Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics … every action is met by an equal and opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff. … I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.
I believe in grace. I’ve written about it many times on the blog (here and here for instance). I found it core to the message of Ephesians as I studied and wrote By His Wounds You Are Healed. Yet despite my belief in gospel grace for myself and my commitment to live it out with others, I am constantly seduced away from it. The gravity that is our culture (both unbelieving and believing) pulls us down and away from gospel grace.
I remember a number of disasters in South Korea when I taught there—a gas explosion that killed 150 school children, a mall collapse that killed 500, and others. Seoul was so crowded that an accident that might kill 5 or 10 in the U. S. killed 300 there. With each incident, the culture screamed for a scapegoat. An individual government official or single head of a company would eventually be identified and sent to prison, if he didn’t take his own life first. In reality, there were systemic problems in the Korean infrastructure, not the least of which was a widespread, inbred culture of bribery. But it was easier to cry for the blood of one than address the culpability of many. The culture craved focused karma on the one guy rather than diluted karma across a wider group, and grace or forgiveness was not to be spoken of.
I noticed a similar thing in the aftermath of the teenager raped by a church usher then made to confess in a church discipline service. I read one Christian fundamentalist web forum in particular where the posters were over the top in their cry for the blood of the rapist. “They should tie him up and cut off his ….” They used their over the top language calling for the blood of the rapist to deflect from examining the culpability of a larger group. Like the mall collapse in Seoul, it was easier to cry for the blood of one than address the culpability of many.
We have an unforgiving culture, and we as believers have contributed to it. Because karma is seductive, and grace seems threatening. But I’m with Bono. My hope is that Jesus took my sins on the cross. And Scripture is clear that I can’t choose grace for myself and karma for everyone else.
But like everyone else, I’m much better at telling others to forgive than doing it myself. When something I love is threatened, my energy is aroused and expressed in either active anger or passive-aggressive manipulation. Karma seduces me – hey, they DESERVE it. And I forget that there is a better way.
The crux of grace is forgiving when you’ve been burned, as Christ has forgiven you. What does grace look like in the worst case scenario? What does grace look like for the pedophile? The child murderer? Is there anyone our culture hates more than them? They leave the worst kind of scars on their living victims. But if karma rules the day for even the pedophile or child murderer, it rules the day for all of us. And that is NOT the gospel. Karma’s a bitch, a totalitarian dictator. NOBODY wants her in charge.
Gospel grace in contrast offers hope to both the victim and the offender. If you haven’t yet read Generous Justice by Tim Keller, you really need to read it. He closes with this profound sentence (which I assure you he has proven from Scripture throughout the book), “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor (and abused) is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” Any kind of grace to a perpetrator that doesn’t pursue justice for the victim is no grace at all. There are legal consequences in our culture, a result of God’s common grace to us all. There is no grace found in circumventing the system. Instead, you just delay karma’s hammer, and it hangs over the head of the perpetrator growing larger and larger until it finally falls and crushes them altogether. We all know of cases where a perpetrator comes forward, admits guilt, and enters a plea agreement with a reduced sentence. Our secular legal culture recognizes the value of immediate acknowledgement of guilt. Contrast that to the guy who managed to avoid police for 15 years and then fought charges in court instead of accepting a plea deal. Had someone loved him enough to walk him into a police station 15 years ago (grace), he’d be out of jail today. Instead, a pastor mistook grace to that guy as protecting him from the civil consequences of his sin, and now he’s facing decades in prison. Karma’s a bitch.
Authentic, Biblical grace is so, so, so much better. Grace is not hiding sin. Grace is not allowing someone to continue to wound others. Grace instead frees them to face their sin (and its consequences) head on. If you want to extend grace to someone our culture longs to make a scapegoat (because they have in fact committed an egregious sin), confront them and offer to stand with them while they admit their sin publicly and seek to repair as the legal system requires. Love them with the gospel away from defensiveness and self-protection. Offer them hope in authentic confession.
If you’ve been wounded and long for a scapegoat, don’t get seduced by karma. She’ll suck the life out of you. Because if you choose karma for the pedophile, eventually she’ll find you too. If gospel grace doesn’t inform how we handle the worst of life, it’s no use anywhere.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, … nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,