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Mike Shreve was a teacher of yoga at four universities. (The portrait above was drawn by one of his students in 1970.) Then a spiritual rebirth brought him into a real relationship with God and drastically changed his heart, his life and his belief system.  Read his story here.

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Site Completed–10/15/01
Major Revision—5/28/03
Last Updated–03/19/09

The True Light Project
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Phone: (423) 478-2843
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©2002 copyright
Mike Shreve.
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Which view is right: reincarnation or resurrection?

Most Far Eastern religionists cling to the concept of reincarnation (though even in India, this doctrine has been strongly disputed). Basically it involves the theory that the soul-life of every human being ‘evolves’ from an inanimate state to plant life, then to animal life, then to numerous human forms on its journey toward perfection, ultimate enlightenment and godhood. Many philosophies, religions and modern New Age groups have held up this banner. Even Plato, the Greek philosopher, believed, "The soul is immortal, and is clothed successively in many bodies." Some reincarnationists teach that during transmigration, the ‘soul-life’ can shuttle back and forth between a human, animal and mineral state. Others believe in only a progressive evolution of the soul. Disagreements do exist concerning the details of this doctrine among those who adhere to it.

I realize that sensitive people behold the anguish of a suffering human race: the heartbreaking disparity between the rich and poor, the healthy and sick, the intelligent and mentally handicapped members of the human family. Often, in their quest for a meaningful answer, reincarnation seems to be the only fair and plausible way of giving all people an equal chance at a fulfilling existence. If individuals are born crippled, demented or surrounded with abject poverty, it explains why (they are suffering for sins committed in a previous existence) and it offers hope (having paid off their karmic debt, they can then be born into a future life offering better conditions and opportunities).

So under the banner of reincarnation, the blatant inequities that abound in this world appear to fall into a sensible order. Instead of negative things happening by random chance, the theory of reincarnation offers a worldview that seems to ‘fit the pieces together,’ penetrating the chaotic and unpredictable with a multi-faceted system of causes and effects.

For these reasons I wholeheartedly embraced the idea of reincarnation simultaneous with my involvement in yoga. However, after becoming a Christian I became convinced otherwise. After a thorough search of the teachings of Jesus, I discovered he definitely taught only one incarnation of the soul, one life in this world. He also predicted that at the conclusion of this era, there would be a literal resurrection of the righteous, then later on, of the unrighteous. (John 5:23–29, Revelation 20) Furthermore, he validated this teaching by arising victorious over death himself.

In comparison, Mohammed suffered an untimely death, Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, died of starvation and Buddha apparently died of food poisoning, yet none of them rose again physically. According to legend, Krishna expired of an arrow piercing his foot, but devotees believe his body was all spirit (sat-cit-ananda) so he never really died physically anyway. It was just the ‘appearance’ of a death (some call it ‘lila’—a kind of divine game).

On the contrary, Jesus’ resurrection was literal and powerful. Furthermore, the Bible states Christians have been "begotten…again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Peter 1:3) Jesus is titled "the firstborn from the dead." (Colossians 1:18) In other words, he became a living witness of what will happen to all those who place their hope in him. At the end of this age, when Jesus returns, those who have trusted in him as their Savior will either be resurrected or translated, if they are alive when this event takes place.

How will this happen? Concerning the dead, God will use whatever substance remains of their previously inhabited mortal bodies to create glorious, immortal forms (even if all that remains is infinitesimally small, molecular or atomic in size). Concerning the living, God will change their flesh, bone and blood bodies into glorious, radiant, infinite forms in one divine moment.

Someone might ask, "Why is this necessary?" Certainly God could do it another way, but he doesn’t choose to. He could have made Adam in the beginning without using a handful of dust. Effortlessly, God could have used the spoken word to produce the first human being, just as he had created the heavens and the earth; but again, God chose to do otherwise. Sometimes God’s purposes may not seem logical to us, but who can question God’s methods? Thomas á Kempis insisted:

"Were the works of God readily understandable by human reason, they would be neither wonderful nor unspeakable."

