For years, I was heavily involved in practicing New Age occultism. But in 2017, my life was unexpectedly transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since then, my eyes have been opened to the false doctrines I once held and the danger they pose for those who follow them.
Whether you’re a follower of New Age philosophy who’s questioning its legitimacy or a Christian who’s looking to understand these beliefs, allow me to share how finding the claims of karma lacking led me to embrace the good news of Christ’s atonement.
Retreat into Darkness
In April 2017, I attended a seven-day Vipassana meditation retreat. My birthday was coming up and I wanted a “reset.” The first couple of days were rather uneventful, although they were a bit of an adjustment. We had to wake up at 4 a.m. and meditate for 10 hours every day, only taking breaks to eat and sleep. There was also a vow of silence.
By the third day, I noticed a significant number of people had disappeared, but I remained resolute. I’d spent more than a year meditating consistently and enduring the challenges that came along with it.
As the retreat went on, however, I began experiencing unusual physical sensations, uncontrollable body movements, and psychological phenomena. On the fourth day, I informed the campus teacher of these strange experiences and asked for insight. One thing she mentioned stuck with me—especially regarding an intense, deep pressure and heaviness on the center of my chest: “What’s coming up is your karmic debt that will take many lifetimes to work off. So I wouldn’t be too concerned about it right now.”
Longing for a Better Way
Despite how immersed I was in all things New Age and Eastern mysticism, this didn’t sit well with me. At the time, I wholeheartedly believed in reincarnation. But the deep pain lodged in my chest made the notion of enduring many lifetimes to atone for a karmic debt unsettling.
I no longer wanted reincarnation to be true. I wrestled with not wanting to live hundreds of thousands of lifetimes to continue to pay off a debt I didn’t understand to begin with.
When did this debt begin? What actions from previous lifetimes had to be atoned for? How much debt did I have? Which lifetime was I on (one or 200?), and how much debt had been paid so far? What is the payment and by what authority is this debt payment merited and determined?
That night, unease began to penetrate my soul. I couldn’t admit it to myself at the time, but these questions led me toward a pivotal realization: paying off a karmic debt was impossible. I began to long for another way—an atonement that would spare me the misery of enduring countless lifetimes to pay off all this debt by myself.
Little did I know an eternal atonement already existed, and it was paid 2,000 years ago.
I began to long for another way—an atonement that would spare me the misery of enduring countless lifetimes to pay off all this debt by myself.
Following the New Age law of attraction, I formerly believed that by focusing my thoughts and words on positive things, I could not only ensure a better quality of life but also assist in paying my karmic debt. But for years, my reality refused to match this framework, no matter how much “work” I did on myself.
I began to question the validity of karma. Outside my own imaginings and the lofty, often confusing ideologies of mystics, I found no cosmic authority or governing principle within the New Age framework to establish the truth of karma and karmic debt. The mystics who taught these principles didn’t claim any supreme authority and could offer no proof of actually being reincarnated themselves. Moreover, I soon learned there was no governing authority (outside of an individual and his own ideas) that ultimately determined good and evil.
In my search for truth within New Age philosophy, I realized—to my dismay—the principles and values I absorbed from others were more arbitrary than definitive, especially as I delved deeper into law-of-attraction principles. Few sects (or even individuals) could form a consensus on objective truth, much less on how to settle karmic debt—even though everyone around me was working hard to pay it off.
Light in the Darkness
At the retreat, my unease about karmic debt was only the beginning of my troubles. During a period of meditation, I came under demonic influence that tormented me for years to come. One immediate side effect was insomnia.
As I walked the camp late one night, begging for guidance, I sensed a prompting to wake up one of my cabin mates. I resisted at first—she was the last person at this camp I wanted to open up to. I even questioned why she was at the retreat in the first place since all she wanted to do was question our experiences.
But the prompting became stronger and more persistent, so I finally woke her. Once we were outside, she listened calmly as I told her everything that was happening to me. As terrified as I was, she remained patient and composed. The four words of her initial response not only stopped me in my tracks but permanently transformed the trajectory of my life.
“Do you know Jesus?”
Consider Jesus Christ
As I began to consider Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I couldn’t help but see he stands out among the world’s list of famed spiritual teachers. First, there were claims by over 500 eyewitnesses that he rose from the dead. Second, he identified himself as God (John 8:58) and said he had glory with the Father before the world existed (John 17:5). And third, the claims made about Jesus by the author of Hebrews provided an answer to the problems I saw with karmic debt.
I encourage a complete reading of Hebrews to better understand why Jesus Christ is superior to “ascended masters” within the New Age and also to better understand his deity and the resulting weight of his atonement. But let’s consider just a couple of verses: “By [God’s] will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:10, 14).
There are three key truths from verse 14 that show Christ is superior over karma and other Eastern doctrines:
1. “By a single offering . . .”
Here we see a major difference between Jesus’s atonement through the cross and karmic atonement through reincarnation: one is “once for all” and the other occurs through innumerable lifetimes.
2. “. . . he has perfected for all time . . .”
Christ purified us from sin and became our eternal sacrifice. Once we’re perfected in Christ, we cannot be unperfected. There’s nothing we can do to undo Christ’s atonement.
3. “. . . those who are being sanctified.”
The end result precedes the process. The completed work happens first (our perfection through Christ’s atonement). Sanctification (our being conformed to the image of Christ) is an ongoing work that follows. Our works are the fruit rather than the root of our atonement. No other spiritual process on earth allows us to be perfected before we do a single good work.
If Jesus Christ is who he says he is, then he has the cosmic authority to determine not only good and evil but how evil should be paid for as well. His atonement was a real-life historical event that paid for the debt of his people, canceling our requirement to pay.
No other spiritual process on earth allows us to be perfected before we do a single good work.
This revolutionary idea of a once-for-all, eternal atonement spares us from living in fear of any reactions from the universe for our behavior. It also deems our human works unnecessary for payment and absolves us from the necessity of enduring multiple lifetimes to spend eternity in a world absent of evil and suffering.
This is the good news of the gospel. And for those who labor under the weight of karmic debt, it’s an unthinkable gift. Christ saves us, not by our capacity to pay our debt off in any number of lifetimes but by his grace alone.