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This is what happens when you live a good life

Unsplash/Claude Gabriel
Unsplash/Claude Gabriel

When my dad would find a parking space up close to a store he was going into, he would look over at me, smile, and say: “See, this is what happens when you live a good life”.

Question for you: do you feel that way? That, if I’m a “good” person then good things will happen to me? C’mon be honest; it’s just the two of us talking here and I won’t tell.

I’m betting you do, at least occasionally. I know I do from time to time, although I’m doing better at catching myself in the act and nipping it in the bud, as Barney Fife says

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The idea of favor resting on us when we do good deeds is pretty universal and found in countless religious teachings, with a primary example being the causality concept found in Hinduism’s teaching of Karma (best translated as “cause and effect”). One of Hinduism’s scriptures, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, says this: “Whatever deed he does, that he will reap.”

Now, doesn’t that sound eerily familiar to some of the same things stated in the Bible? For example, Paul says: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7–8). Paul also writes elsewhere: “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6).

So, is Paul (or the Bible in general) saying the same thing as what Hinduism espouses with karma? No, not by a long shot. 

Ways to a better life

The vast majority of all religions take one of three approaches to addressing our human predicament of good and evil. They’re either epistemicpragmatic, or existential, with some blending two or all three. 

The epistemic path says learn something to be better. The existential route recommends experiencing something to be better.

But the pragmatic road is the most traveled of the three and declares if you do good things, they will come back to you in some way, both in this life and the next. Hinduism’s karma specifically teaches that goodness done in this life results in a higher quality of life in a person’s reincarnated state.  

As Christians, we know this as the works-based plan of salvation. Of that, Scripture says the exact opposite is true: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).

It’s also important to note that Christianity is not epistemic, pragmatic, or existential but is instead ontological. The Christian faith rests completely on a Person — Jesus Christ.

True “good” comes to us not through our actions but through His. It’s because of that the Bible says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3, my emphasis).  

So, needless to say, when it comes to the what-goes-around-comes-around teachings such as karma and its principle of causality, you have something much different than what exists in Christianity. The doctrine of karma is not judgment per se as what’s found in the Bible because “bad” karma is nothing like sins committed against a holy God. Further, no decree from any divine entity is required to bring about the consequences of a person’s actions with karma.

And, all that aside, if we learn anything from Scripture it’s that the most righteous people profiled in the Bible — those “living a good life” — often experienced the most pain and suffering, with Jesus being the most obvious example. If there was ever a case study of no good deed going unpunished, it’s Mark’s account of Jesus being baptized where he then states “immediately” (1:12) afterward, Christ was sent into His lengthy trial with the devil.

This biblical concept isn’t exactly popular today. In his essay, “The Ministry of the Night”, A. W. Tozer warns us that the idea of the righteous suffering is mostly eschewed, saying: “… the type of Christianity now in vogue does not include anything as serious as this. The quest of the modern Christian is likely to be for peace of mind and spiritual joy, with a good degree of material prosperity thrown in as an external proof of divine favor.”

And on the flip side, Jesus Himself negated the whole idea of “negative” karma in an incident Luke records: “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those 18 on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1–5).

The bottom line and real danger of the if-I-live-a-good-life-then-good-will-come-back-to-me mentality is that it’s a short step towards the trap of works-based salvation and the belief that you can earn your way into God’s kingdom. And Scripture is clear that’s not true because we are only “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

My dad was right about a lot of things, but he was wrong about getting a close parking spot because of being a supposedly virtuous person. On the contrary, since “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19), we should consider ourselves blessed that God “is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35), which we all are.

That being the case, as someone once said, the question is not why bad things happen to good people, but the real mystery is rather why good things happen to anyone. 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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