What's the Difference Between Grace and Karma?
I sat at a table of friends as one relayed her experience with road rage. She told how she absent-mindedly merged into traffic and almost hit an oncoming car. The driver of said car then lashed out with a tirade of abuse and obscenity. Once the traffic cleared the car sped past her, still yelling abuse.
Funnily enough, a few minutes later my friend noticed the abusive driver pulled over by highway patrol.
Someone at the table piped up and said a word I hate to hear, "Karma,” – the insidious, normalised, celebrity-endorsed worldview that what you put out comes back to you.
You don't have to go far to hear people refer to karma - on reality television, the radio, in conversation. Regardless of its Buddhist and Hindu origins, karma has seeped into our Judaeo-Christian society. Like its cool. A new standard.
In reality it is neither.
Karma is not Biblical nor is it life according to the New Testament. God's kingdom operates by grace.
And grace is very different to karma.
What's so amazing about karma?
Karma refers to intentional actions that impact one's future. It is a key concept in many world religions, including Sikhism and Taoism. Our western understanding of karma is the doctrine of inevitable consequence, where whatever you do is returned to you.
And there is nothing amazing about it.
Karma teaches you get what you deserve. Worse still, it teaches you get what your past deserves, even if it isn't your past.
In modern society people rejoice when the wicked get what they deserve in the form of financial hardship, health issues or relationship struggles.
While many people - including those who have no other association with Eastern religion - live by karma, there is a higher way.
Looking for Grace
The Bible does not teach karma. It teaches grace. Grace is where you get what you don't deserve. Grace is unmerited favour. It is love and mercy bestowed upon us by God because He desires us to have it. As you can see, very different to karma. More like polar opposites.
It was grace, not karma, that rescued the Baby Moses from death. It was grace that allowed Queen Esther to plead for the survival of her people. Grace helped Nehemiah rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Grace appeared face to face with Saul on the Damascus road.
Grace reached out to you and me while we were sinners deserving death and took our place.
Grace. Amazing grace.
And it disappoints me that we have forgotten. It disappoints me we are more inclined to look for karma than we are to look for grace.
In the book, Bono: iIn Conversation with Mishka Assayas, Bono commented, “I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge... I'm holding out for grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross...”
If the world knew the magnificence of God’s grace they would be holding out for it as well. Because I've got a feeling society doesn't need more karma but a whole lot more grace.
If there was more grace there would be less road rage.
If there was more grace there would be less divorce.
If there was more grace families would talk to each other.
If there were more grace there would be less racism.
If there were more grace there would be less violence.
If there were more grace there would be more kindness.
Getting what you deserve is horrible because if we're honest, we all deserve a rotten life. Getting what you don't deserve is some kind of wonderful. And it is all around us. If we opened our eyes we would see grace working on the planet each and every day.
It was grace that got my sister-in-law an upgrade to business class on her trip from London to Australia. It was grace that caused a stranger to give my children free tickets to the zoo. It was grace that delivered groceries to single moms on Christmas Eve. Grace was the parking space at the Mall. Grace was the out of the blue phone call from a friend. Grace was the smile of a child. Grace was the not so random act of kindness you received.
Grace. Pure grace.
Getting what you don't deserve. A gift from God.
Let's look for the incorruptible, glorious gifts of God's grace working through and around us in everyday life. No one deserves the consequences of karma. We all need amazing grace.
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I'm Sarah Coleman, an Australian author and pastor. If your heart resonated with my thoughts, sign up for my weekly blog, plus receive my free e-Book Be Amazing: You Know You Want To (in pdf and MP3).
Original publication date: March 3, 2016