Australia is overwhelmingly a spiritual nation – 70% of Australians consider themselves spiritual in some sense. If you had to have a guess at the leading spiritual belief, what would it be though? Christianity? Islam? Buddism?
In my experience and opinion, it is none of the major world religions which has captured Australia’s attention but the spiritual belief of functional karma.
I do not mean karma in the sense of the Buddhist and Hindu construct of causality. I mean the western knockoff version – cheap, functional karma. Karma with a little k.
Functional karma shows itself in our language: ‘You get what you deserve, what goes around comes around’, or as one ad put it recently, ‘you deserve to be rewarded for your hard work’. Essentially, life is what you make it – work hard, be a good person and the forces that be will treat you well.
Bono, from U2 describes all of this perfectly:
“You see, at the centre 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 or opposite one. Its clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it”.
On the surface level, this idea of cheap karma is one of the greatest ideas that has worked itself into our cultural consciousness. I mean, when it comes down to it, who doesn’t want to sign up for this? The idea that good behavior will lead to a good life, that evil deeds will always find their comeuppance and that good will be repaid for good is genius in its simplicity and so many of us have subscribed.
It’s only the deeper inspection that raises real questions. Functional karma has a deep-seated flaw – it requires nothing less than perfection for us to confidently reap its rewards. You can work hard, be a ‘good’ person and have a positive impact – but how hard do you have to work for life to work in your favor, how good do you have to be?
Functional karma, at the end of the day will leave anyone trying to end on the positive side of the ledger exhausted. Look around, doesn’t that describe us as a people? The average person today has the same level of anxiety as a mental patient in the 1960’s. We are exhausted.
So we make short-cuts and sidesteps. We make ‘good’ and ‘bad’ subjective, so that anyone can be either as long as they believe it to be true. It doesn’t really matter whether you are a good person, as long as you believe it right?
Here is my issue though. I can’t believe it anymore, I’m not a good person, not even a little bit. On the surface I look one – traveled the world, married young and a friend to many – but when it comes down to it, I am not ‘good’.
I know who I am.
If I have to rely on my own excellence, my own goodness than I am done. I will spend my entire life trying to live up to expectations that I will not meet and will leave myself exhausted – bitter, twisted and alone. If good things happen to good people, then good things will not happen to me.
If you are anything like me, exhausted from trying to live up to impossible standards then Grace is the most freeing word you will ever hear.
“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.
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.
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 humbled….its not our own good works that get through the gates of heaven…
If you are exhausted from functional karma, from the endless effort of being good then this is the best news you will ever receive. Grace is the good news you have been looking for.
I am holding out for grace.
I’m holding out that when my time is done, I will not be judged not on my achievements but the perfect life of Jesus.
Unless God sends his Son into this broken, messed up world to set it free then this world will be shackled to functional karma – a never-ending merry-go-round of work harder, do more, be better that leaves us well short of where we need to be.
Jesus was sent into the world to set people free – to break the chains of everyone enslaved and that is good news. Jesus simply says: “whoever believes in my name will be saved”. Not our efforts, not our excellence, not our attempts to be good – because we’re not. It’s all up to him.
When it comes down to it, I am holding out for Grace because I know exactly who I am.
I’m holding out for Grace because I have no other choice.
I’m holding out for Grace because I am not ‘good’.
Nor will I ever be.