Why only one life and not many lives to receive God's grace?

(Lakshmi Mehta) #1

Continuing the discussion from Why Is Christianity So Exclusive?:

One of the concerns that my Hindu family brings up as I talk to them about the Christian faith is that the forgiveness offered by the Christian God is too restrictive with only one life time to surrender to God and only one way to surrender to God namely - Jesus. They feel why would a loving God give only one chance to come to Him and if we don’t accept that chance for whatever reason in one life-time we are sentenced to hell. For them the goal of all religions should be to help people develop love of God, to convert people from being atheists/materialists to becoming spiritualists. They feel Vedic tradition gives more opportunities to surrender to God and that through many incarnations demonstrating the merciful nature of God. For those who don’t fully surrender to God, the law of karma through multiple lifetimes becomes the mediator of justice (Bhagavat Purana 6.1.45 "In proportion to the extent of one’s religious or irreligious actions in this life, one must enjoy or suffer the corresponding reactions of his karma in the next. ), and for those who are surrendered to God, God promises to free them from all sinful reactions. (Bhagavad Gita 18.66: “You just devote yourself to Me and I will free you from all sinful reactions).

I guess the reason they think this way is because they believe that all people are children of God and intrinsically good and when they sin, it is because of ignorance created by the material existence that covers the real knowledge of their spiritual goodness (Bhagavad Gita 5:15). According to Bhagavad Gita 14.17 - Matter through modes of ignorance, passion and goodness can influence a person’s consciousness. So they think their good works in the mode of goodness are a means of justice and acceptable unto God. They believe no man is saved by merely being stamped as a Christian through a prayer but saved only when a person’s character is transformed by diligent practice of spiritual disciplines.

Some of the ways I can think of addressing these issues is by talking about:

  1. How we have sin nature and our good works fall short. So even if we have many lives we will still fall short!

Psalm 51:5

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Mark 10:26-27 (The story of rich young man):

They were even more astonished and said to one another, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

John 6:28-29

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

  1. How God cares not only for our souls but also our bodies and how He wants to save the whole of us.

Acts 24:15

Having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.

This discussion can get into “The pre-existence of souls” versus “Creation of souls”. (thought for another question later!)

  1. How all incarnations cannot be the same due to contradictory doctrines and how the incarnation of Jesus is unique.

Philippians 2:5-11: 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.

Would love to have more input on how to approach this question. Thanks much!

Resources on other religions
Introduction: Chandra
Hello from Sydney Australia
(SeanO) #2

@Lakshmismehta Thank you for sharing your family’s questions with us. I think you have done well to address the question; it is one I have not heard before. Here are some thoughts that I hope will help us think through the issue further.

Length of Life Historically Led to More Wickedness

If we look at the account of the flood in the Bible we see that in the days of Noah long life did not lead to repentance, but ever increasing wickedness. God first shortened men’s lives and then was forced to wipe out the human race.

Genesis 6:3 - Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.

Genesis 6:5 - The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

Jesus talks about the idea of people growing blind and deaf to God. Presumably, if we were actually the same person after reincarnation, which is a different issue altogether, the hardened heart would not necessarily be able to turn. The assumption that more lives would lead to more repentance may simply be false.

Matthew 13:14-15 - Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them

Karma Promotes Injustice, the Cross Leads to Mercy

I found this article by someone who is not even Christian but recognizes the problem karma poses as regards standing up against injustice. As Christians, we stand up against injustice because God is just and He is love. Justice cannot be rooted in random chance or in karma. Your family may disagree at an emotional level - but logically this is where karma leads. The traditional caste system with the Dalits and untouchables is a perfect example.

"The concept of karma poses philosophical problems to the concept of injustice, since it poses the idea that if something negative happens to a person (in some cases what we might consider an injustice), that is actually as a result of actions taken by that individual or group previously. This concept that a person/ group is actually responsible for incidents of injustice which happen to them essentially negates the idea of injustice, since injustice fundamentally holds that something unfair happened to someone (i.e. it wasn’t their fault).

If on the one hand we believe that a person deserves their disadvantaged status because of actions in a past life, that will not really empower us to help them. If, on the other hand we assume that this is a result of chance, and that the person did not deserve those things that result from their birth, then we will feel inspired to do something about it."

In contrast to karma, the cross of Christ teaches us that we ourselves are in need of God’s mercy and that once we receive that mercy we can then extend it to other people. How can we give what we have never received? Karma cannot teach us grace or mercy. It is the cross that teaches us grace an mercy.

I John 4:19 - “We love because He first loved us.”

Titus 3:3-8 - At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.

God Judges Each Person Fairly

Your family may feel that God’s judgment is somehow unfair on those who are impaired or who have never heard the Gospel. For my person approach to explaining this, please see this thread:

What are your thoughts? Do these ideas pose any new questions? May Christ open the eyes and hearts of your family to see His love and glory!

