Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., teaches philosophy at Denver Seminary. He can be reached at: Doug@densem.edu. His website is http://www.gospelcom.net/ivpress/groothuis.
People have always wondered what--if anything--lies beyond the grave. Is death the end of existence, an entry into eternity, or an intermission between earthly lives? Some Eastern religions teach that the soul reincarnates in many different bodies, and approximately twenty five percent of Americans now believe it. Why are so many people drawn to reincarnation?
Reincarnation offers hope to many. If we don't "get it right" in this life, we have another chance the next time around. Some even consult therapists in the hope of learning the details of their past lives which may help them solve their present problems.
Reincarnation also claims to insure justice. We get what we deserve in every life. Reincarnation is connected with the law of karma, which teaches that our good and bad deeds produce good and bad results from lifetime to lifetime. The law of karma is an unbending and impersonal rule of the universe. By working off one's bad karma over many lifetimes, a person can finally escape the process of rebirth and attain enlightenment.
But can reincarnation realistically offer hope and a sense of justice to a troubled world? Can it answer the nagging problem of death?
Even those who believe in reincarnation admit that the vast majority of humans do not remember their previous lives. Yet how can we learn from our past mistakes if we cannot remember them? We seem to make the same mistakes over and over again. Given the moral failure rate of human history, do we any have reason to hope that we will get it right in a future lifetime?
According to reincarnation, the innocent do not suffer. All suffering is deserved on the basis of bad karma. The baby born without legs deserved it, as did the woman who was raped. There is no injustice--and no forgiveness. None are innocent, and there is no grace available. This is not good news.
The law of karma is unmerciful, yet the message of Jesus Christ is different. He taught that no one can keep the moral law. The human heart is impure because of wrong attitudes and actions. Wrongdoing is an offense against a loving and absolutely good God. Yet Jesus never spoke of reincarnation as a way out.
Jesus spoke of people receiving either eternal reward or eternal punishment according to how they responded to him during their one lifetime on earth (Matthew 25:31-46; see also Hebrews 9:27). Reincarnation is out. But Jesus offered himself as the way out.
Jesus proclaimed that he came into the world "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). Through his ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing, he demonstrated a sinless life and the power over death itself by raising the dead. He said that he "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).
Jesus showed his forgiving love even on his blood stained cross. A thief on a cross next to Jesus confessed his sin and asked Jesus to remember him. Jesus responded, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Only faith in Jesus was required for paradise, not lifetime after lifetime of working off bad karma and building up good karma. As Jesus announced: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). That, indeed, is good news--for this life and beyond.
Copyright © 1999 by Douglas Groothuis.