If I eat too much, I get fat. If I drink too much, I wake up with a hangover. If I abuse narcotics, I pretty much throw my life away. Life is full of cause and effect relationships. But the relationship between sin and punishment isn’t one of them.
I think the single biggest threat to Christianity is karma. It’s not the rise of the “nones.” It’s not the creep of secularism. It’s not the spread of atheism. It’s karma. Why? Because karma has the ability to suck the gospel right out of our church.
Pick your favorite movement from recent popular culture. They are all based on cause-and-effect mentalities. The Green movement. The Occupy Wall St. movement. The Organic Food Craze. Crazy people who run half-marathons and put 13.1 stickers on the backs of their cars. They are all about reaping what you sow. Accepting responsibility. Promoting accountability. But Christianity says the opposite.
Sunday’s gospel starts with some weird language about blood mingling and a historical reference to a construction tragedy of which I am unfamiliar. But the point becomes clear in Jesus’ question of the crowd: “Do you think that they were worse sinners than everyone else?” The repeated answer, of course, is “No!” Sin is equally distributed. All of us—every last person on earth who isn’t the incarnate Son of God—is as sinful as everyone else. When it comes to sin, there are no distinctions.
Stop and think about that for a second. You’re no more sinful than Mother Teresa. You’re no less sinful than Adolf Hitler. Although there’s clearly a huge and almost incomprehensible difference between those two figures of history, we’re all in the same boat when it comes to how God sees us.
Karma takes cause and effect from the human sphere and translates it to the spiritual realm, where it doesn’t belong. But that’s sooooo tempting. I want to think that I’ll be rewarded for my good behavior. It’s easier to avoid sin if I think they’ll come back to haunt me. And, in the human sense, both of those things are true. Good things do come to people who do good things. And bad things happen to bad people. But bad things also happen to good people, and plenty of wicked human beings enjoy life more than society thinks they should. But none of that is God’s work.
If the church is to grow, we must distinguish ourselves from every other movement on the planet. What's unique about Christianity? It's grace. It's God loves you whether you're good or bad. (By the way, you're both.) We believe in a God who accepts the totality of our mistakes and saves us from them anyway. Where else can you hear that?