Is karma inevitable?

The students in our ESOL class (English for Speakers of Other Languages) were asked to write a brief sentence on a Post-It note starting with the credo ‘I believe’. The notes were collected and shuffled, and we discussed them one by one. Two that grabbed my full attention seemed at first to clash with each other:

  • ‘I believe that we will all receive karma, if not in this life then in some future [reincarnated] life,’ and:
  • ‘I believe that we make our own “chance” in life.’

The former seems to imply an inevitable fate; but the latter suggests we can avoid our fate by wise choices. Are either of them the whole deal? The story behind the musical show, ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat’ incorporates two principles.

  1. Karma

Although this is an Oriental term, it is actually very biblical! ‘[W]hatever one sows, that will he also reap’ (Galatians 6:7; compare Job 4:8; and 2 Corinthians 9:6). In fact, it is a basic law of agriculture. If a farmer sows carrot seeds, he cannot hope to reap cabbages. Jacob played deceptive tricks on his blind father and his elder twin brother, and later his father-in-law played tricks on him in giving him the promised bride’s veiled sister at his wedding; and his ten older sons tricked him into thinking that his favourite son Joseph had been killed by a wild animal, when in fact they had jealously sold him into slavery.

However, in our experience, we have all seen too many exceptions to that rule. All too often, villainous gangsters seem to have made fortunes and escaped justice; while many considerate, law-abiding folk have experienced above average tragedies in their work, health, families or finances. The story of Job is a prime example – until we read the final chapters of the narrative.

Although God doesn’t always issue his bills at the end of each month, nevertheless they will have to be faced in the end: ‘It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment’ (Hebrews 9:27).

  1. Providence

This is a twin noun of the word ‘provision’. Both derive from the Latin: prae = beforehand; and videre = to see(to).

During the famine Joseph overheard his brothers talking to each other in Hebrew, while  they assumed that this Egyptian Chancellor needed an interpreter. ‘This is our karma; God is repaying us for what we did many years ago to Joseph.

  • Such honest confession prepares us for forgiveness.
  • But repentance still had to be demonstrated – would they bring his full brother Benjamin from the safety of home to see him, this unrecognised government official, in Egypt? When they did so, then he told them with great sobs and many tears that he was their brother Joseph and of God’s providence in bringing him to Egypt : ‘… you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today’ (Genesis 50:20).
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