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In Hinduism, there is a concept of past life karma.

Meaning if someone is born into an unfortunate situation (in a slum, for example) it is because they are paying for sin from a past life.

Does Christianity or the Bible give any insight into why it seems like some people are here on vacation and others full of strife and sorrow (and everything in between)?

Also, did Jesus specifically address this (or did any of His disciples ask about this)?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Mr. Bultitude, curiousdannii, Mawia, bruised reed, Matt Gutting Mar 16 '15 at 15:06

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

you have good questions. :) – Thomas Shields Apr 23 '12 at 0:06
up vote 7 down vote accepted

It might be nice to believe that anyone who suffers must deserve it because of some evil thing he did, that everyone always gets exactly what he deserves, good or bad. But Christianity does not teach that.

As Asfallows and Thomas point out, in John 9 Jesus was specifically asked if a particular case of suffering was punishment for a person's sin, and he specifically said no.

This is not to say that suffering is never the result of sin. It often is. For example, Matthew 26:52

"But Jesus said to him, 'Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'"

The Old Testament contains many warnings on the consequences of sin. Like Proberbs 10:27-29 "The fear of the Lord prolongs days, But the years of the wicked will be shortened. The hope of the righteous will be gladness, But the expectation of the wicked will perish. he way of the Lord is strength for the upright, But destruction will come to the workers of iniquity."

Many people have the idea that the Bible says that at least there will be justice in eternity, that good people will be rewarded in Heaven and bad people will be punished in Hell. But again, this is not what the Bible says at all.

Ephesians 2:8-9

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

Heaven is not a reward for good works, but is a gift that God freely gives to all who ask for it and accept Jesus Christ as savior. According to the Bible, people who have committed all sorts of sins will be forgiven for the asking: David was guilty of adultery and murder, Rahab was a prostitute, etc. The thief on the cross was saved in the last minutes of his life. He clearly had no chance to do anything to make up for his past sins.

God is not "fair". He is merciful. He doesn't give us what we deserve. He gives us something so much better.

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One of my favorite quotes of late comes from a song by Relient K: "But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair." – asfallows Apr 23 '12 at 1:15

So, if I understand you correctly, your question could be alternately summarized as "Does the Bible offer explanations for why certain things happen to certain people?", which is related to (but different from) the age-old question "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?"

To my knowledge, there isn't much (if any) canon scripture that directly addresses this question. Much of the Bible talks about God having a will and a plan, and that all things, whether we perceive them as good or bad, are used to this purpose.

For example, consider the first few verses of John 9:

9 1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

What Jesus said here seems to reject the idea that God uses past sins as a method for deciding what will happen to us in the present. There is certainly a causal relationship with sin, in that all actions have consequences, but nothing Jesus says here suggests that our experiences in life are ordained as consequences.

Also of potential relevance is the classic scripture from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, which describes love.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Combined with 1 John 4:8:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

We can quite reasonably apply every adjective and trait from Corinthians to our picture of God. The biggest piece that stands out here is that God is patient and he is not resentful. This suggests that, whatever His intentions for us, and whatever the consequences for being sinful and far from God in the bigger picture, the consequences of sin are not of the form "You did X, therefore I will make Y happen to punish you."

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thanks for those references – Greg McNulty Apr 23 '12 at 0:41

Yes, but it's completely unlike "karma."

Jewish culture had a sort of assumption that misfortune was a punishment for sin. This came from the obvious explicit warnings of God that "break covenant => misfortune." However, those warnings applied to the covenant people as a whole, not the individual. Apparently somewhere along the road the Rabbis and Pharisees had tacked on some more details.

For example, in Job, his friends are constantly rebuking him for sins he didn't do. They were convinced that his misfortune was a result of disobedience.

Jesus's disciples ask him in John 9 upon encountering a man born blind, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

So it's rather obvious that the Jews had this question too. But is "karma" the answer?


Job hadn't sinned. The book of Job tells us why he encountered misfortune: it was because Satan thought God's chosen had it too easy. Satan told God that of course Job was righteous, everything was going great! So God let him torment Job to prove a point. Job was steadfast, and in the end God restored his fortune.

Not only Job, but the man born blind wasn't a victim of unstoppable fate either. In answer to his disciples query of "who sinned?" Jesus responds:

"It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." John 9:3 (emphasis mine)

Jesus then proceeds to heal the man. The event was ordained for God's purpose, as are all events.

Romans 8:28 says

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose

So no matter what the situation, even if we don't understand it (Isa. 55:9), God's working everything together according to his purpose. That's not karma. It's not based on anything we do. It's all working for his plan.

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wow, that is a lot to take in and so many questions come up as how could some situation be used to glorify God or be a part of His plan...? but I will reading this again and meditate on it.... – Greg McNulty Apr 23 '12 at 0:37
"those warnings applied to the covenant people as a whole, not the individual" -- Do you have a reference for this? I find this a bit hard to believe. I'm pretty sure that many of the people-covenants are taken as individual-covenants in other parts of scripture, too. – Flimzy Apr 23 '12 at 3:29
"Flawless" answer... I love it! +1 – Jas 3.1 Apr 24 '12 at 3:37
@Flimzy ah, sources. I'll see what I can find, but consider several individual trespasses in the OT (David/Bathesheba, Absalom, etc.). They definitely have national consequences, but they aren't kicked out of the land. But when everyone starts sinning, they do get kicked out. – Thomas Shields Apr 24 '12 at 4:08

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