Which view is right: reincarnation or resurrection?
Most Far Eastern religionists cling to the
concept of reincarnation (though even in India, this doctrine has been
strongly disputed). Basically it involves the theory that the soul-life of
every human being ‘evolves’ from an inanimate state to plant life, then
to animal life, then to numerous human forms on its journey toward
perfection, ultimate enlightenment and godhood. Many philosophies, religions
and modern New Age groups have held up this banner. Even Plato, the Greek
philosopher, believed, "The soul is immortal, and is clothed
successively in many bodies." Some reincarnationists teach that during
transmigration, the ‘soul-life’ can shuttle back and forth between a
human, animal and mineral state. Others believe in only a progressive
evolution of the soul. Disagreements do exist concerning the details of this
doctrine among those who adhere to it.
I realize that sensitive people behold the anguish of a
suffering human race: the heartbreaking disparity between the rich and poor,
the healthy and sick, the intelligent and mentally handicapped members of
the human family. Often, in their quest for a meaningful answer,
reincarnation seems to be the only fair and plausible way of giving all
people an equal chance at a fulfilling existence. If individuals are born
crippled, demented or surrounded with abject poverty, it explains why (they
are suffering for sins committed in a previous existence) and it offers hope
(having paid off their karmic debt, they can then be born into a future life
offering better conditions and opportunities).
So under the banner of reincarnation, the blatant inequities that abound
in this world appear to fall into a sensible order. Instead of negative
things happening by random chance, the theory of reincarnation offers a
worldview that seems to ‘fit the pieces together,’ penetrating the
chaotic and unpredictable with a multi-faceted system of causes and effects.
For these reasons I wholeheartedly embraced the idea of
reincarnation simultaneous with my involvement in yoga. However, after
becoming a Christian I became convinced otherwise. After a thorough search
of the teachings of Jesus, I discovered he definitely taught only one
incarnation of the soul, one life in this world. He also predicted that at
the conclusion of this era, there would be a literal resurrection of the
righteous, then later on, of the unrighteous. (John 5:23–29, Revelation
20) Furthermore, he validated this teaching by arising victorious over
In comparison, Mohammed suffered an untimely death,
Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, died of starvation and Buddha apparently
died of food poisoning, yet none of them rose again physically. According to
legend, Krishna expired of an arrow piercing his foot, but devotees believe
his body was all spirit (sat-cit-ananda) so he never really died
physically anyway. It was just the ‘appearance’ of a death (some call it
‘lila’—a kind of divine game).
On the contrary, Jesus’ resurrection was literal and powerful.
Furthermore, the Bible states Christians have been "begotten…again to
a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1
Peter 1:3) Jesus is titled "the firstborn from the dead." (Colossians
1:18) In other words, he became a living witness of what will happen to
all those who place their hope in him. At the end of this age, when Jesus
returns, those who have trusted in him as their Savior will either be
resurrected or translated, if they are alive when this event takes place.
How will this happen? Concerning the dead, God will use
whatever substance remains of their previously inhabited mortal bodies to
create glorious, immortal forms (even if all that remains is infinitesimally
small, molecular or atomic in size). Concerning the living, God will change
their flesh, bone and blood bodies into glorious, radiant, infinite forms in
one divine moment.
Someone might ask, "Why is this necessary?"
Certainly God could do it another way, but he doesn’t choose to. He could
have made Adam in the beginning without using a handful of dust.
Effortlessly, God could have used the spoken word to produce the first human
being, just as he had created the heavens and the earth; but again, God
chose to do otherwise. Sometimes God’s purposes may not seem logical to
us, but who can question God’s methods? Thomas á Kempis insisted:
"Were the works of God readily understandable by
human reason, they would be neither wonderful nor unspeakable."
Probably for this reason Paul used the word
"mystery" when describing the resurrection. Speaking to Christian
believers he wrote, "Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not
all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an
eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be
raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:51–52)
Many Far Eastern and New Age groups teach that the
ultimate end of an advanced soul is a merging with the Oversoul, becoming a
formless part of the Godhead, an infinite existence beyond all distinction
and thought. This final state is termed Samadhi: final, absolute bliss.
