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Lenten Devotions 2015: Grace Vs Karma

GraceThe main reason people are still talking about Mother Teresa and her ministry to the destitute in Kolkata is due to the worldview she adhered to in her life. Teresa’s worldview—the way she looked at the world and in particular fellow human beings—was that of grace. The rich and capable people who could serve the poor with their resources chose not to do so mainly because of their worldview. This worldview is characterized by karma. If you subscribe to the worldview of karma, you would indubitably believe the popular sayings such as:

“We reap what we sow…we sow what we reap”

“If the good is sown, the good is collected”

“What goes around comes around”

“Do good and good will come back to you”

“People pay for what they do”

“You get what you give, whether it’s bad or good.”

Thus, the natural corollary of karma worldview is that you do not engage with the world and its problems. You leave the world to go the way it is destined to go. You leave people in their sufferings for that is their destiny due to their past karma. You do nothing to alleviate misery and poverty. You do not spend time and resources in researching the root causes of sicknesses and produce better treatments, medicines, and vaccines, and so on and so forth.

On the other hand, if you subscribe to the worldview of grace, you would realize that we are not good enough in ourselves and need the grace of God to save us. Grace means God loved us so much that he decided to reveal himself fully to us in and through Jesus Christ (John 3: 16). The grace of God not only saves us from sins but enables us to be a channel of His grace to others (I Corinthians 15: 10). In short, the following summarize the effects of a worldview of grace:

Grace enables you to see the world in light of hope.

Grace enables you to find beauty, hope, positivity, and possibilities all around you.

Grace helps you see people in misery through the eyes of God and God does not just sit around doing nothing. Rather, He works out the grace through us to find solutions for the problems of the world.

Grace makes you recognize that you are already part of the Kingdom of God; therefore, you would do everything possible to not only pray but also help bring the Kingdom of God on earth.

Grace empowers you to see yourself as salt and light in the world; therefore, your words and actions would reflect the characteristics of salt and light.

This Lenten season, therefore, let’s pause to consider which worldview defines us: karma or grace? Which perspective would you like to view the world with? Some of us who are saved by nothing but grace still think and operate under the law of karma. For example, some think that by doing a few pious looking deeds such as giving up meat or chocolate they could keep Lent holy and please God while their lives remain unchanged. May the grace of God dispel such thinking from us and may we choose to be a channel of God’s free-flowing grace in the needy world.

Published inLenten Devotions 2015


  1. Vikas Massey Vikas Massey

    This season you are churning out gems… I felt like scribbling too… Please forgive me if I inadvertently to hurt you.

    I slightly disagree with you on the interpretation of theory of Karma as prescribed in Hindu ethics. Not a scholar as yourself however at some point – not too distant past – in life I was working on a paper to compare what different religions actually preach and what is practised.

    Theory of Karma is more often than not is an excuse gate for followers of Hindu ethics. For if these followers read and understand Gita, in Chapter 3 and 4 It is written that One must perform his Karma to sustain self, society and the universe without attraction to the fruit with a disciplined mind focused on eternal spirit. It goes on to say what you have also mentioned that Suffering is the reaction to the Karma in near or distant past.

    Even Bible in Galatians says, “What you sow, so shall you reap.” The only difference in Christian and Hindu theory of Karma is the reincarnation which the Bible rejects. If we remove that both are same. Christianity is a modern day religion versus Hinduism an ancient belief. Teachings in Bible I find are refined version of ancient religions of world taken together.

    I see a lot many Christians who attend Church but do not know if a chapter falls in Old or New testament. We say Grace and Gita talks of a disciplined mind focused on eternal spirit.

    This Lenten and even beyond is a never ending season to learn the true meaning of Karma (as an actions in this world) and Grace ( as a source of peace, joy and contentment obtained through performance of good Karma). One cannot obtain Grace without a continuous consistent Action… for in time, we reap the rewards , if we do not give up.

    May Lord bless the people in India with some knowledge of their own religion and traditions and a courage to follow it in spirit not just a recitation of mantras in morning and evening but performance of all duties towards self, society and cosmos in eternal spirit. Amen.