What happens to our soul immediately after death?
(Lakshmi Mehta) #3

@SeanO, I am just amazed by how quickly you are able to respond with detailed answers with scripture references. Thank you! So what I have learned on reading your post with attachments on karma is-

  • it’s inadequacy in defining injustices
  • it’s inability to empower us to stand up against injustice
  • it’s insufficiency in administering proper justice due to its impersonal nature
  • it’s unfairness in letting the " bad people" take advantage of “good people” in each life-time therby discounting present life karma.
  • it’s tendency to perpetuate blame in interpersonal relationships.
  • it’s tendency to perpetuate sin and procrastinate change
  • it’s inability to fill us with love

Some of the responses to these fallacies by the gurus are -

  • An individual has no right to judge another’s past life karma but must base his/her actions based on understanding of this life’s karma as exemplified in their scriptures. One can’t blame karma for inaction and inaction will accumulate bad karma.
  • Though karma is impersonal, it is in the hands of the transcendent god.
  • One develops love through constant remembrance of God through idol worship and with the understanding that everyone is child of god and a dwelling of god.
  • Caste injustices were a result of misunderstanding scriptures by ignorant people. What caste system actually meant was that different people have different interdependent roles in society and all are actually part of God.
  • they forgive because their god forgives their sins on surrender.
  • their desire to make best use of human incarnation brings change in the sincere seekers.
  • different karmas take different times to bring consequences and though the karmic law is supossedly perfect, its difficult for man to grasp.
  • they ask, " what is the basis for differential suffering in society?"

What response is appropriate to these replies ? I think I will need to expound on the main distinction that their idea of forgiveness is at the cost of justice unlike Christianity. Also forgiveness seems to be conditional on repentance than a free offer. Understanding the reason (whether it is emotional / intellectual) behind the disagreement as you say is very important and can help guide our conversation.

Thank yoy for your time, thought and prayers.

(SeanO) #4

@Lakshmismehta Wow, I am impressed by how much you know about the teachings of the gurus. I once had a Hindu friend at work and walked through his sacred texts with him. Since then, I have not had the chance to interact with anyone with this level of knowledge again.

Before dipping into the specific discussion surrounding karma, I would like to make the point that, in the end, what matters is what is true. Jesus said in John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. The Vedas expound a philosophical system - the Scriptures testify to a historical Person - Jesus - who really did live a perfect life and rise from the grave. Even non-Biblical sources attest to His life, death and resurrection. At the end of the day this is not just a philosophical discussion - rather it is a pursuit of Truth.

With that said, I am also aware, based upon my prior discussions with my coworker, that different sects of Hinduism define terms very differently. So if you are willing I would be curious to know your gurus’ answer to these questions:

What do the gurus you follow mean by the word ‘God’?

What do the gurus you follow mean by the word ‘sin’?

What do the gurus mean that a god has forgiven their sins on surrender? Doesn’t this conflict with the reality that karma still holds them captive to reincarnation? If they were really forgiven, why are they still captive to karma?

What do the gurus you follow mean by being ‘part of God’? Is salvation simply becoming one with that god?

Finally, I would like to say that it is inconsistent to tell someone not to judge someone based on their past karma when that is exactly what karma means - you are judged based on your past life. Karma is inherently without mercy - you get exactly what you deserve. The idea of not judging based on past karma, while beneficial, has no logical foundation in the karmic system as far as I can see. In Christianity we do not judge because we too have received the free grace of God through Jesus Christ. That is a logical outworking of what Christ has done for us.

Looking forward to learning more together!

(Lakshmi Mehta) #5

Thanks @SeanO.

I absolutely agree. Ultimately it is Jesus’s work on the cross and the Holy Spirit’s work in one’s heart that draws a person to the Truth of Jesus. Knowing the answers to the philosophical differences is just to remove some obstacles to draw one to Jesus and to fight any competing ideas in one’s mind to stand firm.

Glad to share what I know regarding the questions. Indian scriptures are so exhaustive with so many variations that it has been hard to get a good understanding. Also I rather have my mind be filled with the Word of God than anything else. I have tried to learn a bit over the years through a few interactions I have had from my family’s spiritual masters from ISKCON especially in relation to the foundational doctrines - man, god, sin, meaning, works, salvation, destiny. I will take some time to respond to your questions but certainly will.

Your point about the inconsistency in their philosophy and principles for practice of not judging makes a lot of sense to me. Their very god determines the status of birth based on spiritual advancement / works - so they can’t really learn by imitating their god. They also seem to have an emphasis on not associating too much with non- ISKCON devotees as it may dampen their own pursuit of god. So yes, theory, principles for practice and actual practice - all seem to be inconsistent.

Thank you!

(SeanO) #6

@Lakshmismehta Thank you for taking the time to answer! I expect myself and others will learn a lot from what you have to share. God be with you and your family.

I have also found it to be true that false religion very often results in a pursuit of self-fulfillment rather than selflessness. The trick is that you are deceived into thinking you are selfless while all the while pursuing nothing other than your own spiritual attainments. It is a dangerous trap. We must die to self in order to live - that is the great mystery and beauty of the Gospel - the cross is the road to life - self-denial to the Spirit filled life of joy and peace.

