The Difference Between Grace and Karma


I appreciate what Bono, the lead singer of the rock group U2, has to say about grace: “It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God of the Universe might be looking for company, real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.” Bono explains that the idea of karma is central to all religions:

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 an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the 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 you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of our actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff…. 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 that I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

The above quote, found in Joanna Weaver’s book Lazarus Awakening, may have shot it’s way into my top five all time favorite quotes.

I teach World Cultures and Geography, and in that class we spend nearly an entire quarter studying various world religions. One thing that I stress to my students is that there are various themes that are found in ALL religions, Christianity included, because there are certain questions that all of mankind asks: “Why am I here?” “Why is there evil in the world?” “How do I make sense of this life?” “What happens when I die?” What sets Christianity apart from other religions, is that other religions stop at an answer that satisfies the intellectual understanding of man.

The above example is perfect. Karma really is a concept found within every religion because it is a fundamental principle of life, written on the hearts of all people. It is easy to understand and easy to blame for both the good and the bad that occurs in this life. It is also the natural instinct of people; you do good to me, I’ll return the favor. You do bad to me, you’ve asked me to also return the favor. Karma is fleshly man at his best and worst, but it’s flesh. The cosmic balance of the Universe would be upended if something were to happen that changed Karma. I have friends who live their lives attempting to keep the balance of Karma and often proclaim their frustration with said Universe when they feel their good outweighs their bad yet bad keeps happening. “What gives, Universe?”

What gives is that Someone did enter history and upend the cosmic balance of Karma. “Grace defies reason and logic.” Karma only “works” if we are able to do more good than bad, but if we are honest with ourselves, even attempting to keep up with our own good and bad actions is more than the average person can manage. We give too much credit to our good and not enough to our bad. We only count acts of commission, not neglectful omission. Karma is something that keeps us in control; in control of our lives, our destinies. Grace takes control from us and places it firmly on the shoulders of another. And that is a concept at which self-sufficient humanity balks.

That is why I know within the depths of my heart that Grace trumps Karma. I know because it makes no sense to me. It truly defies human logic, therefore it transcends me. And any faith worth following better be a faith deeper than I can understand. Because I know me. And if all the answers can be found within myself, then I’m in trouble. Much like Bono, I have done a lot of stupid stuff, and I for one am thankful that I can look beyond the Karmic laws of the Universe to the Graceful love of the Creator of the Universe who reached into Karma and offered Grace.

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6 thoughts on “The Difference Between Grace and Karma

  1. This is beautiful, I really appreciate it. I’m seeing this link being shared around facebook right now, just so you know 🙂 Really good stuff.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Erin! This is something I have struggled to discuss with friends who practice other faiths. One cannot say “Karma doesn’t exist” and just cram Jesus down people’s throats instead. In working through how to view the world through the lens of grace, this explanation is at least a start to understanding how the two work together.

  2. Karma and Grace are not concepts of different religions as many people think. Karma is as the author says, part of all religions, i.e. you reap what you sow.

    Karma means that you get back what you give. Grace on the other hand comes only if u deserve it, which occurs if you have unconditional love… so grace also comes from within in a way. It erases Karma because unconditional love absolves one of doing bad things as one forgives everything and does not absorb or generate negative vibrations, thoughts or actions.

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