26 July 2018

Karma has a breaking point. Grace doesn’t.

Matthew 18.21-22 KWL
21 Simon Peter came and told Jesus, “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me,
and I’ll have to forgive them? As much as sevenfold?”
22 Jesus told him, “I don’t say ‘as much as sevenfold.’
Instead as much as seven seventyfolds.”

The point of this teaching, as many a preacher will remind us, is to keep forgiving till we lose count.

True, there are those individuals who keep track of offenses to a ridiculous degree. They won’t lose count; they can enumerate every last offense. And if you get ’em angry enough, they will.

But typically they have a breaking point, and it comes way before 490. Won’t even make it to 10. “Three strikes and you’re out” tends to be the common rule, as if baseball’s limits should apply to all humanity. Simon Peter’s seven strikes sounds far more patient and generous than most. (I’m betting he thought so too.)

The reason I bring up forgiveness, and the idea of losing count of the times we forgive, is to reemphasize the Christian lifestyle is about grace. About radical forgiveness. About not keeping a record of wrongs. 1Co 13.5 About loving people like our Father does.

But human nature keeps imposing limits where God means for there to be unlimited grace.

Even “good Christians” will rebuke us for “letting people take advantage of your kindness.” Because to their minds, unlimited grace is wrong. Radical forgiveness is naïve. Not keeping track of how people are wronging you, means you’re getting exploited. You’re only to love them so far. Love them only when they fulfill certain conditions. Cut ’em loose when they stumble. Practice a little tough love; it’s what’s best for them.

It’s because our culture doesn’t do grace. It does karma. People have to earn our compassion, merit our help, be worthy of our time and efforts. Basically our aid isn’t charity; it’s an investment. And if the people we invest in, never ever produce any kind of return on our investments, we’re just wasting our resources. We’re not trying to help the needy; we’re trying to profit off them. It’s not Christianity; it’s capitalism.

This expectation of reciprocity is why a lot of the so-called “love” we see Christians exercise, doesn’t quite fit Paul’s definition of agapi. Our “love” has strings attached. While proper love never fails, 1Co 13.8 this “love” has a limit. Might be three strikes. Might be when the physical attraction wears off. Might be once someone’s borrowed just enough money. “Fool me twice, shame on me” indicates for a lot of people, everyone gets one, and only one, error.

Christians with limited grace.

I went through a long, long period of not having a regular job. It was frustrating. In that time I got a lot of help from my mother. Who was rebuked more than once by fellow Christians for helping me, because she helped me far more than others felt comfortable with.

Yeah, their grace has limits. True of most Christians. It’s because we suck at fruit of the Spirit. We don’t have love, nor any of the traits which define love—little patience, no kindness, no emotional self-control nor humility, little faith, iffy truth, and so forth. Our love isn’t unconditional. It has loads of conditions.

In contrast Jesus practices actual love. But we regularly describe that sort of love as “too radical,” and won’t try it. Or try to find excuses for why Jesus couldn’t really have meant we should practice that in the real world.

And when other Christians give it a shot, we regularly try to shoot ’em down. We offer them “good advice” on how to be proper Mammonists stewards: “You really need to cut them off; you’re not doing them any favors by giving them so much.” Recommendations for tough love. Loads of pop psychology as to why it’s good for the needy to stay needy. And people may earnestly believe this junk too, and have no clue they’re preaching social Darwinism instead of Christianity.

For some of us there’s a far more sinister motive beneath our discouragement: We see Christians demonstrating Jesus-level amounts of grace and compassion, and it exposes the fact we don’t behave the same way. We feel guilty and condemned for our lack of faith. We don’t wanna feel that way about it. So rather than deal with the fact we’re in the wrong, and not really following Jesus, we rebuke those who are following Jesus. It’s hypocrisy—but we psyche ourselves into believing we’re being pragmatic and wise. Jesus would far rather we be wise than loving, right?

So, those people who advised my mom to stop helping me and cut me off: Clearly they didn’t love me. (Didn’t know me, so of course they didn’t love me.) Didn’t care to give me the benefit of the doubt. Don’t really give any needy people the benefit of the doubt; they gotta be needy because of some moral failure, right? Apparently they think the very same way as Job’s so-called friends.

But every Christian knows we could stand to be more forgiving than we typically are. Every single one of us has been a recipient of God’s amazing grace. Every single one of us experiences many other kinds of grace—common courtesy, common generosity, freebies, forgiveness, people “paying it forward.” Even if you totally believe in karma, you’re quite aware you’re not as far on the positive side of the scale as you should be. Every single one of us has been forgiven and blessed far more than we merit. Especially those of us who live in wealthy countries.

So what reasons do we really have for putting caps on grace? None but unthinking ones, or selfish ones.

Start asking yourself whether you really are acting like your heavenly Father, and showing compassion to every needy person you come across… or whether you’re acting like Satan, and preemptively accusing people of being evil and deserving nothing. Jb 1.9-11 Does your attitude reflect God’s unlimited capacity, or the limits of your imagination? What should it reflect?