Buddhism interprets this ultimate state somewhat differently calling it
Nirvana—a word meaning "a blowing out" as in the blowing out of
a candle. This metaphor implies the annihilation of desire and suffering at
the ‘blowing out’ or cessation of personal existence. This state could
also be described as ‘de-personalization,’ because it involves final
absorption into the impersonal, formless, being-less state of what Buddhists
view as final oneness with Ultimate Reality.
Contrary to the assertions of some, Jesus never taught
this concept, nor did the early church. John, the apostle, revealed the
following concerning the Second Coming of Jesus: "When he is revealed,
we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2)
Paul, the apostle, taught that we "eagerly wait for the Savior, the
Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be
conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able
even to subdue all things to himself." (Philippians 3:20–21)
Our ultimate end, therefore, will not be formlessness, but the obtaining of
a glorified and immortal form eternally. Jesus promised a final
metamorphosis: that the "righteous will shine forth like the sun in the
kingdom of their Father." (Matthew 13:43)
Like other yoga teachers I often tried to lend support to the doctrine of
reincarnation by using biblical references. We claimed Jesus taught John,
the Baptist, was the reincarnation of Elijah. However, when all the
scriptures relating to this particular subject are blended, it becomes clear
that the Bible is inferring something quite different. The message conveyed
is that John the Baptist bore the same anointing of the Holy Spirit that
Elijah bore. Though he possessed a similar calling, he was not another
incarnation of this great Old Testament prophet. Besides, the Old Testament
records the prophet Elijah being bodily translated to heaven. Because He
never lost his original body, he certainly could not be incarnated again
into a second body. Moreover, when Elijah appeared on the Mount of
Transfiguration with Moses and Jesus, had he recently incarnated as John the
Baptist, the disciples would have been confused as to the actual identity of
the radiant person standing before them. (See Matthew 11:13–14; 17:3–13.)
Instead of identifying him as Elijah, they would have most likely
identified him as John.
In Luke 1:17 the angel Gabriel foretold that John the Baptist would come
in the "spirit and power of Elijah." Some non-Christians who read
this passage might interpret it as an announcement of Elijah’s
reincarnation. Yet when we go back and closely inspect traditional biblical
language, we find Elisha (the prophet directly after Elijah) asking for, and
receiving, a double-portion of the "spirit" that was upon Elijah.
(2 Kings 2:9) Did that mean that Elijah was reincarnated as Elisha?
No, of course not! They lived at the same time. It simply meant that the
manifestation of God’s Spirit, which rested upon Elijah, was doubled in
intensification upon Elisha. Did the same anointing of the Holy Spirit that
rested upon Elijah and Elisha rest also upon John, the Baptist? Yes it did,
in order to accomplish a similar ministry—turning the hearts of the people
back to true worship. When Jesus said of John, the Baptist, "He is
Elijah which is to come," he meant it, not literally, but figuratively.
(Matthew 11:14) In Hebrew culture, in the religious vernacular of
that day, this was the understood meaning of this mysterious correlation.
One of the strongest and plainest Bible statements
concerning this issue is Hebrews 9:27—"It is appointed for men to die
once." If we only die once, then it goes without saying: we only live
once in a mortal form in this world. I still struggle with the inequities
that abound in this world, and I still must admit, life does not always
appear fair. But I have learned to trust in the wisdom of a loving heavenly
Father, the One who is fair and who does understand all things.
Once eternity dawns, surely our questions will be
sufficiently answered concerning the pain that racks the inhabitants of this
planet. Until then, we are all called to "walk by faith" in the
revelation that "God is love" and that the "sufferings of
this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall
be revealed in us." (1 John 4:16, Romans 8:18) In the
section, I will explore in detail thirteen main reasons
why I no longer accept the related doctrines of reincarnation and karma.