Why I Don’t Believe in Karma

“You will be in the right, O Lord, when I lay charges against you, but let me put my case to you. Why does the way of the guilty prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” – Jeremiah 12:1

I don’t believe in karma. I don’t believe that if you do something crummy to someone else you will pay down the line. Conversely, I don’t believe that if you live your life like a saint you will get a good break.

Why? Just look around. Good people suffer far too often. People who spew hate and act unjustly build fortunes and die happy. So, I don’t believe in karma, even though sometimes I wish I could.

It would be an easier world if doing the right thing meant you were rewarded. But then again, that would mean that too many good things were being done for the wrong reasons. It would mean that our good acts were done only to serve ourselves.

Instead, I believe in grace. I don’t believe that we receive God’s blessings and goodness because we have worked our way into it. I believe grace comes when we least expect it. We drop the ball, and the world should come crashing down, but instead we bounce. And so, because we have received grace, we do the right thing not in order to save ourselves, but so that we can say thank you.

That still doesn’t explain why “bad things happen to good people.” But to me it does explain why sometimes the world seems so unfair. No one deserves suffering. It’s not their karmic comeuppance. Mrs. Lopez is not in the ICU because she sinned, and Mr. Jones didn’t get laid off because he’s a bad person.

As a child I used to get frustrated when people would say “life isn’t fair.” Now, that feels like a reassurance. Life is not fair, and so suffering is not divine payback. It just is. I’d like to talk to God face-to-face about that in the next life, because I’ve got some complaints I’d like to lodge.

I think that grace means when that day comes, God will listen.


Dear God, I don’t understand why things happen sometimes, but I do believe your grace is there with us, even on the worst of days. Amen. 

dd-emilyheath.jpgAbout the Author
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the author of the forthcoming Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.