I find it disturbing how many Christians (particularly those under 40) talk about Karma and desiring karma to visit others. Our pop-culture references to karma bear very little resemblance to the actual Hindu belief (at least as I have heard it taught). Our culture thinks of karma as a recompense for slights, “you wronged me now I demand balance by seeing you wronged”. Christians are susceptible to this type of thinking because vengeance & justice are such large themes in the Bible; but what I often hear is a trivialized version of vengeance with no bearing on the reality of Scripture.
So often we want to sink to a tit-for-tat version of vengeance that meats out equal suffering to the one who caused me pain. This is not what we see from God in the Bible; what we see there is justice which absorbs wrongs and transforms them into love. The Cross is this picture, Jesus absorbs the wrongs done to him, willingly suffers to bring about justice and love from humanity. Our petty desire for someone to be pulled over by a cop because that person cut us off is not motivated by justice, it is motivated by pride and a lack of concern for the other person. That person wronged me, let them reap the rewards.
The Bible’s ethic is completely different, it is an ethic motivated by concern and compassion for the other person. The ethic of love says, “I want the other person to learn to be a considerate driver, and perhaps a hefty fine is the only way to teach that lesson. But that fine is a regrettable outcome”. The kind of Karma endorsed by so many Christians today is terrible. The result would be an ever downward spiral of suffering and hatred. Each of us would be constantly being hurt and causing hurt with no hope of happiness or love.
But yes it hurts. It hurts when someone wrongs me and in the heat of the moment (and for a few days after) I am seething. I am deeply grieved by that person’s actions and I want revenge. So if I am not to wish karma upon the person what am I to do? We all have the need to vent, sitting on negative feelings can cause serious emotional problems, so how am I to overcome the hurts others have caused me. Admittedly I am not great at this, but many of the books I’ve read on Christian spirituality say the same thing– read the lament psalms. Scattered throughout the book of Psalms there are poems which express wounding, grief, despair, & anger because of the circumstances of life. These poems represent the prayers of individuals unburdening their hearts before God over the wrongs and injustices done to them. Some like Psalm 137 show deep pain caused by great autocracies, others express general desires for justice in the face of everyday evil.
American Christians seem unwilling to go to the psalms and I think with good reason. If we hold to a view of karma everyone who wrongs us gets punished and I can play ostrich to my imperfections and pride. If I read the Psalms to express my anger to God eventually those psalms are going to be a mirror to my own heart and I am going to have to confront the darkness which hides in me. The belief in karma allows me to distance myself from the person who wronged me; the Psalms force me closer to that person. The Psalms force me to realize that God loves that person as much as me and wants good things for the person who wronged me.
Americans love to claim they are spiritual, but they keep that spirituality in a place they can control, A tit-for-tat karma never pushes anyone to growth, never makes us realize that we deserve every bit of the justice we are wishing on others. We are never forced to ask if we can be the ones to push love and light into a space of evil and darkness. We never suffer out of love. God asks us to take the wrong and help the other grow. God calls us to look in the mirror when we are slighted and see the pride which still remains. God asks us to trust in the God of Justice who will right all wrongs, not with petty retaliation but with the cleansing of all evil. Over and Over in the Bible we see God described as just and vengeful but not in petty ways, rather longing to clean people, removing the cause of evil. Are we going to push ourselves into that mold and accept the deeper spirituality of the Psalms?
Karma allows us to continue to hate or be unconcerned with those around us.
The Psalms force us to see people the way God does, in love.
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