Christ in a Karmic Age

Every religion and philosophy has a version of the Golden Rule. Until Christ showed up on the scene two thousand years ago, the rule was almost always expressed in the negative — do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.

It is, if you will allow, a very libertarian philosophy. We can do X, Y, or Z because they do not harm our neighbors. It is the embodiment of karma in today’s culture. We think that we should be allowed to do that which we please as long as we do not harm others. We think that if we do bad things to others, bad things will be visited on us.

When bad things happen to us or someone else and we think the perpetrator has gotten away with it, the average person tends to think that at some point something bad will happen to the perpetrator.  “Karma’s a bitch,” the saying goes.

Either God will smite them or fate will intervene. Likewise, many Christians and others of faith think that when we consciously sin, at some point we are going to be punished, rebuked, or otherwise have our comeuppance. This worldly notion of karma that pollutes even the thinking of many a devoted Christian is not very Biblical and it is something preachers should work harder to combat.

Not only did Christ tell us to refrain from acting in a bad way, but he commanded we act in a positive way. He told us to do to others what we would have them do to us. It was not a live and let live philosophy.  It was also not a call for the good to be a worldly good — affirming others as they are that they might affirm us.  It was a call to do Christ’s good and to love in Christ’s love. In a karmic age, Christ forces us to confront the idea of grace — a grace that means we have forgiveness without a sword of Damocles hanging over us at any moment dropping should we run afoul of karma.

Grace means Christ has chosen us though we are sinners. His act of grace toward us, and not ourselves, negates karma. It means we must show mercy and offer forgiveness even when we wish not to. It means we strive to be better than we are as Christ works in us, irreversibly changing us through the process of sanctification. Grace makes us more aware of our sin because we remember Christ paid for our sins.

Karma paints an incomplete picture accepted by too many as the complete picture of life. Grace paints the whole and true picture. Those who believe in karma can accept that “the wages of sin is death” (though they often ignore what sin actually is) and even that “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”  But karma can neither fathom nor accept that Christ is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through” Christ. Karma cannot accept that “it is finished,” a statement not of succumbing to death, but of the execution of a contract between the saved and their Savior.

If we had Christ on the cross without grace, the cost of karma would mean our instant death as all our sins were placed on Christ. Karma can only exist in the absence of Christ on the cross because no amount of good deed could ever offset the negative karma of our sins leading to Christ’s death. But his resurrection and conquering sin and death gives us His grace. It is Christ’s grace that overwhelms the world through a living sacrifice the blood from which washes away all sins.

Christ’s sacrifice and grace make us aware of the conflict in ourselves. As Paul wrote in Romans,  “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

Too many in the modern age embrace karma, not Christ.  They see no need to be rescued from their body.  They do not see themselves a slave to sin because they reject what Christ’s grace would show us to be sin.  The scripture they quote most often is “God helps those who help themselves,” which is not scripture, but Aesop.

Karma tells the world to do no harm and that should one do harm, harm will be visited back on them.  Karma is of the world and conforms to the world. So as the world drifts further and further from Christ, the acts that accumulate good karma less and less reflect the Ruler of Heaven, and more and more reflect the ruler of this world. Those who do good in the world of karma hoping for good karma back, do things that please the world hoping the world will please them.

Christ says we must love our neighbor. Karma is content to accept our neighbor’s sin.  Grace shows we must love Christ above all other passions. Karma says we must embrace passion itself because that which is pleasing to the world visits pleasure on the world. Christ says the world is hostile to the things of God, which means the pleasures of the world, descending to hedonism, are hostile to those in Christ. Hedonism leads to self-indulgence. Christ leads to self-awareness.

The battle between Christ and karma leads us to the point Christians face in the twenty-first century.  Gay marriage, tolerance of sins of the flesh as alternate forms of normal, the triteness of the worldly repeating “judge not lest ye be judged” without understanding its meaning or context, conform to a karma that itself conforms to the world. The world forgets that Jesus also said to “go, and from now on sin no more.”

The world now claims we cannot love the sinner without also loving, or at least tolerating, the sin - even what the sinner does not think is a sin, or is in denial of that sin. But to tolerate the sins of the flesh and hedonism is to do to others what you should not want them to do to you. The Christian tries to love the sinner, but not the sin —  because we want the sinner led away from sin and back to Christ's grace. Yet the world treats Christian grace as an insult unless the grace a Christian shows becomes worldly — tolerant of sin without the necessity of repentance or Christ. This conflict between karma and grace leads more and more Christians into danger, making the gospel they share weak or nonexistent.

Christian grace becomes an insult unless the grace a Christian shows becomes worldly — tolerance for sin without the necessity of repentance or Christ. This conflict between karma and grace leads more and more Christians into danger, making the gospel they share weak or nonexistent.

These Christians begin to think we should just live and let live. They think Christians can leave the world to its sin. They rationalize that the Bible is only relevant to the Christian.  They think the sins of the world are of the world and as long they don’t participate, they can give tacit blessing to others participating. They do not realize that the world, hostile to Christ, will not leave the Christian alone. Karma demands Christians accept the world too.  As long as there are Christians who hold firm to Christ and the Word, the world and Christ will remain in karmic imbalance. Karma shows no grace and no mercy.

Still, these Christians begin to say things like, “gay marriage does not affect my marriage, therefore why should I care”; “Christ is love therefore we should not stand in the way of love”; and “I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it's a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed … this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.”

Grace says we should show love, compassion, and understanding to everyone as we are all sinners.  But grace also shows us the cross, Christ on the cross, and the dire consequences of affirming people wherever they are.

Karma says we need to affirm people. Grace says we need to affirm Christ.

Grace gives us a reprieve from karmic beat down for sins because all our sins beat down Christ, put him on a cross, and still he rose again. Christians should not succumb to karmic temptation to conform to the world and avoid the fight. We confront this week Christ, battered, bruised and beaten, bleeding and dying on a cross, then overcoming it all for our sake. He refused to conform to the world so that “everyone who lives and believes in [him] shall never die.”

With Christ risen, we should love our neighbors, but we should also be clear that we cannot condone the very things Christ conquered on our behalf.  Christ and his grace are greater than the world and its karma. There can be no truce between grace and karma just as there can be no truce between Christ and the world.