(Katie Gitthens ) #7

Thanks for starting a new conversation, @Lakshmismehta! These beliefs are tough to work through, especially when loved ones are involved - it’s not just a philosophical debate when our hearts are connected to the ones who believe them.

@SeanO made some pretty good points along with your own thoughts and scriptures. In the hopes of adding to, I’d like to toss in a few thoughts and raise some questions.

Like Sean said, reincarnation as a mercy, really isn’t mercy. If the nature of the person cannot attain that transformation through the spiritual disciplines in the one life, even if it were possible (true), the sum of an average life of 70 years would be impossible to keep the scales consistently leaning in the soul’s favor of “goodness” when we are capable of sin every second of our lives (my thought life alone can have me condemned before I’m even out of bed in the morning). It actually seems a bit cruel to have the merry-go-round continue on and on without really having a good chance of getting off without an outside intervention… Does that makes sense?

@SeanO, we could even go back further than Noah to the Garden of Eden to see God is full of mercy when He kicks Adam and Eve out. Time has already been created and humans were created within that time (along with everything else). God does not want them to be stuck in an eternal state based on their own merits because they would have been condemned forever. Rather, keeping them from the tree of eternal life He has spared them - and us who follow - of the greatest chance to escape such a fate. God uses time and generations to bring the fullness of His redemption plan through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Eph 1, Rom 3, and an interesting bible gateway search of “at the appointed time” shows He is very much at work through history to bring about His purposes). Like you both have said, Jesus is the only perfect life that forever shifted in time this ability to get off of the sin “merry-go-round.” One other thought on this ability to work our way to a better life. Check out Paul. He was the epitome of spiritual discipline and fervor. Yet, in almost every letter he wrote found in Scripture, he in some way shape or form declares his inadequacy by such standards, though he has much to boast in (Phil. 3 is perhaps the most famous). He didn’t stand a chance! And sadder still, though he was deceived in his own pride of living a godly life, he was actually living in opposition to/persecuting the God he claimed to serve. Within the reincarnation structure, it is nearly impossible to reach the point of nirvana at the end of the best lived life.

Would you look at John 9? I’d like to ask some questions to see if maybe we can fill out from one simple story in Jesus’ time on earth a) true beliefs about God, b) creation/matter, c) suffering, d) justice, e) sin, and f) God’s work. There is plenty more, I’m sure, but this is a mouthful in itself!

What do you see in verses 1-7 that connects to each of our points listed?

What issues do the people have with Jesus’ actions throughout the rest of the chapter? What does this tell us about some of their underlying beliefs about our categories?

Do any of these responses/beliefs connect to our discussion about karma, justice, salvation, creation, sin, etc. (even authority, though we haven’t officially touched on that one)?

What sorts of true beliefs can we take away from this event to help form our own minds in order to help those with similar beliefs to your family, @Lakshmismehta?

This is a great thread, so much we could talk about, it can be hard to narrow it down! Thanks for letting me jump in and ramble on.

One thing I have always been curious about is the sort of evidence that is used to validate reincarnation, I would really like to hear your thoughts on this coming from your family background! Proud of you for loving your family by sharing your faith with them, even if it’s challenging. May the Lord do His favorite work - salvation - into their precious lives.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #8

@KatieGitthens, enjoyed reading your thoughts and the suggestion on John 9. A lot of doctrine packed in few verses. Interestingly, though this chapter gives no evidence for reincarnation, the Hindu gurus selectively focus only on the disciples question and falsely interpret that Christianity supports reincarnation. They think - since the man couldn’t have sinned at birth but only as an adult, they conclude reincarnation may have been a widely accepted view in the Jewish culture at that time.

I enjoyed thinking about your questions on John 9 and I may be making some progress. Here are a few lessons I see from John 9-

  • God - God can heal us and display His glory through our sickness, He is the light that takes away the darkness of spiritually blind, Jesus came to do God’s work , Jesus receives worship as God, Jesus is the Judge, Jesus does will of God, God’s way of valuing a man is different from the world’s. (Q for Reincarnationist - Why would God heal if he had administered the karmic law?)
  • Man - his purpose is to display God’s glory, man is wonderfully made - not that he is perfect in himself for his glory but perfect to display God’s glory, its God’s glory that can change hearts to make man wonderful. His strength is seen in our weakness. (Q for reincarnationist- if suffering produces humility, and pleasures cause us to forget God, could material blessings from good karma be spiritually unhealthy?)
  • Sin - While man can inherit sinful nature to make him wander away from God, man does not inherit specific sin. There is no sin in the soul at birth. So, indirectlty, we can conclude that Jesus 's words do not support reincarnation which assumes sinful soul at birth.
  • Suffering - Sickness in the body is unrelated to sins of the soul or parent’s sin. From Jesus’s words in v 41, there is no guilt of sin in the physically blind, we can see disability is not a means of paying for sin. So differential suffering caused by at least bodily issues at birth are not due to sins of past life. ( Q for Reincarnationist- If disability is a result of sin, won’t that promote a self righteous attitude in the typical folks?) Real blindness is blindness of our heart toward God which should be considered as real suffering. This is a great example of how God uses physical suffering to call us toward Him. If the differential suffering is not related to our sins, what is it related to? One answer that comes to mind is God’s mercy. God knows who needs what kind of suffering to reveal Himself uniquely as He intended to each individual - He gives us all a unique lens! It’s not arbitrary. It’s planned with a purpose of displaying God’s glory.

