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Biblical Karma

Do you believe in karma? Not the weird transcendental-reincarnation kind but the practical way you live your life now counts kind. I guess you could call it—in biblical terms—reaping and sowing. However you explain it, there’s a strong salute to it in the Bible. The way we live matters, not just for eternity, but also for now. Because everyday we reap and sow in subtle ways for the kingdom.

In the sitcom My Name Is Earl, the relevance of karma comes full-throttle in the form of a car—smashing into Earl right after he scratches off the winning lottery ticket. During Earl’s recovery he has a catharsis that leads him to believe that what goes around comes around. And, since Earl’s past is tainted with selfish motives and destructive behavior, there’s a pretty long list of things to make-up. The comical plot follows Earl around as he attempts to redeem himself from the history of his malevolent actions, checking people off his list of wrongdoing. I guess you could say that Earl tries to make karma work for him.

For the most part, reaping and sowing doesn’t come as swift for us as it does for Earl. More than likely, we go about our lives storing up things that don’t look like much on a daily basis but over time the accumulation is astounding. A little deceit here, coupled with a small addiction to pornography, or a meager portion of jealousy, greed or gossip. On a one-time basis these issues may seem manageable, but when the weight of days adds up, the sheer tonnage comes crashing down on our unsuspecting lives. This answers the question of the failed marriage of twenty-five years and the bitter rebellion of an eighteen-year-old leaving her parents—slow and steady patterns that build a maze of darkness that finally reap within themselves the seeds of pain and hurt. It doesn’t happen in an instant, it’s more of a slow-and-steady matriculation but it always appears as if it comes out of nowhere, but, really, it’s been there all along. Building. Waiting. Storing.

The flipside is also true. When we labor in obscurity with love and kindness in the simple things of life—a cup of cold water, a deep but meaningful prayer, an act of selflessness, a heart of worship or a temptation thwarted, then we also experience the positive weight of the kingdom in an ever-increasing peace that comes like it’s always been there … waiting. And, it’s true, the weight of these small things is powerful, God uses them to transform us.

The Bible is full of stories that tell of lives that get their reciprocal due. Jacob cheats his older brother out of his blessing and later gets deceived by marrying the wrong woman (which just happens to be an older sister, not the younger.) David cheats, lies and kills to get the woman of his lustful dreams and in an ironic moment he pronounces judgment on himself. There’s Saul, Samson and many others, as well. It couldn’t be truer—we reap what we sow. What we choose to do in this life matters, it all counts. However, there’s a big difference in understanding this principle and how it relates to God’s love.

We don’t earn God’s love—it’s given to us as an unmistakable grace. The beauty in the biblical narrative is that we are not bound by a list of past wrongs; we don’t walk through our lives in an effort to redeem our past offenses, instead, we come to God as children with a desperate need for the cycle to be broken. We still may reap the consequences of our past, but with Christ it’s bearable—it’s possible.

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Of course, there’s more to reaping and sowing than going through the motions—our sophomoric attempts to make God, like karma, work for us misses the point. God wants our lives to match up to His will, to His ideal of goodness through Christ; He’s more concerned about our passionate failures than our plastic attempts at cheating destiny. This plot might work for TV, but not for real life.

As Christians, we don’t enter the paradigm of reaping and sowing as hedonistic moneychangers waiting to get our goods, either. Instead, we enter the paradigm as people who can bring glory to God in our everyday actions for the kingdom—to bring the full weight of things in our lives to reflect Christ. In this sense, reaping and sowing doesn’t become a master or a heavy burden, it becomes freeing, providing an exodus from sin and doubt through the promises of God. And, it understands that a good life in the kingdom really is good.

(By the way, My Name is Earl had to shut down for a few weeks recently because Jason Lee, the actor who plays Earl, got the chicken pox. And, rather than making a tasteless joke about it being bad karma to make a show about bad karma, I’ll just reference you to the tag line of the show: “karma is a funny thing” … Oh, yes it is.)

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