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Merriam-Webster’s dictionary states karma as: The force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.
Eastern religions teach that once we die, we re-enter the cycle of life in a different form. If someone performs good deeds on earth (or good karma), then they will be reincarnated as something better in the afterlife. If someone does bad deeds on earth (or bad karma), then they will be reincarnated as a lower-level life form (animal, tree, etc).
In America, it is popular to leave out the afterlife and focus on the present life. The idea, “Do good things and good things will happen,” has become a philosophy deeply penetrating our society. If the face of tragedy, you will often hear something like this, “It’s such a shame. They were such good people,” or “He had it coming.” Americans believe in karma more than they know.
This comes into play for Christians when we replace “karma” with “God.” We begin to think, “Do good things and God will do good things for you.” God becomes this genie who stands ready to grant health, wealth, and prosperity for those who rub the lamp the right way. For some it may be “visualizing your dream,” or “believe and receive,” or “planting the seed of faith.” These popular preachers teach bad things happen because you are sinning somehow.
What does this have to do with Bill Gothard? On the first night of the Basic Seminar, Bill makes a series of statements: “Life is hooked up in a very delicate cause and effect sequence”…“Wisdom is tracing problems to violations of God’s principles”…“You’re having a problem here, because you’re violating a principle here.” Gothard then gives a testimony of how one man’s business troubles were the consequences of his immoral lifestyle. (He didn’t prove one caused the other, he just implied.) Bill then gave another illustration of a man who was having problems with his children because he had disrespected his own parents. Once again the message rings: Bad things are happening because you must have sinned.
At the same time, Gothard presents seven basic principles which he claims come from God’s word (In fact, he actually equates them with God’s law itself). The bottom line is simple: Follow these basic principles and your problems (conflicts) will go away.He even goes so far to claim that if you follow his principles, you will never have to borrow money. He also laid claim that mental illness could be cured by following his principle of Responsibility.
The last of the seven basic principles is Success. In the Basic Seminar Textbook (p. 135), Bill promises this if you follow his plan of scripture meditation, “You will have good success…Whatever you do will prosper…You will excel in wisdom and understanding…You will have new power over sin…You will discover how to live…Your success will be obvious to all.”
Due to these examples, Bill’s theology is based upon karma (an eastern religion) instead of the Bible. Allow me to give you three arguments from scripture which rebut Gothard’s teachings.
1. Limitations of the Old Testament Covenant
During the first night of the Basic Seminar, Gothard states twice that his cause-and-effect beliefs come from Deuteronomy 27 and 28. In this passage, God is reaffirming His covenant with the Children of Israel. Yes, God does promise to bless them if they obey Him and curse them if they don’t. However, three things need to be kept in mind here.
First, God made this covenant with the ethnic Jews, not Christians today. We are under the new covenant inaugurated in the death of Jesus Christ. Second, this covenant was not individual, but national. Notice in the book of Judges that when God’s people (as a whole) returned to Him, God blessed their land. It goes too far to say that God intends to individually bless good guys, while at the same time, cursing the bad guys. Thirdly, the blessings and curses were directly tied to the physical land of Canaan. So if you don’t live there, it doesn’t apply to you!
2. Good Things Happen to Bad People
Physical blessings are NEVER a good way to determine God’s favor. There are a lot of Americans out there who probably feel that God’s been good to them. And while all good DOES come from the hand of God, it doesn’t indicate that you are in a right relationship with God. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45) Experiencing God’s goodness reveals more about God than about you. God is still good, whether you are righteous or unrighteous.
You might be thinking, “That’s confusing!” You’re not the only one who has thought that. Psalm 73 introduces us to a guy named Asaph. Let’s read some of his thoughts, “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.” (Ps. 73:3-5) Asaph was so confused when he saw bad people go through life without problems–especially when he, the good guy, had lots of them. “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.” (Ps. 73:13-14)
However, this is nothing new. The book of Ecclesiastes paints a rather grim picture of life–that it’s full of pain and sorrow. The book of Job tells the story of a godly man who experienced more sorrow than any other story I’ve ever heard–it contains over 35 chapters of asking, “God, why?” In the book of Hebrews, the writer tells of all the heroes and heroines of Old Testament. They did all kinds of cool stuff and God blessed them in all kinds of ways. But halfway through the passage, the theme changes. “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” (Heb. 11:35-38)
3. Our Hope is in Heaven
You might be thinking, if God is good to the righteous and unrighteous, how is that just? Does it make ANY difference whether or not I obey God? To that I reply, “Not a lot here, but it makes ALL the difference in the next life.” Asaph reached that same conclusion. “…I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.” (Ps. 73:17-18) The writer of Ecclesiastes also had the same thought, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Eccles. 12:13-14) Job was eventually blessed more than before. The writer of Hebrews also stated that those who did not receive the promise were to gain a better resurrection.
God DOES reward good and punish evil, but that doesn’t always happen now; most happens later. That’s why when Peter was writing to Christians experiencing tremendous conflict, he didn’t say, “Guys, you must have violated a principle somewhere.” Instead, he said, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Pet. 4:12-13) Don’t miss that last part. One day we will be OVERJOYED. When? Not now, but when Christ is REVEALED in glory.
Don’t believe the lies of “Christian karma.” Instead, follow Jesus. And remember that following Jesus will not fix all your problems–some of them are just going to stick around until we reach heaven.
It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ,
One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrows will erase,
So bravely run the race ‘till we see Christ.