“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Thanks to the influence of Eastern religious movements in this country, we have a fairly common phrase for when something unfortunate has happened to someone. It comes in many forms, but the simplest (and cleanest) statement is this: “That’s Karma.”
While a full description is a good deal more complex than this, at its core, Karma is a Buddhist principle (also with roots in Hinduism) which holds that the things we face are the way they are because of something we’ve done in the past including past lives. If your station in life isn’t very good, you can thank a decision you or one of your past selves made. The universe works to bring balance to life by making sure that our deeds come back to us for good or for ill.
While this all sounds okay in principle, in practice it falls apart. Quickly. This is especially true if you reject the idea of past lives and a cyclical view of time (as I join with historic, orthodox Christianity in doing) which are both crucial to the idea of Karma making any positive sense.
The fact is, things happen to people that don’t jive with what they’ve done all the time. The universe doesn’t operate on a one-to-one correspondence principle when it comes to justice. Sometimes people who are evil experience what seems to be really good ends while the most morally sound people you know might see nothing but an uninterrupted stream of heartache and frustration. This was what caught Solomon’s eye.
God is sovereign, but He often lets life happen to us. He does not stand in the way of the choices we make or the choices other people make. He does not stand in the way of the consequences of those choices either. The truth is, many of those choices come out of the brokenness of sin and bear the attendant fruits.
He is still the God who is just and He will still one day right all wrongs and reward us according to the choices we have made, but He is also the God of love and mercy and errs in that direction as often as He can. He frequently shields us from experiencing the full and immediate consequences of our choices so we have the time and opportunity to get back on track with Him, to receive His grace, and to ultimately receive Jesus’ ends rather than our own.
While this can sometimes be frustrating in the short term, this should be a point of gratitude for us. Even though this world is broken by sin and even though we experience that brokenness in ways that are both unjust and unfair from time to time, our sovereign God is working His good plans to completion all the same. He will ultimately set all things right, not in some kind of blindly retributive way like Karma supposedly does, but in a way that will perfectly reflect both His love and His justice. What’s better for us is that if we have accepted Jesus as Lord and received His wildly unfair offer of grace and mercy, we will receive His reward as well. That’s something Karma definitely can’t offer.