It’s been a good exercise to think through John 9. Please feel free to add your reflections.

The evidence for reincarnation that is normally claimed come from past life memory recalls especially in children ( Dr. Ian Stevenson)- recollection, recognition, behavior (Hindu child doing namaaz as Muslim, remembering birth marks of previous family member, Dr. Brian Weiss’s work ( hypnotic regression to cure hydrophobia of patients who said they died of drowning previously), anecdotal evidence such as that of Mushir Ali Shah from a place called Kakori who is said to have reincarnated as Naresh Kumar Raydas, who started saying “Kakori” at age 2 and at age 6 that “he is a Muslim from Kakori”. ISKCON has a book called " Demystifying Reincarnation " that may have more details. Haven’t read it myself.

(Katie Gitthens ) #9

Great points, @Lakshmismehta, thanks for sharing. The questions that you came to for those holding to reincarnation would be helpful in thinking more deeply about their worldview, especially the inconsistencies between good behavior being rewarded and bad behavior being punished - the difficulty for all of us to wrestle with! We (humans) are so quick to believe that if I perform good deed x and not perform bad deed y, I will therefore receive good. The bible is FILLED with people who find that life just doesn’t pan out that neatly. That poses direct issue with karma and subsequently it follows that reincarnation couldn’t logically/philosophically make sense as it is based on the balances of good works vs. bad works.
I think as far as your comments on sin, I would offer this question: can we reduce our theology of when sin arrives from this specific passage? Or is Jesus pushing us further to allow for the situation of this man’s disability to be more complicated than everyone would feel comfortable to do? I think we need to be careful not to fall into the same problems of trying to boil everything down to find “the” answer when Jesus isn’t necessarily giving us that space. We can notice that everyone - from the disciples, to the crowd, to the Pharisees were quickly trying to slap a judgment of sin on anyone and everyone: the blind man for being blind or carrying his mat or possibly lying about being actually being blind and even Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. To tie it all together, what if humanity tends to lean too heavily on our ability to judge what is sin and what is not and we ultimately miss the very work God had set out to do in a certain situation for the benefit of many? And that can even be what may be considered a spiritual discipline like following the command of keeping the Sabbath…but not actually keeping it (carrying a mat vs. healing the blind)… Thoughts?
On suffering, I think you make some great points that give allowance for suffering to be something at the very least more than just a punishment. It can be that and we can find that in other scriptures, but once again, that is too reductionistic. So perhaps sickness in the body can be related to sin or suffering a consequence of a parent’s sin, but that certainly is not what Jesus has in mind to teach us all from this situation or what should be drawn out as the norm. Again, this makes life in God’s creation much more complex for us to try to hold together to understand!
Another thing that I love about this passage is that Jesus says in v. 4 that “we must work the works of him who sent me…” At that point, he is still talking with his disciples. Now just to toss out something to think about - while there is a collective sense of work, and a specific type of works, to be done, there doesn’t seem to be the sense of man necessarily becoming “equal” with God or “absorbed” by God here. God seems to be strictly at the helm of what is to be done, when, where, by whom, and for whom. There seems to be a way for us to participate in the same kind of work Jesus was doing without becoming “another Jesus.” What I mean is that in general, a good Hindu will work her way to perfection in order to reach nirvana and be absorbed into the essence of sorts of god. (Correct me if I’m being ungenerous here.) Jesus seems to be saying that we are distinct from God yet in relationship with God now, working with Him on this earth while it is still “light.” What do you think about this idea?

Thanks for the references for evidence of reincarnation!! Looking forward to checking some of them out to try to get a better understanding of where they’re coming from! And thanks again for “thinking out loud” with me, @Lakshmismehta - the Lord has given you some good insights here!

(Lakshmi Mehta) #10

Thanks @KatieGitthens for your thoughts. As I re-read v 3 and v 41, I see what you are saying about being a little more careful in my thinking. v.3 seems to suggest that the man’s blindness is not a judgment of God because of the man’s sin or parent’s sin. But it probably doesn’t give enough information on the state of sin of the man’s soul. I previously interpreted ‘neither the man sinned’ as the man being sinless at birth. As you say, it could have been more about not judging others.

On suffering, I agree that disability can be a natural consequence of parent’s sin, for ex. in utero exposure to drugs or other scriptures like Exodus 34:7. I am not sure how to fit in this with John 9.

My interpretation of v 41 was through the lens of my understanding of v.3 previously. But if I just read v.41, it does seem to be more about just spiritual blindness.

V.4 I interpreted the work of God as bringing glory to God and we must bring glory to God just as Jesus did. This reminded me of doing pre-ordained work in Christ as in Eph 2:10. Night - to me meant separation from Jesus 'the light". I wondered if it was description of hell when its too late to bring glory to God.

