World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts
Editor, Andrew Wilson
Chapter 12: Responsibility And Predestination
2. Individual Responsibility
5. Karma and Inherited Sin
Responsibility and predestination are interrelated topics. On the one hand, the scriptures affirm that every individual is responsible before God. We are given freedom in the context of the responsibility to fulfill the purpose of life. Individual responsibility begins with a decision to follow a righteous life--the topic of the first section. The second section has passages on the unalienable responsibility which every individual has for his own self, which cannot be passed off to another or excused by circumstance or surrendered to the grace of a savior. Human responsibility also cannot be coerced; it requires freedom of thought and freedom of action, freedom to believe and freedom to disbelieve. The third section has texts on the synergistic cooperation of responsibility and grace. Our responsibility is seen as undergirded and prompted by God's grace, and as we do our portion we find that God has been helping us all along.
At the same time, a person's scope of action is ordinarily limited by conditions which are beyond his or her control. Some people are blessed with an easy life; others have a hard lot. For some faith comes easily, and they advance on the path with seemingly effortless ease, while for others the burdens of life are heavy, and despite strenuous efforts they continually fall into temptation and despair. These variations in ability, circumstance, and fortune are explained in various ways. Doctrines of predestination, expressed by texts gathered in the fourth section, attribute differences in endowment and all fate to the hand of God, who is omnipotent and controls all. God's grace is the only efficacious power, beside which human effort counts for very little.
In the fifth section, variations in individual endowment and fate are explained as caused by the inherited results of prior actions. The doctrine of karma explains personal existence as continuous with countless prior lives. Deeds committed in past lives bear fruit in the present life, causing variations in circumstance and endowment. This doctrine is founded upon a belief in reincarnation. For religions which regard the passage through life as a singular event, a person's life is conditioned by the sins inherited through family and lineage. The sins of the fathers are passed on to their descendants in the form of difficult burdens and tragic circumstances, while the merits of the fathers appear as blessings. Individuals are also subject to conditions by virtue of belonging to a group or nation; its collective history has created debts or benefits which are shared by its members.
To regard human beings as totally free and responsible for their lives, and to regard life as totally predetermined by external factors, are two extremes of a spectrum within which lies the actual human situation. This leads to the topic of duty. Texts gathered in the concluding section teach that we should accept our lot in life and then strive to do our best with what we have been given. They teach us to be confident of God's provision, whatever it may be, as an adequate starting point for accomplishing our individual responsibility.
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