Probably for this reason Paul used the word "mystery" when describing the resurrection. Speaking to Christian believers he wrote, "Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:51–52)

Many Far Eastern and New Age groups teach that the ultimate end of an advanced soul is a merging with the Oversoul, becoming a formless part of the Godhead, an infinite existence beyond all distinction and thought. This final state is termed Samadhi: final, absolute bliss. Buddhism interprets this ultimate state somewhat differently calling it Nirvana—a word meaning "a blowing out" as in the blowing out of a candle. This metaphor implies the annihilation of desire and suffering at the ‘blowing out’ or cessation of personal existence. This state could also be described as ‘de-personalization,’ because it involves final absorption into the impersonal, formless, being-less state of what Buddhists view as final oneness with Ultimate Reality.

Contrary to the assertions of some, Jesus never taught this concept, nor did the early church. John, the apostle, revealed the following concerning the Second Coming of Jesus: "When he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2) Paul, the apostle, taught that we "eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself." (Philippians 3:20–21) Our ultimate end, therefore, will not be formlessness, but the obtaining of a glorified and immortal form eternally. Jesus promised a final metamorphosis: that the "righteous will shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father." (Matthew 13:43)

Like other yoga teachers I often tried to lend support to the doctrine of reincarnation by using biblical references. We claimed Jesus taught John, the Baptist, was the reincarnation of Elijah. However, when all the scriptures relating to this particular subject are blended, it becomes clear that the Bible is inferring something quite different. The message conveyed is that John the Baptist bore the same anointing of the Holy Spirit that Elijah bore. Though he possessed a similar calling, he was not another incarnation of this great Old Testament prophet. Besides, the Old Testament records the prophet Elijah being bodily translated to heaven. Because He never lost his original body, he certainly could not be incarnated again into a second body. Moreover, when Elijah appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and Jesus, had he recently incarnated as John the Baptist, the disciples would have been confused as to the actual identity of the radiant person standing before them. (See Matthew 11:13–14; 17:3–13.) Instead of identifying him as Elijah, they would have most likely identified him as John.

In Luke 1:17 the angel Gabriel foretold that John the Baptist would come in the "spirit and power of Elijah." Some non-Christians who read this passage might interpret it as an announcement of Elijah’s reincarnation. Yet when we go back and closely inspect traditional biblical language, we find Elisha (the prophet directly after Elijah) asking for, and receiving, a double-portion of the "spirit" that was upon Elijah. (2 Kings 2:9) Did that mean that Elijah was reincarnated as Elisha? No, of course not! They lived at the same time. It simply meant that the manifestation of God’s Spirit, which rested upon Elijah, was doubled in intensification upon Elisha. Did the same anointing of the Holy Spirit that rested upon Elijah and Elisha rest also upon John, the Baptist? Yes it did, in order to accomplish a similar ministry—turning the hearts of the people back to true worship. When Jesus said of John, the Baptist, "He is Elijah which is to come," he meant it, not literally, but figuratively. (Matthew 11:14) In Hebrew culture, in the religious vernacular of that day, this was the understood meaning of this mysterious correlation.

One of the strongest and plainest Bible statements concerning this issue is Hebrews 9:27—"It is appointed for men to die once." If we only die once, then it goes without saying: we only live once in a mortal form in this world. I still struggle with the inequities that abound in this world, and I still must admit, life does not always appear fair. But I have learned to trust in the wisdom of a loving heavenly Father, the One who is fair and who does understand all things.

Once eternity dawns, surely our questions will be sufficiently answered concerning the pain that racks the inhabitants of this planet. Until then, we are all called to "walk by faith" in the revelation that "God is love" and that the "sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (1 John 4:16, Romans 8:18) In the next section, I will explore in detail thirteen main reasons why I no longer accept the related doctrines of reincarnation and karma.

"In Search of the True Light" ©2002 copyright by Mike Shreve.
All articles unless otherwise noted are copyright by Mike Shreve.
Personal Stories are the work of the individuals.
All Rights Reserved.

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