What's Tony Thinking

Karma and Grace


We’re happy to be back in the Wallowa Mountains where there are lots of grace notes. One is the return, after five years, of a pair of mating Red-Shafted Flickers to their hollowed out nest in the old stump near our cabin. The 12′ foot stump is actually one huge bird-feeder which attracts Pileated Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers and Nuthatches among others.

Now, the main theme of this blog is Karma and Grace and the difference between the two. That according to Bono, lead singer of U2. I loved what he had to say here in this interview. Bono does a brilliant job of helping to make the distinction between faith that is focused on God in Jesus Christ, what God has done and is doing, and religion (in its many forms and known by many names) as the human enterprise and systems for all the stuff we are supposed to do to get on God’s good side or to show how spiritual or virtuous we are. Here’s an excerpt from the interview.

“Q: As I told you, I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

“Bono: Yes, I think that’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

“Q: I haven’t heard you talk about that.

“Bono: I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma and into one of Grace.

“Q: Well, that doesn’t make it any clearer for me.

“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 – in physical laws – 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 will you 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.

“Q: I’d be interested to hear that.

“Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep shit. 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.

“Q: The son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

“Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: “Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s mortality as part of your very sinful nature and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions.” The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humble…It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven . . . “

A lot of people, and a lot of people who think of themselves as Christians, think Christianity is a sanctified version of Karma. If that’s true, it’s all on us. There is no grace, no mercy for the failed or failures, for the losers or the lost, which is all of us at one time or another.

But the gospel is the message that it’s not all on us, that perfection is a fool’s errand, that pursing righteous by the rules often ends up in self-delusion and self-righteousness, and that every single one of us stands in need of grace and forgiveness. Moreover, grace is available to all. It is God’s gift coming as a wild bird on the wing transforming death and decay, a stump, into a home for new life. (Two Pileated Woodpeckers on stump at right.)

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