. Of course his attempt was to no avail, for the Christ child had already escaped to Egypt, but unfortunately a few dozen little boys were snuffed out.
However, from God’s perspective their tragic deaths were far from unfortunate. These children have been regarded by the Church as “The Holy Innocents.” That is to say by their martyrdom they are believed to have achieved sanctity and entered into everlasting life. Of course we don’t know anything about the long history of each child before its short and final life was terminated, but what we can say is that each of these children had only very few debts to pay to wipe the slate clean, and so a brief life ending with martyrdom was sufficient to give them entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.
We conclude our treatment of group karma by considering the nation of Israel itself with its chronic rebellions against God that have marked its entire existence. Prophets routinely warned the nation about impending doom if it should fail to turn back to God, yet centuries went by without the people heeding their words. Eventually the rubber band snapped for Israel and they were all carted off into Exile for 70 years to pay off their mound of debts.
Eventually the people of Judah were allowed to return to their homeland again, but it didn’t take long before old patterns of sin developed. By the time that the Messiah appeared on the scene the cup of their iniquity had grown to a point where it was virtually impossible for them to receive Christ as their king, and of course as we know too well they cried out for his execution. In this they accrued even more bad karma, yet in 30 A.D., they still had not yet reached the tipping point that would bring retribution upon their heads. For another 40 years they continued to resist the message of the fledgling church and persisted in their rebellions against Rome, for they were committed to a military Messiah who would lead them to freedom.
By 70 A.D., the cup of their iniquity was full and the karmic backlash began again as it did some 650 years earlier when the people were first exiled. At the time of the Passover when the city swelled to ten times its normal population with Jewish pilgrims from many nations, the Romans decided to put an end to the rebellion. Many were put to death, but even greater suffering occurred in the siege of the city that would continue. The famine was so great that the people resorted to cannibalism. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, “A woman who had fled to Jerusalem killed her son, roasted him, and ate one half, concealing and saving the rest.”
After this initial devastation, the Jews would continue to inhabit Palestine for another 60 years until their final rebellion was put down. In 134 A.D., they supported a false Messiah named Bar Kochba, and this time the Romans dealt with the insurrection in a permanent way. The Jews were forbidden to ever enter Jerusalem again, and as if to cleanse the city of their presence, the Romans drove a plough through Jerusalem tearing up the ground on which they tread.
From that point on, the children of Israel were effectively scattered to the nations and remained so until the 20th century when they were once again allowed to return to their homeland. Over 19 long centuries, they suffered many atrocities of course culminating in the great Holocaust of the 20th century. Undoubtedly the karma that they have been required to pay has been great, but it has been amplified through the curse they put on themselves before Pilate. When the procurator refused to be responsible for Christ’s death, they cried out, “Let his blood be on us, and on our children.” And as a consequence, in all the intervening centuries they have borne the karma of crucifying Christ and suffering enormously for it.
This introduces us to our final topic of discussion, the subject of curses. In what is essentially a call to bring down upon our heads the accumulated karma of the past even before it is required, a curse invokes immediate divine retribution and is therefore extremely dangerous. For this reason, Christ forbade anyone to swear saying, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all … Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’, ‘no;’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
Unfortunately foolish men like King Saul were reckless in uttering curses and making oaths that weren’t always kept. We have one such example in a story from the Book of Samuel. Saul had distressed his men, for he bound his whole army under oath saying, “Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” Lamentably, his son Jonathan had not heard his father’s curse and had indulged himself in some honey he found on the ground. Then when Saul went to inquire of God whether he should attack his enemies, he received no response. Because of the binding nature of the oath, the collective karma of the army of Israel would now block success in any military campaign. Not that in and of itself this karma was so great that it prevented victory in battle, but because a curse was uttered, that karma was now being brought to the fore as an imposing impediment.
The ancients apparently understood the power of curses, oaths, and imprecations much more than we do in modern times. Consequently they feared them as did Saul’s men who recognized that evil would follow any who broke the oath. Yet others sought to use them as a form of warfare against their enemies. We see this in the nation of Moab who attempted to hire the prophet Balaam to invoke a curse on the nation of Israel which was imminently invading the region. Ultimately the prophet refused the Moabites’ request, for being warned by God not to do so, he was obliged to obey. Had Balaam took whatever offer of money that was made to him and decided to pronounce a curse on Israel anyway, undoubtedly it would have been effective, for that is the nature of a curse. But at that early point in its history, it would have had devastating consequences and more than likely the conquest of Canaan would not have been possible.
This now concludes our survey of the Law of Sow and Reap which to many is better known as the ancient Law of Karma. God is just, and so is this fundamental principle that governs the universe from the microscopic to the macroscopic levels and from individuals to nations. Whether for good or bad, everything must be repaid to a soul, sometimes sooner and sometimes later, but in the end the balance sheet must be reckoned with. In God’s great plan, the Law of Karma is man’s friend for it teaches him to discern between good and evil. Ultimately it will lead him to tread the higher path to God.