OUTSIDE OF KARMA, Part 1 ~ 8/2/10

“[Grace] travels outside of Karma…” – U2, Grace

I love the way that line reads.
I love how simply these musicians, despite their faults, have captured a unique glimpse of grace. What do I mean?

Let’s start with a simple question: What is Karma? Or, at least, what do we generally mean when we Westerners use the word ‘Karma’ in everyday conversation?

Now, hold that thought for a second— for this post to work, we have to have an understanding up front that yes, I’m aware those of us who are Christians go beyond the concept of Karma because we believe in a personal source of justice and sovereignty called “God.”  I get that. I’m not advocating Karma as a valid system of measurement for evaluating the good and bad that happens in our world. BUT—for the sake of a line of thought—work with me. Okay?
So—what do people generally mean when they talk about ‘Karma?’

They mean, ‘what goes around comes around.’
They mean, ‘you get what you deserve.’
They mean, ‘you reap what you sow.’
They mean some impersonal force that acts to bring about some form of cosmic ‘justice,’ and they mean it in regards to both the good you do and deserve in return, as well as the bad. Although a strict Hindu or Buddhist might argue various and subtle differences in interpretation, that is what most people use the concept of Karma to symbolize in our culture. So, for the sake of our conversation here, let’s just say we’re talking about getting what you deserve.

I once read a book called “Died Laughing.” Although it was incredibly gruesome and macabre, it was also infectiously fascinating to me as a Junior High student. In it were chronicled hundreds of supposedly true stories about bizarre and ironic deaths throughout history. I ate it up. To the extent that it focused on getting what you deserve for doing ‘bad things,’ it was basically an encyclopedia of ‘death by Karma.’

For example, one story told of a man who, after trying to commit suicide through increasingly dramatic means and failing repeatedly, resigns himself to life, only to be accidentally trampled to death by a horse the next day. Another story told of two snipers in WWI, one British and one German, and the fierce, chess-like gun battle they waged against each other over the course of two days. Finally, the German prevailed, and a short time later happened upon the body of his adversary, who amazingly had died frozen in a perfect firing position, eye to his rifle. Deciding in a moment of pride to retrieve the dead man’s weapon as a trophy, the German proceeded to pry and wrestle the gun out of the corpse’s stiff hands. In the process however, the British soldier’s gun accidentally discharged, sending a bullet directly through the heart of its intended target, the German soldier. A perfect kill, delayed by time but not the grave. ‘They got what was coming to them,’ the book seemed to say—‘they got what they deserved.’ Karma.

Question—what do we really deserve?  Having grown up in Africa amidst much lower living standards, I can attest that we Americans are some of the most entitled people in the world. While many on the planet would be happy with two meals a day, most of us were born into a paradigm that claims the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from day one. With that as the starting line, we’ve slid into a rut of entitlement that covers everything from cable TV in our homes to good cell-phone reception 100% of the time, no matter where we are. We just deserve it. But… what do we really deserve? 
Okay, bucket of ice-cold water time… just so we’re perfectly clear, the Bible says we don’t deserve anything good in our lives—we’re not entitled to the good stuff. The only thing human beings have truly earned, according to the Bible, is punishment. That’s because, according to the Bible, God drew a line in the sand at the beginning of human history and said, ‘Don’t cross that line, or else.’ And, according to the Bible, humanity shrugged its shoulders, stared God in the face, and stuck its toe across the line in an act of clear defiance. So that the Bible warns us in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” Justice is coming… so where does grace fit in?

In part 2 of this post I'll give my answer. Check back in!

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*Grace induces faith & Grace is obligated to faith ~