How do the ideas of karma and reincarnation compare with biblical and Judaeo-Christian answers to the perennial questions “Why is there evil and suffering?” and “Why does life seem unfair?” Which answers to these questions make the most sense to you and why?

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Karma and reincarnation provide an answer to problems of evil, suffering and injustice in the world. Karma and reincarnation say that what you do in one life will catch up with you in the next. If you are evil in one life, you will suffer for it when you are reincarnated. Therefore, people who are born to a low caste or in poverty and who suffer greatly are being treated fairly: they are being repaid for the evil that did in a former life.

Judaism and Christianity, on the other hand, do not believe in reincarnation, so they wrestle more with the problems of evil, suffering, and injustice. They don't say that suffering is necessarily deserved. In the book of Job, for example, a good man is allowed to suffer to test his faith—he has done nothing to deserve the horrors that befall him. Instead of providing answers, God states in this biblical book that His ways are not ours way and that much about the universe is mysterious to us as humans. In the book of Isaiah, the idea of the suffering servant is introduced: this is the image of an innocent man suffering pain and injustice for no reason. This concept is picked up in the New Testament, in the life of Jesus, who is also seen as the suffering servant. He is killed in a horrible way even though he is innocent. His suffering, however, is redemptive: he suffers for a reason, which is to help others to be reconciled to God. Judaism and Christianity introduced the idea that a person can suffer and yet be innocent, and also that suffering can be redemptive. Before these faiths, it was believed that a person who suffered must have done something to deserve it. Before these faiths, no good purpose was seen in suffering.

Because Judaism and Christianity realize the innocent can suffer, they tend to orient themselves to social justice and working to eradicate the evils of the world, rather than simply accepting them. For this reason, and no doubt because I was raised in these traditions, it makes more sense for me to embrace a theology that actively tries to right wrongs and alleviate suffering.

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First, this assignment seems intended to prompt you to explore your own personal faith tradition and sense of the relationship between justice and the divine. While an educator can present the historical differences between the two religious traditions, you are the only person who can discuss your personal faith.

The problem you present is one of what theologians call "theodicy," also known as the problem of divine justice. It is grounded in a paradox. Religions normally assume some sort of just, benevolent, wise principle on which the universe is grounded, and yet our world seems filled with evil, suffering, and injustice. There are roughly three types of religious theories to account for this:

  • Dualist and some polytheistic accounts assume there are both good and evil gods and that bad things happen because of the evil gods.
  • Some religions assume apparent injustice is due to our limited understanding and that all suffering is, from a divine perspective, deserved.
  • Suffering in this world will be rewarded by something positive after death.

Both Judaeo-Christian and eastern (Buddhist/ Hindu) religions combine the second and third of these ideas. The Judaeo-Christian tradition assumes human suffering is deserved because of Original Sin; karma presumes we bring suffering on ourselves by evil acts in past lives. In both religions, those who act in a morally good fashion may suffer in this world but are rewarded after their deaths through Heaven (Judaeo-Christian) or an escape from the cycle of reincarnation (Hinduism/ Buddhism).

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