    • Thanks for your comments. No, I’m not hurt when someone engages here with my posts, as I value feedback. I don’t claim knowledge of any religious system, but I think of myself on a spiritual journey and value any help/direction and route corrections by fellow travelers!
      Karma has a variety of meanings. The doctrine of Karma and its meaning is quite complex and it has also evolved over different periods of Indian religions. So, it will take a sizable space and time to be expounded. I try limiting my “devotions” here to about 500 words so even a very busy person could find a few minutes to benefit from them. However, let me try responding to your concerns.

      I think you’re confusing the meaning of karma as an “act” or “action,” that is a necessity for everyone’s existence, with the “karma” as a theological concept or as a law of causality (cause and effect) employed to explain the sufferings of life just like it is done in every religious system. What is meant by “karma” as a sacrificial or ritual “act” (as in karmakanda) during the Vedic period is not the same meaning of karma as one’s moral obligation used in the discourse of the Bhagwad Geeta.

      Most believers of karma worldview understand individual karma to mean: “If I do X, then Y happens; and Y is the result of my past X action.” Good actions reap good results and bad actions result in suffering and pain. However, they’re at a loss to understand and explain when something happens at a large scale such as an accident in which several people die or a natural calamity (an act of God!?) such as tsunami that claims thousands of lives. Whose karma was it the result of? Was it the result of collective karma of all who died or the result of the karma of individuals themselves? It is difficult to answer these questions for the believers in individual karma; therefore, it is also difficult for them to justify actions of removing of societal injustices and wrongs. It is also hard to motivate believers of karma to engage in helping others for the betterment of their life, which is actually the result of their own actions in the past.

      Furthermore, believers of karma do not like the idea that they’re at the mercy of an omnipotent and omniscience God. Logically speaking, if you fully believe in the law of causality, there is no room for an omnipotent celestial Being; consequently, there is no place for grace or mercy in your life!

      Moreover, since X happens because of Y and Y is the result of X, it naturally leads one into a vicious cycle, which the followers of karma call the “karma samsara” or the cycle of rebirths. The goal of an individual is to escape this karmic cycle. As only an individual is wholly responsible for his/her actions, he/she alone should strive for salvation or release from the “karma samsara,” without any outside help. Because of your X actions, Y is the result; so you’re not committing any “sin” against a Supreme Being. Hence, there’s no room for any grace of that Supreme Being.

      As for the concept of karma in the biblical literature; yes, there is no denying that the concept exists as it has been part of almost all religions. However, it is the doctrine of grace and its absolute necessity for the believer’s life and salvation rather than karma that is emphasized in the Bible (please see the first few chapters of the book of Romans). Yes, the Bible and particularly the New Testament talk about good works (karma) and the need for a believer to engage in good deeds. However, the major difference here is that the forgiveness of our sins, our salvation now, and the eternal life after death is NOT dependent on our good deeds. That is absolutely the work of the grace by God which we need to appropriate by faith. As the Apostle Paul clearly states, we are not saved BY our good deeds but by grace FOR good deeds:

      “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” ( Ephesians 2: 3- 10).

      Your quotation from Galatians 6: 7: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” must be seen in the larger context of what Apostle Paul is saying to the believers who are already saved by grace. He’s not exhorting them to do good deeds for their future salvation or eternal life. Paul said it is seeding time now and the reaping time will be later in the afterlife. Therefore, believers should be busy doing the sowing by engaging in good deeds of the spirit rather than carnal deeds. Again, like Ephesians, these good deeds are done not to earn our salvation because that is by grace alone, but because we are saved by grace for doing good deeds as did Mother Teresa and a million other believers down through the centuries.

      I don’t agree that “Christianity is a modern day religion.” First, I don’t consider “The Way” of Christ a religion even though it has been made a religion like other religions over the centuries. Second, Christ lived more than 2000 years ago, that hardly makes it “modern!” Even though I don’t agree, but even if one takes your words at face value, do you use at work and at home the “refined” versions of Windows/Android/iOS or the raw older/beta versions? 😉

      Lastly, your statement, “one cannot obtain Grace without a continuous consistent Action” once again confuses karma as act with karma as worldview of causality. Moreover, it completely defeats the meaning and purpose of grace. Grace is NOT grace if you have to work for it. Instead, grace is what you need but don’t deserve! It’s the sheer mercy of God that he decides to give you what you need but don’t merit due to your works/actions.
      May the Lord continue to lead you and into into deeper spiritual truth of the grace of God during this Lent. Blessings!

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