Pastoral Perspectives

We Need Grace Not Good Karma

Through a recent conversation I had with a Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) driver, I was once again reminded that one’s worldview and belief system are not merely matters that only involve our intellect. Indeed, ideas do matter and what we believe or how we think about something often has the power to shape our emotional responses and does influence the way we relate and empathise with others.

In the case of this particular PHV driver, I was mentioning to him about the sorry plight of those Malaysian job scam victims who were smuggled to countries like Cambodia and Myanmar and forced to work in a call centre as a scammer themselves. Instead of finding employment and being given proper accommodation, these victims were imprisoned in a compound surrounded by barb-wires and were beaten and starved whenever they failed to meet their target in scam proceeds. There were also reports that some were threatened to have their organs harvested if they were unable to work.

I must admit that when I was sharing my indignation over how some humans can be so wicked towards another human, I had assumed that the driver would share my sentiments. However, his somewhat nonchalant response took me by surprise. I never expected that someone would hold to such a perspective when it comes to matters of justice, culpability and suffering.

Basically, the driver commented that one should not be too quick to take the side of the victims and suggested that those guilty perpetrators are not entirely to be blamed. This is because in his worldview, there is this concept of karma where one’s actions in this life will have consequences in the next life, either positive or negative, based on the moral quality of those actions. In the case of the scam victims, the driver is of the opinion that the reason for their suffering is that they are merely paying back for some wrongdoing in their past. According to him, there may even be this possibility that in the victims’ previous life, they were the guilty ones who had harmed their scammers.

Whereas I was sympathetic to the victims and hoped that those involved in the job scam syndicate will be duly punished by the law, the PHV driver deemed that justice is already being carried out to some extent. This is because in traditional Easter religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, karma is the spiritual law of moral causation, an inescapable law of cause and effect that governs the universe. In other words, you get what you deserve.

Since it is believed that the human being, his self or soul is seen as eternal and reincarnated through multiple lives, it matters little if the guilty party manages to get away scot-free in this life. Due to the law of karma, one’s past sins are bound to catch up with him in his subsequent lives. Unless this person somehow attains “enlightenment” and manages to escape from this burdensome cycle of existence, no other external force can absolve him of the consequences of his actions.

Not surprisingly, the idea of karma also implies that there is little need for a divine being who is a just and righteous Judge to vindicate the innocent and punish the guilty, putting an end to all wickedness, evil and suffering once and for all. Put simply, justice is not an outworking or reflection of the attributes of a holy and loving God who will make things right but simply an impersonal, enigmatic system of balancing the scales of right and wrong, good and bad.

According to the law of karma, there is no one whom you can ultimately trust and depend on for your eternal well-being and for justice to be carried out on your behalf except to somehow acquire enough good karma through good works and certain spiritual practices.

In addition, to expect or desire evil and suffering to be eradicated is but to be chasing after the wind. After all, they will continue to exist in order for those who are guilty to atone for their past transgressions. In fact, one could arrive at this grim conclusion that in this world, evil simply gets “recycled” since there is no promise of divine forgiveness except a certainty that we are responsible for our present afflictions.

During the course of my conversation with the PHV driver, I tried to explain to him that Christians have a very different worldview when it comes to our convictions on the various ideas mentioned above. For example, I shared with him that in contrast to Buddhist beliefs, the Bible teaches us that humans only have a single life here on earth and that our eternal destiny is determined by our relationship with God (Hebrews 9:27-28).

While I agreed with him that religions seek to teach people to be and do good, I highlighted to him the uniqueness of the Christian faith with regards to how one’s sins can be forgiven. In contrast to all the religions that focus on man’s efforts, Christianity speaks of a loving and gracious God who offers sinful humanity the gift of forgiveness and redemption when they repent and trust in the saving work of His Son, Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is solely by God’s grace that any of us get to experience the blessings, whether material and spiritual now and evermore when Christ returns.

Seeing that the driver was somewhat hesitant to consider his own destiny after this present life, I urged him to prayerfully consider the claims of Christ. I explained to him that abiding by the law of karma will bring him no hope whatsoever in contrast to the blessed hope that one can have when we trust in Jesus (Romans 15:13, 1 Peter 1:3). Hopefully, in accordance to the riches of God’s mercies, it will not be long before this driver comes to put his faith in Jesus. After all, saying “yes” to Jesus has nothing to do with good karma but everything to do with a good and gracious God.

Rev Edwin Wong

April 30, 2023