Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Karma?

I don’t believe in karma. And I think I’ve even gone on the record on numerous occasions and said that karma is fundamentally anti-Christian. And by “karma” I don’t mean a fully-informed, fully-enlightened understanding of the spiritual concept that is associated with Buddhism (although that might, upon further reflection, be included). I mean the “karma” that people like to throw around and put on their bumper stickers and say to one another, “Dude, it’s karma.” That’s the pop-culture karma that I have in mind.

That karma, as best I can tell, is an approach to life that says, “The Universe pays you back for whatever you do.” If you’re nice to people, nice things will happen to you. If you’re mean to people, mean things will happen to you. Some of the people who adhere to that principle actually believe that cosmic forces (called “the Universe”) return back to someone what he/she has dealt out. But many of the people who say, “Dude, it’s karma,” identify themselves as Christians. They claim to believe in only one God—the supreme ruler of the universe. So, whether they admit it or not, Christians who like karma seem to believe that God gives people what they deserve—good for good, and bad for bad.

But that’s not Christianity, right? Unlike almost all the other world religions, which are based on some form of getting-what-one-deserves, Christianity says to us, “You’re sinful, yet God still loves you.” Think of all the verses of scripture (mostly in Paul’s letters) that remind us of this principle: “Christ died while you were yet sinners” or “For God so loved the world…” or “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…” Isn’t our faith built on the principle of anti-karma? No matter what you deal out, God still repays you with mercy? We don’t get what we deserve. “The wages of sin is death.” Grace is the rejection of karma. Right?

Well, fiddlesticks! Then I read this morning’s gospel lesson (Luke 6:27-38), and I’m not sure any more. Jesus ends the lesson by saying to his disciples, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned…For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” AGH! Really? Jesus, really? Didn’t you read St. Paul’s letters before you said something like this—something that threatens to undo my whole comfortable understanding of grace?

I’ve spent a long time today wrestling with this gospel lesson and trying to figure out a way around Jesus’ “You get what you give” statement. I admit I don’t have it licked, but this is as good as I can do. I still believe that our forgiveness is a given and that no matter what we do we are still forgiven. I think that’s the Easter message that must override this or any lesson. No matter what we deal to God, God forgives, redeems, and heals it. That’s the message of the cross and empty tomb. So, with that in mind, I have to grapple with Jesus’ words.

I don’t want to ameliorate the power of Jesus’ message. I think he means what he says—we get what we give, but I think that is a statement about this life rather than the life to come. Basically it’s this: if we refuse to forgive, we cannot participate in God’s forgiveness—even if that forgiveness is certain in the ultimate end. Yes, God will forgive us no matter what. That’s grace. But if we are not in the mind of love and charity and forgiveness, then we can’t appreciate the miracle of our own forgiveness.

When I’m in the car and refuse to forgive the son-of-a-gun who cuts me off, it’s hard for me (maybe impossible) in that moment to appreciate the magnitude of God’s forgiveness of me. But the real issue is more than just a psychology of grace. It’s more than just appreciating God’s grace in a passing moment. If God’s mercy is an ultimate given, isn’t it true that the only thing that matters is our appreciation of that grace in this life? In other words, if God loves me no matter what, isn’t the only thing that I should care about whether I can comprehend that miracle of redemption in this lifetime?

If I get to the end of this life and discover a forgiveness I never knew, won’t every day of this life have been wasted? God has showered upon us the most amazing miracle of love—that he loves us no matter what. That’s the miracle of grace. And that’s a miracle worth sharing. Yet if I am not able/willing to share with others that love as freely as God has shared it with me, aren’t I missing the real point of this life? Isn’t this life all about understanding and transmitting forgiveness? Isn’t the purpose of this life to exemplify the opposite of karma (grace) by realizing that grace itself depends upon my experience of karma?

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