“Does God really forgive sin?” he asked.
I stopped in mid sentence. Everyone else in the room leaned forward to see how the preacher might handle a direct challenge to his orthodoxy right inside the walls of sanctity.
“Well…” I stared at the man’s face trying to read his intent, and stalling for time in the hope that I’d think of something clever I could use to segue back toward my topic.
“The Bible says he does” I said. “I believe that.” “Not so clever,” I thought to myself and looked back down at my notes to find my place.
Ten minutes later he chimed in again. “Doesn’t the Buddha suggest that there are many paths to God?” He smiled like a Cheshire cat well aware that he had the floor in a room of a couple hundred people. Over the years I’ve learned to overlook indifference to my talks. Sleep, boredom, and wrinkled brows all come with the turf. But I’d never had to deal with heckling.
“Sure,” I said. “Many paths, but in my experience only one leads up the mountain.” Everyone else in the room breathed a sigh of relief and silently cheered my clever reply. I cleared my throat and continued.
He waited. Then at a particularly poignant moment he added one more question. “Why did Jesus die?”
I swallowed whatever words were coming next. Then from out of nowhere an idea congealed. It appeared full and mature in one instant, like the moment when shaken cream becomes butter. I thought about dumping the full load then and there, but something checked me. “You know, this isn’t the best situation for the two of us to have this conversation. These are great questions, but we have a big audience eavesdropping on us. Come up later and let’s talk.”
He did. When I had finished the session the young man came and sat down in the front row. We introduced ourselves. His name was Andrew. He began telling me about his spiritual journey. Andrew had tried various traditional religions and found them all wanting. He’d fallen into drugs and had found help in a rehab program that taught a form of New Age philosophy. His mother had brought him to church that evening, hoping it could rekindle his faith in Jesus.
At a pause in the flow of his story I returned the conversation to his last question and to the new idea that had come to me. “So, you believe in karma?”
“Of course. We reap what we sow. What goes around comes around. There is no escaping it. Karma is simply the sum of all action and the leveling of accountability on everyone for their choices and the implications of their choices. Karma runs the universe.” He knew his stuff.
“So we are all accountable for all our actions?”
“Yes, this is the essence of karma, and karma is the essence of all religion.”
“I agree,” I said, suddenly uneasy about the path I decided to take up the mountain. “So what is your karma?” I asked.
He paused. “What do you mean?”
“If you are responsible for all your actions, have all your actions been good enough to ensure a certain good reward? Or are you waiting for the other shoe to drop?”
“I’ve been in jail for drugs and other shit. I’ve made mistakes I guess.”
“So if karma means you must reap what you sow, what will you reap?”
“I’ll cycle through my lives until I ascend to goodness.”
“Sounds like a long shot. Jesus believes in karma too. So do I.”
He looked suspiciously at me.
“I also know that I’m hopeless because of it,” I went on. “I too have done too much harm in my life to ever have the hope of escaping the vindictive dropping shoe. I’ve never been in jail, but I’ve broken promises and used my words to tear other people to shreds, and I’ve murdered people’s reputations. When I reap what I’ve sown, I’ll be in deep trouble. Christians admit this.”
“I never thought so.”
“We also believe that God cares about this problem. He has to abide by the law of karma, but it grieves him. So he did something about it.”
“I don’t believe in a personal god.”
“Okay. I won’t argue that now. But let’s say there was a real human from history, someone who lived and never failed in any way. His karma would be perfect, right?”
“Christians believe that Jesus is that person. He was perfect in action and intent and therefore he could expect to reap perfect rewards.”
“So, I reap what I sow, which is not good; Jesus reaps what he sows, which is all good. What if there were a way for us to trade destinies?”
“Can’t happen. That’s against karma.”
“True. But most ancient cultures talked about something called a blood covenant. In a covenant two parties exchange destinies by exchanging blood oaths. It’s a powerful act. Christians believe that when Jesus died, he made a blood covenant with us. He took on the karma of the world – all the accumulated garbage – and absorbed it. Karma of course says there is no magic in the world. God couldn’t just pretend the bad karma wasn’t there. The corruption had to go somewhere. So it went into Jesus. We say Jesus became the toxic waste dump of the universe. He took our karma… and he gave us his. In exchange, we get all his blessing. That’s what the blood exchange in our communion meal is all about. It’s a blood transfusion, a covenant, life for life, destiny for destiny, karma for karma.”
“Is this really Christianity?”
“I’ve never thought of it this way before you asked your question, but yes, I think it is.”
Andrew stood, shook my hand and walked away. I’ve not seen him again.