Yes, v.4 does seem to bring about the distinction of soul and God and its dependence on God to do His work. But even Hindus believe in tuning in to the god in them to do good work on earth. And some Hindus even beleive only work that comes out of devotion matters to God.

As far as afterlife goes, there are some who beleive soul and God are one and that the soul will merge with God on release from reincarnation (Advaita) and some who beleive soul is distinct from God and will serve God eternally as a separate soul on release from reincarnation (Dvaita).

Appreciate your input, I am enjoying learning from others here with more experience and knowledge.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #11

Here is a good article I just found from CARM.org on this issue.

Does John 9:2 imply reincarnation?

by Luke Wayne

No, John 9:2 does not teach or imply reincarnation in any way. John 9 records the events surrounding a man blind from birth whom Jesus miraculously healed. Before Jesus heals the man, we are told that:

"And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2).

Here is where people try to read reincarnation into the passage. The disciples ask whether or not the man was born blind because of his parent’s sin or his own. They argue that the only way the man could have sinned before his birth was for him to have lived a previous life in another body, thus reincarnation. This argument is flawed on a number of levels.

1. The disciples were wrong

The first and most important thing to note is that, even if the disciples were assuming reincarnation (they weren’t, but we’ll set that aside for just a moment), the disciple’s assumptions were incorrect. Jesus responded:

“It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him,” (John 9:3).

The man’s blindness had nothing to do with anyone’s sins, his or his parents. The disciples may have thought it possible that the man was born with some personal sin debt that was worse than his sighted neighbors, but Jesus corrects their error. Though we are all born stained with the sin of Adam, the Bible denies that we commit personal sins before our birth. Describing God’s choice of Jacob over Esau, the Apostle Paul writes:

"For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger,’” (Romans 9:11-12).

There were no previous lives. The boys had done nothing good or bad before their birth. Whether in the case of Jacob, Esau, or the blind man, God based His choice on His own purposes. The unborn children had not done anything moral or immoral yet, which means they did not have earlier incarnations. Indeed, the Bible is quite clear:

“It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27).

There is absolutely no room here for multiple lives or a cycle of death and rebirth.

2. Reincarnation is alien to John’s Gospel as a whole

In an earlier chapter, when Jesus’ pictures salvation as being “born again,” Nicodemus finds the idea absurd, stating:

“How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4).

Jesus is using an outlandish image that He knows presents a physical impossibility and communicates a spiritual truth. Jesus often did so, such as the extreme metaphor of destroying the temple and rebuilding it in three days (John 2:10) or that of the crowd eating His own flesh and blood, (John 6:48-58). The scene between Jesus and Nicodemus only makes sense if the idea of a second literal, physical birth is ridiculous. The conversation wouldn’t work if reincarnation were real, or were even believed to be real by Nicodemus or the original readers of John’s Gospel. The idea of one person enduring multiple physical births was assumed to be impossible up front by everyone involved.

Also, throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus’ preexistence stands as completely unique. John the Baptist says of Jesus:

“He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me,” (John 1:15, 30).

Jesus existed before this life, and that established His great authority because it is only true of Him. John did not exist before this life, nor did anyone else, or it wouldn’t grant Jesus a privileged position. Consider Jesus’ conversation with the hostile crowd:

“‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am,’” (John 8:58).

Notice their argument. Jesus could not have seen Abraham because Abraham died long before Jesus was born. Jesus emphasizes that He did exist in Abraham’s day, not because everyone did, not because of a cycle of countless deaths and births, but rather because He is God, the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14. They got His point and found it blasphemous. They were ready to stone Him to death! (John 8:59). Reincarnation had no place in this encounter. We are not all divine, nor did we all exist before this life. Only Jesus. That is the point. Jesus is unique:

“You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world,” (John 8:23).

“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man,” (John 3:12-13).

“He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all,” (John 3:31).

Obviously, none of us is supposed to walk away from John’s Gospel believing that we are all heavenly souls from ancient days who are going through one human life after another. The idea is antithetical to everything the Gospel says.

3. Reincarnation was not behind the disciple’s question

But if not reincarnation, what were the disciples thinking? Why would they ask if a man was born blind for his own sin?

Behind this question was the assumption that suffering and affliction are the results of personal guilt. If someone became ill, was maimed in an accident, or lost their property in a storm, people assumed that God was punishing that person for some sin in their life. When life gets bad, people must deserve it. This assumption is wrong-headed. The Bible doesn’t deny that God sometimes uses affliction to punish evil or correct sin, but that is not the only reason an individual might suffer. Whether in James 1, Romans 5, or the entire book of Job, the Scriptures are littered with God’s use of trials and difficulties for higher purposes. Jesus Himself warned against thinking that someone is more sinful than you are just because they suffer more than you:

"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 eighteen 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).

