Upended by grace, freed from the past

I never thought I’d find myself quoting Bono with approval twice in successive posts, but his much-quoted comments on Karma vs Grace bear repeating here:

You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics – in physical laws – every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

This comes from an interview with the French music journalist Michka Assaya (not Rolling Stone, to which it is often attributed). A few more interviews like that when I was reading the music press in my youth would have done me the world of good. So much for Frank Zappa’s description of rock journalism as “people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read”.

However, what I really wanted to mention here was the passage from Jacques Ellul that Anthony Sacramone quotes in the post linked above. Ellul describes how Christ frees us from our past of transgression and sin through the cross:

By the intervention of Christ we are freed from the past. This is simple enough if we cling to the familiar and simple theological truth that my past is the past of transgression and sin, that by the cross I am pardoned and redeemed, that God does not impute my sin or hold my faults against me, that these, and with them my past, are blotted out. …

The declaration of pardon does not mean that my past is cancelled out and annulled because it was wholly sinful and that sin has been obliterated. This would mean in the long run that I myself have been annulled and that in the last analysis the whole of my life would count for nothing and fall into nothingness. …

If I am freed and delivered from my past, this is not because it has disappeared. Quite the reverse! Nothing has disappeared. The past is not a finished past. It is a regathered past. God has regathered it. He grasps it, assumes it, takes charge of it, keeps it, and recapitulates it in Christ. My past, fortunately, is no longer my own. But it has not been obliterated. It has come into the hands of God where the totality of my life is accumulated bit by bit and being built up in truth. Thus the past lives, not in the hell of my unconscious, but in the holiness of God.

At each step and stage of my life my deeds are taken by the hand of God, assumed by him, saved, and passed through the fire by him. God reconstructs my life without sin as I construct it in sin. Hence I need not torture myself about the past which I cannot undo. I need not repent forever about what I was at a given moment. …

The Christian cannot be a man of the past.

“God reconstructs my life without sin as I construct it in sin”. Here is the destruction of Karma; here is Grace’s upending of the natural order of things; here is love’s interruption of the sequence of cause and effect that otherwise holds us captive. As Bono says, here’s something to keep us on our knees.

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