Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sowing & Reaping & Karma

photo credit: Wikicommons
“What goes around, comes around.”

“You get what you deserve.”

“Karma’s going to catch up to you.”

Long before it became popular to joke about ‘karma’, the apostle Paul introduced us to the idea of “reaping what we sow”.
“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:7-9 NLT)
It’s worth pointing out, right from the outset, that there is a subtle but very important difference between ‘karma’ and ‘reaping what you sow’. In popular usage (versus how studied Buddhists would understand it), ‘karma’ comes across as if it’s an outside force operating to balance a scale of justice somewhere. For example, some people will shake their heads and mutter something to the effect of: “karma will get you”, as if karma was a vengeful entity looking to slap people down if they don’t play nice. But it’s okay if they get slapped down, because they ‘deserved it’.
(Ironically, those who mutter ‘karma’ would take gleeful delight in seeing others get slapped down, which is troubling, to say the least.)
‘Reaping what you sow’ is not the same thing. God (as opposed to karma) isn’t a vengeful entity looking for reasons to slap people down and say, “See? You deserved that.” (And if any Christians gloated about them ‘getting what they deserved’, that should be troubling, too.)

What makes “reaping what you sow” more sobering than karma, is that the ‘sin nature’ that people are sowing to is their own. It’s not an outside force, exerting its nefarious will on the unsuspecting. Read the verse again — “those who sow to please their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature”. It’s not retributive justice from outside or above — it’s more akin to the law of cause-and-effect.

For example, if you are consistently dishonest in your dealings with others, don’t be shocked when nobody trusts you anymore. If you treat people like garbage, don’t be surprised to wake up one day and find that you have no friends.

The other option is noticeably different — if we ‘sow to the Spirit [of God]’, we reap a harvest of good from the Spirit. In other words, contrary to the negative example of sowing to our own sin nature, we can choose instead to ‘sow’ — or ‘live to please the Spirit’ — and reap a harvest of life from the Spirit.

The profound difference between the two is simply this:
  1. Live to please yourself, and you will reap decay and death (because our sin nature corrupts everything).
  2. Live to please the Holy Spirit, and you will reap life (because God is holy and incorruptible).
Therefore (Paul concludes), don’t get tired of doing the right thing (living to please the Spirit). There will be a harvest of everlasting life if we don’t give up (and retreat to the old ways of pleasing ourselves).

Dipping back into the previous chapter, we find this gem of wisdom in regard to ‘sowing and reaping’:
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24-25 NLT)

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