Ecclesiastes and Karma

 For me, Ecclesiastes has been an interesting book to preach through. As the substitute pastor of my church (while we look for a permanent replacement for our pastor who left us after twenty-one years of service).  This week I’ll be taking our congregation through chapter four.  Ecclesiastes rejects the concept of Karma.  It is, instead, rather existentialist in its approach.  Karma means action, work or deed; it also apparently refers to a principle of cause and effect where the intent and actions of an individual influence the future of that individual. Good intent and good deed gives you good Karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed lead you to bad Karma and future suffering.

To me, that sounds as if our concept of “justice” is really what Karma is all about.  Karma is simply perfect justice.  People getting precisely what they deserve, good or bad: good stuff for good people, bad stuff for bad people.

But life is more like what we see in the old movie It’s a Wonderful Life.  There is no indication that Potter, “the meanest man in town,” ever gets his comeuppance at the end.  There’s the Saturday Night Live alternate ending where they realize Potter stole the missing money and the whole town goes and beats him up for it.  That is quite satisfying, but of course that was not part of the original movie and though it might be what we wish for—what we’d really love to see—and why we applaud the bad guys dying and suffering horribly in such movies as Die Hard and Raiders of the Lost Ark…real life does not turn out so nicely, so cleanly, so justly.  Too often the bad prosper and the righteous suffer.  And it stays that way.  As the author of Ecclesiastes lets us know—as if we can’t see it in real life—prosperity and suffering are essentially randomly distributed.  Otherwise, how do you explain Kanye?  Or most of Hollywood?

Many people think life is supposed to work the way it does in certain movies.  We’d kind of like it if Karma were true.  But I don’t think I really see it in life, and I don’t think Karma is really compatible with what I see in the Bible, either.