Last Updated: Thursday - 09/30/2010
October 4, 2010
Can Christians believe in reincarnation?
SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
I read an article recently about reincarnation spreading to Christians in the western world. Is reincarnation compatible with Christian belief?
Reincarnation is a belief mostly of Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. It goes something like this: if you haven't lived a perfect life, your soul is put into a new body, either human or animal in any part of the world.
In other words, you keep coming back to earth to do it all over as many times as needed. When you have perfected yourself during a repeated earthly existence, you go straight to live with God.
What does Christianity believe about the fate of humankind? Simply and briefly put, God created humans with free will. They were created good but the first humans failed to acknowledge and accept their limitations. Tempted by evil, they chose rebellion against God. All humans have been tainted by this first sin and continue at times to act in the same way.
Over and over, the Old Testament presents the story of God sending prophets to draw humanity back to their creator. Finally, Jesus, the Son of God, comes to teach the way and lead humans back to God.
But that is not all. Jesus suffers and dies the most ignominious death: crucifixion. But he conquers death by rising again. Through his life, death and resurrection Jesus brings salvation to all humanity.
Some use texts from Scripture without taking into consideration their context and try to show that the Bible approves the belief in reincarnation.
Read the 150 psalms. Do they sound like you'll get a chance at another lifetime? Or do they instead place their trust in God to save them from the enemies of both body and soul?
DEATH IS FINAL
Read the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life and teachings or of Paul's teaching? Does Jesus hint that we'll have more than one lifetime? Paul places everything in Christ, with Christ and for Christ.
The New Testament indicates that death is the punishment for sin (Romans 5.12-14). Paul tells us that we all die in Adam but rise to life in Christ who overcame death by his own death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.22).
The Christian experiences Jesus' victory over death by sharing in his death (Romans 6.2-11), by being baptized into Christ (Romans 6.4) and by partaking of the Eucharist (John 6.50-51). Therefore, everything that we are and everything that we do comes to us as gifts from the graciousness of God who loves us beyond measure.
Death is final. The story of the rich man and Lazarus tells us this: "Those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so and no one can cross from there to us" (Luke 16.26). It is clear then that there is no possibility for reincarnation or coming back to earth for whatever reason since: "All of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done while in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5.10).
Therefore, "we must work . . . while it is day; night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4).
Vatican II in The Church in the Modern World reaffirms the biblical belief that our calling to divine life was won for us by the death and resurrection of Christ. "Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles and sorrow and death grow meaningful" (n. 22).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates that "Death is the end of our earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy God offers us so that we may work out ultimate destiny by lives led in keeping with God's plan. . . . There is no reincarnation after death."
Perhaps some Christians feel they have experienced another life and so tend to believe in reincarnation.
But contrast the two beliefs. With reincarnation, there is no need of a saviour because the soul can achieve perfection by its own repeated efforts in several lifetimes.
For Christians, only God's grace through Christ and the Holy Spirit enable us to respond to God's gratuitous offer of salvation and be saved. This truth underlies the whole of Christianity and gives it meaning. Therefore, these are incompatible beliefs.
The message of the Bible and Christian tradition is that, of ourselves, we can do nothing, but with God all things are possible. We cannot save ourselves. Whatever good we do in this earthly life comes through the grace of God.
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