Jesus didn’t deny that sinners deserve punishment, but He sharply rebuked the idea that someone must be a worse sinner than you just because they are suffering more than you are right now. Jesus’ admonition echoes far beyond the misconceptions of these first century Jews. It challenges this lie throughout all nations and all ages, where ever it is told. When the Hindu says that a man’s troubles are the result of his own deeds in either this life or some previous life, he is falling into the same sort of error, and Jesus is rebuking him just as strongly.

Nevertheless, at that time the disciples still thought a man’s suffering must be the result of individual sins. But such a belief made this particular blind man a riddle. If a man lost his sight to disease or misfortune then one could easily argue that he did something wrong and deserved it, but why would a man be born blind? Whose fault could that be? The fact of the matter is, the disciples probably did not have a ready-made answer. If Jesus had said, “it was the man’s own sin that caused him to be born blind,” they probably would have followed that up with, “…okay…but how ?” This was not a simple, casual inquiry where they were merely asking Jesus to settle the matter between two easy possibilities. This was a profound mystery to them. On their worldview, the blindness of this man was an enigma. Jesus dispelled the mystery only by dispelling the myth: the man’s affliction was not on account of anyone’s sin at all! The man was born blind, not to punish an evil deed, but rather to bring about a glorious good!

Of course, the Jews of the day had not been silent on the matter. Theories about such things existed, and the disciples may have been aware of them. There were, for example, those who said that babies could commit personal sins even in the womb. There is a Jewish Midrash that mentions a woman bringing a complaint before a judge against her child because he "kicked her unreasonably in the womb."1 Some early commentators said that God chose Jacob over Esau because Esau quarreled with his brother in the womb, (Genesis 25:22). The Bible rejects these speculations (as noted above in Romans 9:11-12, for example) but their existence demonstrates both that these questions were serious issues in the day, and also that one did not need to assume reincarnation to discuss such matters.

(Katie Gitthens ) #12

Good work! And it’s ok if we can’t get every doctrine to squeeze out of every Scripture in an easily explainable way. That is part of the good wisdom of God to give us the whole bible and that it’s in wholeness we have what we need to he able to understand God’s design in revealing Himself as He does to us in creation. That’s why the article you found is so helpful to just look at one verse that has been taken out of context to serve a false teaching and how the Holy Spirit can use the bible to “translate” the bible. What I mean is that if something is unclear standing alone, we can look at other passages that help make it more clear. The same way you came to a great conclusion about our works being spelled out in a dofferent way through Paul in Ephesians! Well done!
Thanks for giving better credit to the separate views of advaita and dvaita. It doesn’t do anyone any good to not give good accounts of other beliefs, it can mislead, is unjust to the religion, and sets us up to fail when trying to talk about it in a useful way. Thanks for letting me tag along in your learning! We can both keep progressing in our walk with God! :slight_smile:

(Lakshmi Mehta) #13

@KatieGitthens, Thank you for the kind reply, guidance and encouragement. I am on a steep learning curve here in many ways. The depth of conversations is so much more than I have experienced at church. It’s great to be in this community.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #14

@SeanO, I was finally able to prepare some notes from my readings on ISKCON doctrine. I hope the document below gives some clarity to the questions raised. It can serve as a quick reference for future discussions. I also hope it brings up some good questions that prove the logical fallacies and the lack of correspondence with reality in this doctrine. As always I appreciate the input! Thanks.

Notes on ISKCON doctrine.pdf (523.9 KB)

(SeanO) #15

@Lakshmismehta Thank you so much for the great notes! That is very helpful in having a better understanding of their teachings. Here are some excerpts from an article I found with the testimony of a man who left ISKON to worship Jesus. In particular, I thought the sections on how to share Jesus with ISKON followers was interesting and would be curious on your thoughts. Everything below is a quotation from the article. Regarding your question about God’s grace and many lives, the practical argument against reincarnation may be helpful.

I would also be curious for your perspective on this man’s testimony. Do you feel he accurately portrays ISKON? In what ways can you relate to his experience in coming to Christ?


Method One Outreach

The other thing I would share with them in my witness relates to what I discussed at the beginning of our interview: the futility of trying by my own spiritual austerity, to raise myself to a level of consciousness where I was completely free from all material desire. It’s not possible. I’ve never seen it done.

Another good, logical argument to use is: “Where is the mercy of God if, in the past 100 years, for example, billions of people have walked the face of the earth, and only five pure devotees in the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sam Pradaya, the line of gurus that you worship, have walked the planet? Since only pure devotees are saved, nobody has been saved except for them. They’re the only pure devo­tees! Is that the mercy of God, that only five people out of billions get saved? Does that sound logical?”

Now, is that something that is officially taught in ISKCON?

Well, they have a couple of conflicting teachings. They’ll say, “I think other people have been saved.” I’d answer: “How do you know? You don’t even know if you are saved! How do you know other people have been saved?”

Prabhupada taught that even if you have a desire for one sweet ball you have to come back to the material world to take another body. Any kind of material desire is enough to bring you back to the material world, so you can come to the point of having to work it out again, until you come to the platform on no material desire whatsoever! Now, how many people living on this earth do you think are on that platform, including the people in the Hare Krishna movement? Do you think that this is the plan of salvation from a merciful and loving God?”

