Karma & Grace

One night, on the Larry King Live television show, Larry King was interviewing Bono, one of the most famous rock stars in the world. Bono was talking about his commitment to Christ and how he was trying to live out Christ’s love in the world. It was the Christian commitment of this rock star that prompted Larry King to ask an important question.

“What makes Christianity different from all the other religions in the world?” he asked. “What does Christianity have to offer that other religions do not?”

Bono paused for a moment, then answered, “All the other religions of the world, in one way or another, teach karma. Only Jesus offers grace. In all the other religions of the world, people end up having to pay a penalty for their sins. Only Jesus Christ, by His grace, makes it possible for people to be delivered from the consequences of the sins that they have committed in this life.”

After another poignant pause, Bono added, “Sadly, all too often, the church, contrary to Jesus, teaches karma. Most of the time, the church teaches karma instead of offering grace.”

– Tony Campolo, Stories that Feed Your Soul, 2010, p. 25

Karma is a pervasive concept in our society. It only makes sense that we should get what we deserve. In fact, the apostles felt that way. In John chapter nine, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man who was born blind. The disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It seemed reasonable that the man’s blindness was the result of someone’s sin.

Karma is easy to understand. Karma appeals to our sense of justice, but the truth is: none of us get what we truly deserve. Chaos, fate, and chance are equally prevalent beliefs surrounding us. I have many problems with the concept of karma. For example, in my experience, belief in karma leads to arrogance. Do you remember the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9 – 14)? The Pharisee believed he was doing everything right and therefore, should receive good things (karma), but his pride became his downfall.

Another problem with karma is that it only focuses on the sins of commission rather than sins of omission. In ethics, we call this the Silver Rule. You know the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule demands action, but the Silver Rule simply says, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.” No action required.

Finally, karma encourages accounting rather than growth. In karma, it’s all about balance. Do something bad, atone for it with something good. Christians believe in grace, God’s forgiveness, and that motivates us to become better people. We are striving to grow rather than balance! For example, Jesus taught:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

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