Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Stephen Davis, retired professor of the philosophy of religion at Claremont University. In preparation for the meeting, I read Dr. Davis’s book called Christian Philosophical Theology, which includes a chapter contrasting two basic approaches to religion throughout the world. The first—which can be found in much of the East—is a religion of karma, and the second—prominent in the Abrahamic religions of the West—is a religion of grace.
The first approach has a lot to recommend it—which explains its great endurance across the centuries. A karmic approach says that, by a cosmic spiritual law, we are punished or rewarded according to our moral activities. If we do bad things, we will suffer, either in this life or a life to come. And if we do good things, we will be rewarded, again either here or in the hereafter. Karma might not be immediate, as is the law of gravity (remember John Lennon’s playful song “Instant Karma”), but in the long run, people are rewarded or punished according to merit. And this satisfies our sense of fairness and justice.
Now a religion of grace is different. It teaches that all people are sinners and hence deserving of punishment, but that God, out of sheer generosity, gives them what they don’t deserve. Think of one of the most popular lines in Christian poetry: “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” In terms of a karmic religion, wretches deserve a wretched fate, and it would be unfair for wicked people to be given a great gift. But devotees of a religion of grace exult in this generosity. Think in this context of the parable of the workers hired at different times of the day or the story of the Prodigal Son. Those make sense only in a religion-of-grace context.
Read more at Word on Fire – https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/grace-or-karma/5562/