Method Two Outreach

"In my evangelism experiences with Hare Krishnas (I’ve helped a couple of them find the Lord), I’ve usually first of all established rapport by commending them on their belief that God is personal, and that devotional service to God should be our top priority in life (since they’re always arguing against the impersonal God of Vedantic Hinduism, this gains their favor).

Then I give a brief historical account of how this personal God revealed Himself uniquely to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and established a covenant with their descendants. This was preparatory to the coming of the Messiah, who through His death on the cross and resurrection would provide a way for us to reach God. Because our sin demanded death, the only way that we could escape that penalty was through a sacrificial death, that Jesus is the one who paid that penalty, not Krishna.

This very personal God in the Bible disassociates himself with the gods that were worshipped in all other nations. In Psalm 96:5 it says that Yahweh alone is the God that created the heavens, and au the gods of the nations are idols."

Practical Argument Against Reincarnation

"One other thing is that you can give some very practical arguments against reincarnation. For example, the whole idea of reincarnation is that you get more and more chances to evolve yourself higher and higher on the path of pure consciousness. If you come to eighty percent pure consciousness in this lifetime, then in your next lifetime you start out at eighty-one percent.

Theoretically, then, the whole human race is gradually bettering itself. How is it then that even the Hare Krishnas believe that everything is going downhill, and now it’s the age of “Kali,” or quarrel, and people are becoming more and more degraded? How is it that if everybody is reincarnating higher and higher on the basis of experience in past lives that the human race is going lower and lower?"

(Lakshmi Mehta) #16

@SeanO , thanks for all the great thoughts on reincarnation issues, the new suggestions and for sharing this article. It is indeed a great testimony from an ex-ISKCON devotee revealing both the philosophical and organizational issues of ISKCON. It’s been a while since I have read this article and I have actually once considered sending it to my family. In many ways, I would agree with the experience of Stephen Rose in this article. At first, the simple lifestyle, high moral standards and the rigorous spiritual disciplines, all look very appealing when we interact with the devotees. My interactions with their gurus however have always left me questioning the motivations behind some of their answers. Many of these gurus are Americans who have left Christianity and embraced the Vedic system of ISKCON. They often interpret the Bible verses out of context, share poorly done research about Jesus in India as authentic research, disparage Christians as being unfaithful to commandments and philosophically less advanced (Examples they often cite – Christians should not be eating meat but they misinterpreted “Thou shall not kill” as “Thou shall not murder” for sense gratification, Christians don’t have a good definition of soul and spirit, Christians misinterpret deity worship with idol worship, Jesus came to a less spiritually advanced society when compared to the Indian Vedic society that was diligently seeking God, they assume higher level of dedication and renunciation is required by Prabhupada than Jesus, bible has very little scientific knowledge revealed). Stephen Rose is true when he says, Prabhupada called his disciples as “mudhas” or “asses”, I have seen that word used many times, often with a derogatory attitude. In fact, Prabhupada also used words like “fools” and “rascals” for outsiders of faith but it is excused under the guise of ‘Grandfatherly authority and his desire for seeing transformation’. I would also agree with the organizational and philosophical issues raised in this article but I think there may be a new spin on the answers for making the ISKCON organization and beliefs more acceptable. Here are some explanations I have heard for some of the beliefs shared in this article:

  1. Only pure devotees are saved : While purity is still preached, now they say there is assurance of salvation for a sincere devotee even without perfect purity. The reasons being: 1) God who waited many lifetimes for a soul to turn to him would understand a sincere soul, 2) if the purpose of the world is to teach a person to love God then there is no motivation for God to keep the soul in this world once a decision has been made to love God, 3) The promises of scriptures are trustworthy. 4) Forgiveness is promised to those who devote themselves to God because of Mercy of God, a principle that is considered higher than justice. To a Christian, they would ask, though evil comes to an end one day, doesn’t all the intermediate differential suffering that seems arbitrary make God unjust or unmerciful temporarily?

  2. Gurus should be completely pure : Their scriptures affirm that a guru needs to be pure with a control on senses according to ‘dharma’ (moral duty out of love) and the general thinking among devotees is that their gurus are pure. However, absence of material desires in a guru is not considered necessary. The way I have heard it being explained is - a bona-fide guru may have a desire but has no inclination to act on the desire and the true measure of spiritual advancement is considered as ‘change in values’ rather than ‘absence of lust/desire’. Currently, members to a Governing Body Commission (GBC) are elected by a majority vote through a democratic process and gurus are accountable to the GBC. So, in a sense it is accepted that gurus can fail and the faith of a person rests more on their relationship with their god than their trust in a pure guru.

  3. Spread of ISKCON movement: They believe that they are responsible to fulfill the prophecy of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who said the bhakti movement will spread for ten thousand years. The reasoning that it hasn’t spread enough as presented in this article may not ring true with ISKCON followers.

  4. If everyone is reincarnating higher, why are we in Kali yuga, an age of greater ignorance ?: This question is based on the premise that souls exist only in human bodies and that souls exist only on the earthly realm. However, they believe that souls from non-human bodies or non-earthly realms can also come to the earth and in Kali yuga, an excessive number of such souls are considered to be coming to earth.

