I’m often surprised at the frequency in which I hear a Christian bring up Karma. As applied, Karma is the great balancer in the universe to right all wrongs and keep each successive day moving along as it should. It might be a warning to a person that a momentary bad deed will come back to haunt them, or an encouragement to a person wronged that retribution is on its way. Spend a few moments sitting at your local coffee shop and you’ll overhear hints of this in the conversations all around you. Whether we profess faith in Jesus or not, most of us live with a deep need for fairness in our daily lives. It’s what makes our world tick.
The concern here is not mainly that Karma is a key belief of many Eastern religions, as most people can’t articulate that history, but rather our need for the universe to play fair. Isn’t this what we sensed was necessary from the time we were kids? Isn’t this what we consoled ourselves with when the bully picked on us on the playground?
So why is this a concern? The answer is as simple as it is abrupt: because God doesn’t play fair. That’s the point of grace, something which every Christian owes his or her life to. To any of us who have submitted our life to Jesus, we should be the first to see our need for forgiveness which runs deeper than our need for fairness. That’s the Good News so often talked about by Jesus and His Church. We don’t have to pay up for our laundry list of mistakes. But how quickly we forget our absolution of our own issues. The Christian’s problem is that our eager acceptance of grace often takes far too long in transforming our simultaneous expectation for fairness.
And this is the point. It is only when we let fairness go that we can love as Jesus has called us to love others. Jesus even addresses this point in the Sermon on the Mount we read in Matthew chapter five. God causes the sun and the rain to bless both the righteous and the unrighteous. How scandalously unfair of Him! What about Karma? Jesus shows us that Karma is ultimately a cosmic form of legalism.
Yet this departure from Karma is precisely what makes following Jesus different than any other type of spirituality or religion. On the cross, God upsets the grand order of cause and effect in a supernatural way. We don’t have to get what we deserve! In fact, we are forever freed from the need to prove ourselves or to ever attempt to be good enough. I’m not sure about you, but the notion of Karma coming in return for my actions fills me with dread, not with an encouraging sense of justice.
It is in the process of slowing down enough to embrace our own need for grace that we gain the ability to treat others the way Jesus described. When we learn to give up our need for Karma and for a fair response to what happens each day we gain the ability to develop genuine trust in Jesus Christ. He gets to judge and decide the fairness scale. While we often expect other people to live subject to our sense of fairness, thank God He doesn’t make us live by it.
• Jeremy Jernigan is executive pastor of creative arts at Central Christian Church. As a second-generation preacher, he has a passion for discovering and communicating truth and has authored the book, “Crowdsourcing the Message.” Connect with him on his blog, TomorrowsReflection.com.