Buddhists believe that human destiny is individually determined by our past personal actions, thoughts and words (karma) which act as causes of our future happiness and misery.
There are many sound Biblical reasons for rejecting this kind of philosophy.
- It makes a nonsense of the whole concept of obedience to God. We are continually told in the Bible that we must keep God’s commands, and by doing so we can give Him pleasure or displeasure. This concept of commandments is meaningless if God is forcing us to be obedient. Christ offers salvation “unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:9).
- Hebrews 11 shows that God’s intervention in our lives and ultimate granting of salvation is related to our faith. The many Biblical examples of praying to God for deliverance in time of trouble are meaningless if everything is totally predestined. Likewise the idea of salvation being the result of our faith in Christ is also made meaningless.
- Baptism is a pre-requisite for salvation (Mk. 16:16; Jn. 3:3‑ 5). However, salvation was made possible on account of the work of Christ (2 Tim. 1:10), not through the abstract concept of predestination. We must consciously choose to associate ourselves with Him, which we do through baptism. Romans 6:15-17 speaks of us changing masters at baptism, from a life of sin to one of obedience. “To whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are”. This language of yielding oneself clearly implies freewill as opposed to unconditional predestination. The yielding is through obeying from the heart the doctrines of the Gospel (Rom. 6:17).
- There is no point in God speaking forth His word, if we are ultimately predestined anyway. There is also no point in preaching; yet the Bible, both in command and by recording examples of this, shows that it is through the preaching of the word that men and women come to salvation. “The word of...salvation” (Acts 13:26) has to go forth to men.
- We will be judged according to our works (Rev. 22:12). Why, if our freewill actions are unimportant in relation to salvation? Paul said that the Jews judged themselves to be unworthy of eternal life by their rejection of the word of God (Acts 13:46). They were judging themselves - God was not preventing them. If we say that God is predestining some people to salvation and others to condemnation, then God is effectively forcing people to be sinners, in the same way as He supposedly forces people to be righteous. Because of Adam’s sin, “death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). This is why men die, as a punishment for sin (Rom. 6:23), not because God forced them to be sinners at some point in time before Adam’s sin.
- 1 Cor. 10 and many other passages hold up the example of those in the past who once had a relationship with God, but then fell away, as being warnings to believers. The fact that it is possible to ‘fall from grace’ (Gal. 5:4) means that there cannot be a ‘once saved always saved’ system of salvation, nor can it be that we all eventually mature into nirvana. Only by continuing to hold true doctrine can we be saved (1 Tim. 4:16).
- Jesus clearly taught that understanding God’s word is dependent to some degree upon our freewill effort. “Whoso readeth, let him understand” (Mt. 24:15). Thus we let ourselves understand the word - we are not forced to. There is a parallel between this and the oft repeated words of Jesus: “He that hath ears to hear...let him hear”, or understand. Having ears to hear therefore equates with reading God’s word. Because God’s spirit is so supremely manifested through His word to the extent that Jesus could say that His inspired words “are spirit” (Jn. 6:63), it is impossible that God’s spirit would work on a man, apart from His word, in order to force the man to be obedient to the word.
- “Whosoever will” can “take of the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17), through responding to the word of life found in the Gospel. Here surely is freewill rather than predestination irrespective of our personal desire for salvation. Likewise Acts 2:21: “Whosoever shall call on (himself) the name of the Lord shall be saved” through being baptised into that name.
Jesus forgives our sins, but Buddhism says you can never escape the consequences of your karma. The forgiveness that is in Jesus is therefore some radical and something felt by the person receiving it. There is the joy of a good conscience, with all the power this gives to live a graceful and forgiving life of love. Human life at present is somehow pointless if each re-birth is but a samsara, a ‘wandering on’, in the baseless belief [for we have shown that Buddhism has no basis of authority] that one day we will reach Nirvana. And yet according to some Buddhist traditions, Nirvana itself will never be reached, for we must pass through infinite worlds in our development cycle (1). Jesus offered us a one time re-birth through baptism in water and spiritual renewing in Him (Jn. 3:3-5), the result of which will be that we will enter the Kingdom of God on earth when He returns. The rebirth which Jesus offers is a rebirth to life; whereas all Buddhists rebirths end finally in death. Jesus offers a real, tangible, eternal Kingdom of God on this earth. With Jerusalem as its eternal capital. Yes, the Jerusalem we know and can locate today. Ask a Buddhist to define Nirvana, and they have no real idea. The “further shore…island amidst the flood…cave of shelter…beyond the realm of reason”. It is impossible to put meaning into these words, and the result is that Buddhism offers no definable nor understandable hope, nor direction to which we should be heading. The Bible doctrine of the Kingdom of God is so different.
Buddhism's cyclic view of existence means that history has no meaning and this makes Buddhists fatalistic and indifferent. The Bible continually builds upon itself. Historical events in Israel’s history are full of meaning. Let me give an example:
Paul explains in 1 Cor. 10:1,2, that our passing through the waters of baptism is like Israel passing through the waters of the Red Sea. They were baptised “in the cloud and in the sea” - there was water on both sides of them, and above them in the cloud. A kind of parable can be developed from this, with many lessons for us. Israel had been slaves in Egypt, living a pointless life, working hard in their slavery and serving the idols of Egypt. Through their experience of life they cried to God to find some way of escape, although they probably had no idea how He would answer them. In reply God sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and then through the wilderness, to enter the Promised Land. Israel in Egypt were like all who come to baptism; we are led, as it were, to the shores of the Red Sea. Once we pass through the water, we will not immediately be in the Promised Land of the Kingdom, we will join the rest of the believers in walking through the wilderness. God led Israel through the wilderness by an Angel, who was constantly with them by day and night. So, too, each of us has an Angel encamping around us, leading us through our lives towards salvation (Ps. 34:7; Heb. 1:14).
Israel were fed each day with manna, which Jesus interprets in John 6 as both Himself, and God’s Word. If they had not eaten it they would soon have died in that wilderness - there was no other food there to eat. For this reason we cannot commend to you strongly enough the “Bible Companion” reading tables, whereby you read the Bible each day, getting the whole context of passages as you read through, and especially, feeding on Christ, whom you will find “in all the scriptures”. A copy of this plan is available free from the publishers. It is vital to make space in our daily routine, preferably at the same time each day, to read those chapters and reflect on them.
(1) Williams, P. Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul), 1989.