I liked the emphasis in this article on the ‘inward aggression’ that a devotee may feel though most devotees say that it is making them a better person. That may be an entry point to a meaningful conversation about the futility of our own austerity as you suggested. Also a good explanation for the importance of both mercy and justice and how justice is met only in a perfect atonement would need to be made clearer.

I would welcome good resources on the significance of grace, justice and holiness if you have them readily available. Thank you.

(SeanO) #17

@Lakshmismehta Thank you for the thorough response. It is so helpful to have someone who truly understands the inside perspective to avoid painting in broad brush strokes that may be untrue. The way the ISKON doctrines have been amended reminds me of other groups such as the Mormons, who to me appear to change their doctrine in order to be more appealing to modern audiences. In reality, this type of alteration is evidence that the original prophets were not from God - because God is the same ‘yesterday, today and forever’ and His Word must be consistent and true. I realize they would probably say that they are the ones who are interpreting the original prophets words correctly and the previous interpretations are wrong - but I do not think an honest observer could ever reach that conclusion.

What specific types of resources are you looking for regarding grace, justice and holiness? A few books I would recommend for someone wanting to understand the God of the Bible are here - I really like J. I. Packer’s “Knowing God”. I think it gives a great introduction to the God of the Scriptures and I think that full pictures is necessary to deepen an understanding of God. Tim Keller has a few great books - I think “Prodigal God” is one of the best explanations of grace I have ever read. His book on “Generous Justice” I have not read, but I am sure it is excellent - he is a profound thinker. I remember Sproul’s “The Holiness of God” being very helpful as I pondered holiness, but Packer’s book may have hit the nail on the head a bit more for me personally.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #18

Thank you for the resources! We actually own both of these books by Keller. Time to reread them with the backdrop of karmic justice in my mind and contrast it with God’s justice. I was just looking for resources that will help me build my foundational understanding of ‘Justice through the Cross’ to answer problems presented by the system of karmic justice. Some problems with karma that I keep coming back to are: its administration through corrupted human will, suffering without knowledge of crime, a system that goes against the natural wiring of the body that triggers empathy on seeing injustice, a system that wants to call injustice as a form of justice, its view of disability as karmic justice, its failure to cover shame from sin as grace does, perpetuating an identity that is rooted in sin than in the image of God, the implicit confusion in karma between sin consequence (which addresses the act itself) and justice (which addresses the heart motivation for sin) and exaltation of mercy over grace and justice.

(SeanO) #19

@Lakshmismehta It sounds like you are beginning to get into what I would label graduate level theology (or at least far beyond what a lay person would tend to do) and I think that is very exciting! A possible first step to heading that way is to engage with existing scholarship. I had trouble finding anything on this specific topic on Google Scholar. I did find one article in an Oxford journal that appears to have been written by a Christian, but I cannot share it with everyone due to rights issues. I will send you a pdf for personal use and provide a brief summary here…

The article offers 5 criticisms of Grace and 5 criticisms of the Karmic system. Your initial question about many lives is criticism of grace #4. I have provided the writer’s answers to criticisms of grace #3 and #4.

We should start another thread to dive into the failings of Karma at a deeper level - since you are thinking about it in such a thorough fashion. I think you are in a unique position to be a great resource for other Christians with your background or for seekers of God struggling with karma and grace.

Criticisms of Grace

1 - Who gets grace?
2 - Why doesn’t God intervene more often?
3 - Grace can be morally corrupting
4 - Not enough time in one life
5 - Grace is immoral

Criticisms of Karma

1 - Karma is unfalsifiable
2 - Can we save ourselves?
3 - Can karma be impersonal?
4 - Does karma really solve the problem of unjust suffering?
5 - How can me and my reincarnated self be the same person?

Can grace be morally corrupting?

Yes, grace can indeed be morally corrupting in the indicated ways. The sense that one will be forgiven by God no matter what, that forgiveness depends not on one’s own performance (p.208)or dispositions but on the free and undeserved grace of God—such convictions may well lead certain persons to succumb to temptation. If that happens, however, it is taken by grace‐oriented systems of salvation as a moral failure and as a mistaken interpretation of grace.[21]

What about the ‘not enough time’ criticism?

The defender of Grace can happily grant that the vast majority of people die without having achieved spiritual or moral sainthood, and that this would be a better world if many more people did achieve such a state before dying. But since the core idea is that by God’s grace one has been forgiven and cleansed of sin, the problem is not fatal to the theory. The point is not that we all achieve sainthood, but that we are graciously forgiven—in this, the one and only, life—for not achieving it. Moreover, it is simply an unanswerable question whether more people would accept God’s grace if human lives were longer than they are, or if human beings lived more than one life.

Objections to Karma
(Lakshmi Mehta) #20

My sincere thanks for giving me more direction and the encouragement for further study with appropriate resources. I am excited to be on this learning trajectory. A new thread sounds good . I will first look into what you have sent.

God bless!