Eastern religions believe in a cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation. This cycle is called samsara. In such a view, karma (which is a word which means deeds) determines the next reincarnation. Good (deeds) karma result in a better reincarnation; bad (deeds) karma result in a worse reincarnation. One does not necessarily come back as a human being in this view, but the cycle continues.
The goal of eastern religions is liberation from the cycle of samara. In some forms of Hinduism, the escape is to merge with Brahman, ultimate reality. In Buddhism, nirvana is the escape from samsara, and it is achieved when one loses all desires. Suffering and desire are the ultimate problems for Buddhism. Individuals who believe in samsara may not expect to merge with Brahman or reach nirvana from this life. In their view, it may take many lifetimes.
Materialists believe that nature is all that there is. Eventually the universe will run down, but the universe may oscillate and start again. (I would point out to the materialist that it takes a great deal of faith to believe that.) Human beings, however, end at death. We may retain the memory of someone, but this view rejects life after death. For the materialist, history is linear, but there is no overarching purpose to it. In the end, everything dies.
The Christian also views history as linear. God is the Intelligent Designer of our universe. God is also the Lord of History. God’s purpose will ultimately be fulfilled, because we live in a meaningful world filled with purpose. Human beings begin at conception, but death is not the final word. The spiritual or immaterial part of us exists beyond death. We will face the judgment of God. Our life of faith or lack of faith will determine our eternal destiny.
How we view history and human life is a spiritual matter. Our worldview will determine many of our decisions in this life. For Eastern religions, life is like playing a video where the player has an infinite number of times to reach the final level. For the materialist, there is no final level, and only one chance at life. Life is to be lived, but there are preparations for the next life.
For the Christian, God has created a beautiful and wondrous world. The brokenness that is in it is due to the sin’s entrance into the world. We go about life earning a living and raising a family just like many Hindus, Buddhists, and materialists. But we believe that this life is a place of decision for the life to come. (Romans 2:8-10) The life of faith prepares us for the presence of God for eternity. The lack of faith prepares us for the absence of God for eternity.
How do you view your time on earth?
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” — C.S. Lewis