God and Karma

Eliphaz has tried to correct Job’s thinking in chapters 4-5. Eliphaz tells Job that he may be a righteous man, but trouble does not come from thin air. So as good as you are, no one can be righteous before God. You did something wrong and if you would just repent then you would experience restoration. But we were told in the first two chapters that this is an incorrect assessment. We know that Job is blameless. We know that he is not being punished for hidden or insignificant sins. This is a trial. This is a test of Job as God has been accused of being too good and generous to his people. Since Job does not accept Eliphaz’ instruction, another friend of Job named Bildad will attempt to correct Job. As we consider Bildad’s teaching we must remember that the Lord declared that what the three friends said was wrong about God and how he runs the world (Job 42:7).

Bildad’s Speech (8:1-22)

When reading Bildad’s speech, it quickly becomes clear that he is not interested in comforting Job in his suffering but in defending retribution theology. As we have observed in our prior articles, retribution theology is simply the belief that blessings are given to the righteous in this life while suffering and punishment falls on the wicked in this life. Therefore, if you are suffering now you must have sinned. If you are physically blessed now, then you must be righteous. When you read chapter 8 you will notice that this teaching is all Bildad has to offer to Job.

Bildad starts by calling Job a windbag (8:2). He considers Job’s speech a blustering wind. God does not pervert justice (8:3). If Job claims innocence, then Job must be implying that God is unjust and perverts justice. Because Bildad so strongly believes in retribution theology, his belief is that God is just and only sinners suffer. Therefore, Job must have sinned. This is why Bildad doubts Job’s innocence (8:4-6). Bildad’s point is that all who sin against God get what they deserve. He says that Job’s children sinned and they were delivered to the consequence of their sin (8:4). Yet he tells Job, “If you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation” (8:6). Bildad is not suggesting Job is pure. Bildad’s point is that Job is not pure but if he will become pure then he will be restored. Notice verse 5, “If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy….”

In verses 8-10 Bildad tells Job that his lack of understanding these principles of wisdom is his problem. Job needs to trust this long understood wisdom. Everyone knows and understands what Bildad is saying. Job needs to accept it as well. Bildad pushes this point further in verses 11-13 using metaphors to describe humans dependence on God. Without being connected to God in righteousness, humans wither to insignificance. If nothing else, Job has forgotten God (8:13) and the hope of the godless perishes. Consider what Bildad just said: if you are hopeless, then you are godless. This whole issue is simple to Bildad. It is black and white to him. God does not reject the blameless man and he does not strengthen evildoers (8:20). Your loss means you have done something wrong.

Karma and Retribution Theology

We must carefully consider what Bildad teaches because it is easy to be drawn to retribution theology. More popularly, many people hold to the idea of karma which is the same concept. People believe that what goes around comes around. If you do something wrong, then you are going to get what you deserve. In essence, what goes up must come down. We can have the tendency to also adopt this thinking. When something goes wrong, we can think that we are being punished for our sins. This is the idea of karma. Karma is a critical concept in eastern religions like Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism. What we are attempting to do is create some kind of control of our future. The first law of karma is the law of cause and effect. It basically teaches that whatever you put into the universe is what will come back to us. So if you want peace, love, and joy, then you need to give out peace, love, and joy. The whole idea of karma is that your good intentions and good deeds will contribute future happiness. Bad intentions and bad deeds will contribute to future suffering. One statement of karma from the Bhagavad Gita is, “No one who does good work will ever come to a bad end, either here or in the world to come.” This is essentially what Bildad says is how God runs the world.

However, it does not take long to witness the problems with this concept about God. One of the cries of the righteous is that we see the wicked prosper and do not see them receive the consequences for their wickedness in this life. As Christians we cannot subscribe to this kind of thinking. God does not teach karma. Further, it should take about 10 seconds to consider that karma is not true in society. Doing good does not mean tomorrow will be good and doing bad does not mean that tomorrow will be bad. Life does not work like this. Karma taken to its furthest extent teaches reincarnation and rebirth. You are amassing good deeds so that when you are reincarnated after death, you will be something good and positive and not something awful and painful if you amassed bad deeds.

God has not created a system where if you do something bad you will be punished in this life for your bad act. Nor has he created a system where if you do something good your will be rewarded in this life for your good act. Doing good does not mean you will have a good life. Being righteous does not mean that you will have a comfortable life. God does not rule the world in this way. This is not the law of the universe that he set up. We gravitate to this thinking because we want to believe that we have control over our future. We want to believe that we can control what will happen to us tomorrow. This belief system makes us feel better about ourselves when we are not suffering. When others suffer, we want to think, “You must have done something wrong for your suffering. But your suffering will not happen to me because I am not a sinner like you.” The scriptures destroy this system:

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:19 ESV)

Notice they are suffering while doing good. Jesus is the best proof against karma and retribution theology. Jesus lived a righteous, perfect life yet intensely suffered. Job was blameless, upright, feared God, and turned from evil yet he suffered intensely and lost everything. Karma is not true and God does not run the world in this way. A flat tire does not mean you did something bad and having no traffic does not mean you did something good. We must work to rid ourselves of this thinking. It is easy to believe it. It is easy to accept it. It is easy to think it is a Christian and godly idea. Bildad thinks he is giving godly advice. Yet the way he applies godly principles is utterly false.

This is really important when it comes to dealing with others who are suffering. We should not think that someone must have done something wrong to be suffering. Further, the reason you are not suffering is not because you have been righteous. While the book of Proverbs shows that we can experience life consequences for our poor and sinful choices, this is not the same as saying that, if we suffer, it must be because God is directly punishing. This is what Bildad says to Job and it is not how God runs the world.