11 Dec Christian Karma- Faith
One of my most vivid memories of Bangkok was the distinct smell: greasy steam and smoke from the food vendors that lined the streets with their small metal carts and fryers, mingled with incense, the aroma of a warm, musky, overpowering perfume that always made you want to cough a little.
Whenever I smell incense, it whisks me back there to the streets, the sirens, the giant buses, the little mopeds, and…the altars. Everywhere. Altars on every block, in every business, and every home. Altars for all sorts of gods. Altars everywhere full of sacrifices like juice boxes, flowers, garlands, or food along with petitioning worshippers. It seemed like everywhere, all the time, people were bustling around creating, purchasing, or sacrificing special garlands made just for that purpose, striving to please the gods, if just for a little while. Hoping that their good deeds sufficiently outweighed their bad and won them the favor of whichever deity they served. A well-known belief called karma.
I hadn’t realized how dangerous the belief was until encountering women in the red-light districts and safe houses, those experiencing extreme forms of suffering and injustice, but whose suffering was often written off, believed to be deserved on account of past crimes. Why else would they be suffering, unless they had done something to deserve it? Karma. Imagine how difficult it would be to get help, get relief, get healing in a culture where everyone else thinks you deserve what you get. Hard.
Can you believe it? Isn’t it unimaginable to think that a sex slave deserves their station? Isn’t it unimaginable that people would really think this is how the world works? That every bad thing that happens is your fault. That you can earn God’s favor by your deeds. So thank goodness we’re over here in Christian land where such things don’t exist, right?
Well, that’s just it.
This past Sunday, Pastor Ken discussed faith in his sermon Advent – Part 2: Faith.
In his sermon, he shared how faith is how we hold on to hope. We know that God always fulfills His promises and faith is our “clinging” to that assurance. This trust—that God is unchanging and fully trustworthy—is like an anchor that keeps us from getting lost in the storms of life. No matter what happens, we know He is ultimately in control and with our welfare in mind. And along these lines, we learn that faith is the opposite of relying on our own effort. Faith is, in fact, admitting that we cannot accomplish that for which we hope. We are limited. Finite. Fluctuating. And rather weak.
And this is hard to admit, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be easier to think that we were in control? I mean, really? Even if you say ‘no’, your human nature disagrees with you. Your personhood defies you. No matter what you want to believe, you gravitate towards wanting to be the captain of your own ship. To think that, if you just prayed the right prayer, served in the right ministries, tithed and gave sufficiently, attended the right worship night, went on the right mission trips, shared the right posts on Facebook, and scrupulously guarded your life from sin, that God would then bend to your wishes. We, brothers and sisters, Christians, we, gravitate towards karma, not faith.
Faith is scary. It’s wild. It means you have no control. It means your best will not merit you anything; you can’t achieve God’s favor with your works. It means your bright thoughts will not merit you anything; you can’t win God’s rewards with your theology. It means you are not the judge and that your condemnation and justification are out of your own hands.
It’s scary….but only if you don’t know the One in Whom you have faith. Faith, at its core, is an invitation. It is inextricably linked to love. Is it any wonder that a healthy marriage requires FAITHfulness, a form of loyalty and steadfastness?
See, I don’t fear divorce, not because my marriage is infallible, but because I know the one who loves me. In my marriage, I know there is a mutual commitment to love, not out of fear of being rejected or left behind, but out of chosen and deliberate devotion. It doesn’t mean the potential for divorce is removed; it simply means it’s irrelevant. My husband could certainly choose to reject me, but I never worry about that. I have faith. I have faith in his love. I have faith in his love and promises to me. And this frees me to love him back, not in an effort to appease him or keep him from leaving me, but simply because I can. Because I can be swept up in the secure knowledge of who he is and who he is to me. This is, I think, the essence of faith.
Faith is our response to the unfathomable love of God towards us
It’s the only rational response to so great a love, a desire, an adoration. In this place of love, fear is irrelevant. In this place, karma is no longer a temptation. In fact, in this place, those who embrace karma are greatly to be pitied—whether Hindu, Buddhist, or yes, Christian. Karma is missing the point. Karma is missing love. Karma is missing Christ.
Faith, however, doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen. They will. Jesus promised that and led the way into the darkest of nights, bidding us to follow. Bad things will happen. They will. Some of them will happen to us. Some of them we will cause. Either way, faith means that we remain fervently loved by our Creator and that He will continue intervening on our behalf, regardless. Faith means we have confidence that one day our endurance will not be in vain, the Lover of our Souls will come back for us. Faith means we don’t think that good things or bad things represent God’s ultimate favor towards us. We are not blessed when good things happen to us. Did you hear that?! When good things happen to you and not someone else, it doesn’t mean God likes you better! And when good things happen to someone else and not you, it doesn’t mean God likes them better. We are blessed because we are loved by God and our destiny doesn’t depend on us, and we are blessed because He invites us to work out His will and purposes on this earth not for Him, but alongside Him. We are blessed simply because we are chosen.
If you have little faith, don’t be discouraged. This isn’t a judgment on you. It is just an invitation. Forget trying to have more faith. Instead, dwell on the wonder of Christ’s love for you and bask in His adoration. Read testimonies of His goodness and work throughout the world and the ages. Be immersed in His Word. Be amazed by His power. Learn His voice. Faith will follow.
And so, with this, Merry Christmas! Enjoy this season of anticipation of Advent, the coming of the Christ-child, your sweetest Lover and Friend.