"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reincarnation in the Bible, Sinning In Utero, Going Against Karma, Grace

Almost two weeks ago in my post "Why suffering though doing good," I mentioned the passage in John 9 where Jesus and his disciples came across a blind man.  His disciples - thinking the guy was blind due to sinfulness - asked whether this man or his parents were to blame.  Something that caught my attention then was that this man was blind since birth so I wondered out loud if people could sin while in their mothers' wombs.  I'd always assumed we were not capable of sinning in utero.

This topic wasn't the point of that post so I didn't dwell on it much.

But then yesterday I was reading a book* and one chapter dealt with reincarnation. A chapter note mentioned this story in John 9 as a passage some believe supports reincarnation.  If this man's blindness since birth could have - according to the disciples - been a result of his sin then this means he must have sinned in a former life and this blindness was punishment.  (If this were true, how nice was Jesus to go against karma by healing him of his blindness!)

The author stated, however, that rabbinical tradition believed people could sin though unborn!  He cited Genesis Rabbah 63:6 and the story of Jacob and Esau.  I saw this little blurb on Wikipedia pertaining to the twins struggling prior to their birth.

"Rebekah was uncomfortable during her double pregnancy and went to inquire of God why she was suffering. The Midrash says that whenever she would pass a house of Torah study, Jacob would struggle to come out; whenever she would pass a house of idolatry, Esau would agitate to come out."

So I guess Esau's sin prior to birth was his itching to come out when his mom walked past a place of idol worship.  I suppose this leads us to believe Esau had an inclination to worship idols rather than Yahweh.

Also here is something the author stated about reincarnation and the caste system and why people of higher castes look down so much on those of the lowest castes especially "the untouchables." He claims with their ideas of reincarnation, they believe those born into lower castes must have done something in their previous lives to deserve such poor, unprivileged stations in society. Therefore they in the upper castes could never do such as Mother Teresa did in helping those people as they felt this was going against karma. I can see this type of thinking justifying a lot of discrimination!  For religious reasons too!

This is why I made mention above of Jesus healing the blind man as going against karma.  Hey, if he can do it, we can too!   No excuse to not help underprivileged and poor people thinking they got what they deserved.  With that type of mentality we could say the Pakistanis deserved their land being flooded and possessions lost. Or we could refuse to help so many others who have suffered simply by dismissing it as their getting what they deserve.

By contrast, I believe we should look out for others and seek to meet their needs so we can to show how much our God influences us and enables us to love and serve others.  I've heard it said that we are the hands and feet of God meaning He often uses us as His agents on earth to do His will. And it's good to help others without desire for recognition or even good deed points.  We never know when the next man-made or natural disaster will affect us and our loved ones.  We will then be desperate for others to lend helping hands. Not sit back in judgment wondering what sinful things we did to deserve this calamity.

So be merciful, compassionate and serve others with love. Don't worry about who deserves this or that. Grace is about giving to people regardless of what they deserve. Just like God gives to us when He offers eternal life in spite of our sins.

Any thoughts?

* pg. 65 & 204,
"That's Just YOUR Interpretation" by Paul Copan


Amber said...

I have thoughts, but you already wrote them there, at the end of your post! So I'll just have to say that I agree with you. :)

Susanne said...

That's good to know! :)

I thought it was interesting to see where the possible idea of sinning in utero came from since that verse DID take my attention recently. I was like "why are they even asking that?" But if it were in their tradition, it makes more sense!

Joni said...

Hi Susie, thanks for sharing, that was an interesting post! I certainly don't believe in reincarnation, but the 'sinning before birth' was interesting. I would also be interested to learn what rabbinical tradition is about when a baby becomes a 'person'. Is it at conception? or birth? Or age 14/bar mitzvah age, when a boy became an adult?

At my church last Sunday the teacher was saying that when Jesus used the child as an example of how to live (he must come as a little child) that he was breaking societal norms because a child was not considered a person until they were old enough to earn money or be a sexual partner(!). I wonder how accurate that was?

Esau "strainging to come out" when Rebekah passed the idols makes me think of predestination. Was Esau predestined to worship idols? Or are we all? The Bible does say "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." (Ps 51:5)

What I really think is that it's not that we actually sin in the womb, but that the curse of sin is on us from conception. I will sin, because I am cursed by Adam and Eve's failings. Only just now I can't find the verses that say that.

sanil said...

That story is a great example to me of how the Midrash has good stories that make interesting points, but are not true and probably not meant to be. Jacob...who was born before Moses and therefore before there was such a thing as Torah, let alone houses of Torah study...kept trying to come out when his mom passed them? :D

I think the story is interesting, but maybe if anything shows their tendencies rather than actual actions, since the actions themselves are not possible and it seems the writers of the Midrash must have realized that. I also think it's an interesting contrast reading this and also realizing that Judaism does not recognize life before birth - right up to the moment the baby starts to come out, Judaism allows for abortion if it is to save the mother, because she is alive and the child is not. This story makes it seem the children are alive in the womb, which doesn't seem to mesh well with practice. I don't know it well enough to say for certain, but I would assume, considering the Rabbinical decisions on things like abortion are made with Jewish Law and tradition in mind, that this is likely not taken literally now. No idea if it was in the past.

Very interesting point about going against karma or punishment. I agree. Even if suffering is "earned" somehow, I think we are all called to end it as much as we can.

Wafa' said...

love the reincarniation idea, though i don't believe in it. Not out of religious believe but i hate the idea that i am going to be punished now for something i did in another life. Yes, it's a good reminder not to do evil or else, but still tough.

( So be merciful, compassionate and serve others with love. Don't worry about who deserves this or that. Grace is about giving to people regardless of what they deserve) what an amazing and beautiful thing to say :)

Susanne said...

Joni, thanks for dropping by and adding such interesting thoughts! I really enjoyed what you had to say. Now you've made ME really interested in the answers to those Jewish tradition questions that you raised. I find all the culture stuff quite interesting!

I agree that we don't sin in utero, but then again what do I remember from way back then? :) Maybe if I were a twin, I'd be selfish in taking nourishment first! Ha! Kidding!

Thanks much for what you added! Enjoyed it!

Susanne said...

Sanil, your comment was cute in pointing out how Jacob yearned for houses of Torah worship - as you stated - prior to them even existing. :) Yeah, Midrash seems rather entertaining from the bit I've come across it in recent weeks.

So Jewish Law doesn't believe a fetus is a person until it is ready to be delivered.Does this mean they can abort babies up 'til delivery day? I can't imagine feeling my baby kick and seeing it on ultrasound sucking its thumb and being able to murder it.

Thanks much for your comment! Enjoyed it as always.

Susanne said...

Wafa', yeah, I hate to think I'm being punished for something I did in a previous life especially since i don't "remember" what that sin was so I can't correct it. :)

Thanks for adding your thoughts! :)

sanil said...

Judaism upholds life, and for whatever reason, according to what I learned from my comparative religious ethics class, doesn't believe that starts till actual birth. So they don't abort just for the sake of convenience, but if the mother's life was in danger, we had a quote from a rabbi actually saying that even on delivery day, the child could be killed and taken apart in the womb to save the mother. Once it actually starts to emerge, they have to just let it happen, because they won't end one life to save another.

It sounds strange to me, too. I also would think that moving and kicking and such means it's alive, so I don't understand why birth is the dividing line. I'd like to ask a rabbi about that sometime, if I ever get a chance.

Susanne said...

Thanks for the follow-up info. Let me know if you ever find out more! :)