In recent years, the Eastern concept of karma has become popular in Western culture. Can the idea of karma be harmonized with the Bible? Is karma biblical?
In 2020, a study on the spiritual beliefs of American young adults found that many young people rely on a moral worldview comprised of beliefs from various sources.
The study reported that one commonly held belief of young adults is “Karma is real” (Melinda Lundquist Denton and Richard Flory, Back-Pocket God, p. 228).
Karma has become a popular idea in recent years. People often say that bad things happen because of “bad karma” or that good things happen because of “good karma.” “Karma will get you for that!” is sometimes used as a warning or a curse.
What does the Bible say about karma? Should a Christian believe in karma?
What is karma? Where did it originate?
The idea of karma originated in Asia. (The word comes from a Sanskrit word that means action or act.) It plays a large role in the belief systems of both Hinduism and Buddhism.
Hindus and Buddhists understand life through the lens of a concept called samsara. The idea is that the soul is trapped in a continual cycle of birth and rebirth, often called reincarnation or the transmigration of souls.
Karma is said to direct samsara. Based on how well a person lives in each life, this philosophy says his or her “soul” will be reborn into a better or worse life in the next one.
The purpose of life is seen as building up a reservoir of “good karma” in order to have a better next life. If a person dies with significant “bad karma,” he or she may be reborn as a lower life-form.
Of course, the majority of people who use the term karma nowadays don’t have this afterlife concept in mind.
The New Age movement, which takes ideas from many religious, occult and metaphysical sources, is largely responsible for karma’s popularity in the last 40 years.
Today, karma is seen as both an explanation for suffering and for how true happiness can be achieved. If someone does good things and earns “good karma,” his or her life will get better. If a person does bad things, he or she will suffer because of “bad karma.”
Karma is described as a universal law embedded into an energy field that fills the cosmos. Human thoughts, emotions and actions are described as emanating positive or negative energies into the universe, which later return to us as positive or negative consequences.
According to one proponent of karma, “Karma is the idea that what you do comes back to you. The energy you put out is the energy you receive back.” She describes this idea as being powered by “a mystical, magical energy to the universe” (Well+Good, June 28, 2022).
Did people believe in karma in the Bible?
Though the word karma isn’t in the Bible, some Bible verses include examples that seem like karmic thinking.
For instance, an idea similar to karma influenced Israelites in Old Testament times. It can be seen in a proverb that had become popular as an explanation for their national suffering: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2; see also Jeremiah 31:29-30). In other words, they believed their suffering was a direct consequence of their ancestors’ sins. Through Ezekiel, God told the people to abandon this wrong idea and instead focus on their own conduct (Ezekiel 18:3).
Another example is from Paul’s time shipwrecked in Malta. After he was bitten by a poisonous snake, some of the local people said, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live” (Acts 28:4).
They saw this potentially fatal bite as something like karmic justice for a past murder. Instead, God intervened and protected Paul from the bite (verse 5).
Jesus also addressed circumstances that people today might call “karma.” Once, when He passed a blind man, the disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus went on to explain that this thinking was incorrect and this man’s disability was not because of anyone’s sin (verse 3).
Jesus addressed this again when He asserted that a group of Galileans who had been slaughtered by Pontius Pilate weren’t “worse sinners” because they “suffered such things” (Luke 13:2).
As Solomon observed years earlier, “time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). In other words, not every tragedy is a direct consequence of a person’s past action. Sometimes bad things happen to people simply because they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jesus clearly didn’t look at the world through the lens of good and bad karma.
Cause and effect is not karma
However, the Bible does teach the principle of cause and effect, which some incorrectly confuse with karma. There are two basic kinds of cause and effect:
1. Cause and effect by God’s blessings or punishment. The Bible is clear that God has the power to bless and punish. God told Israel He’d bless them if they obeyed and curse them if they rebelled (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). He exercised that authority with ancient Israel and will punish the nations in the end time for their wickedness and refusal to repent (Revelation 16:8-9).
God also promises to bless those who seek and obey Him (Psalm 1:1-2; Proverbs 10:6; James 1:25). But those blessings aren’t always immediately visible. Many seemingly innocent people have suffered hard lives throughout history (John 16:33; Hebrews 11; James 1:2-3). But the Bible promises that ultimately “all things work together for good” for God’s faithful people (Romans 8:28).
The Bible also shows that God is extremely merciful and is not constantly doling out physical punishment based on what we deserve (Matthew 5:45; Hebrews 2:1-4). In fact, considering the state of our world’s morality, we should be immensely thankful God doesn’t operate through karma.
2. Cause and effect through natural consequences. Both the Bible and common sense show that cause and effect operate naturally in our lives. The Bible expresses it this way: “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). In simple terms, decisions and actions often have natural consequences.
No amount of good deeds can offset our sins and save us from the death penalty. Forgiveness of sin can only occur through repentance and the blood of Jesus Christ.Much of the book of Proverbs is about cause and effect. For example, the natural consequence of being lazy is poverty, while diligence and hard work lead to financial stability (Proverbs 6:9-11; 10:4; 13:4; 20:13; 24:30-34).
These natural consequences aren’t determined by mysterious karmic energies, but by simple cause and effect. Practicing biblical principles positions a person for success because God’s ways work. However, in a world guided by Satan and human nature, sometimes the righteous suffer because of the sins of others (John 16:33; Romans 8:18; 1 Peter 3:17).
Though the Bible clearly teaches the principle of cause and effect, it is not a biblical equivalent to karma.
Why is the idea of karma dangerous?
Karma is clearly a man-made belief foreign to the Bible. Consider three reasons the idea of karma is spiritually dangerous and deceptive:
1. Karma replaces the all-powerful God with the universe. The power behind karma is usually described as the universe. Chopra.com describes it this way: “The Universe will bring back whatever acts you committed or feeling you caused in another person.” This worldview credits the physical creation as the ultimate arbiter of morality and reward and punishment.
But the Bible shows God created the universe (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 42:5). God, not the universe or energy, is the “rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus Christ, not the universe or karma, will ultimately “judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31).
Karma is another way mankind has deceptively credited the creation with power that belongs only to God (Romans 1:25).
2. Karma contradicts biblical repentance. Many believe that “bad karma” can be erased only by outweighing it with “good karma.” This idea contradicts the biblical teaching on sin.
The Bible teaches that the ultimate penalty of sin is death—not physical curses (Romans 6:23). No amount of good deeds can offset our sins and save us from the death penalty. Forgiveness of sin can only occur through repentance and the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:7). A Christian must absolutely strive to obey God, but not as an attempt to outweigh the bad on the scales of karma.
Some sins do have ongoing physical consequences, but thankfully, after God forgives us, we no longer have to worry about the ultimate consequences of our sins.
3. Karma distorts the proper motivation for doing good. Karma is just one of many man-made attempts to encourage people to live morally. It plays on human nature by incentivizing doing good to avoid bad things coming back upon us later.
At its core, the concept of karma is driven by selfishness.
The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that morality is defined by God and should be driven by selflessness. Jesus taught that our ultimate motivation should be love—for God first and then for other human beings (Matthew 22:36-39). Paul described the proper motivation for everything we do this way: “The purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
Christians shouldn’t do good to avoid bad things coming on them. Christians should do good out of genuine love because it’s the right thing to do—regardless of the consequences.
So, is karma in the Bible? No. Karma is unbiblical and contradicts God’s Word in multiple ways.