Reflections on justice, mercy, repentance, and the gift of Christ.
Over the years I have found that many of my Christian friends of many faiths appear to believe in justice as a kind of quasi-personified divine force, a karmic sense that if you harm someone you are somehow destined to “pay for it” (some add “unless Someone Else does instead”). As an additional oddity, relatively few seem to believe in the flip-side, the more positive aspect of such a cosmic balancing act.
I do not understand the cognitive appeal or Christian basis of karma.
As I experience the world, and as I find documented in scripture, there is ample reason to accept justice of a different sort: the universe is extremely just, or law-abiding, appearing to follow a set of laws (gravity and so on) with all-but I say “all-but” because, so far as I can determine, some miracles appear to violate all the laws that I have yet identified. flawless consistency. And these laws do appear to extend to the soul: those who act out of greed are no more likely to be content with what they attain than an unsupported brick is likely to levitate. But I find no reason to think that those who steal will end up broke; they will be discontented and uncomfortable in their own company, but there appears to be no cosmic scale keeping things balanced. With JeremiahJeremiah 12:1 I observe that at times “the wicked prosper” and “they [are] happy that deal very treacherously.”
While the universe does not beat up bullies, Christ does offer a kind of justice beyond natural law alone. In particular, he offers justice to the oppressed. When the children of Israel cried out for justice God did sometimes smite their oppressors, but He also sometimesMosiah 24:13-15 “strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease”. What Christ offers you or I, qua oppressed, is that the actions of others will never be able to prevent our attaining the blessings of eternity. AllD&C 137:7 “who would have received it if” their situation had been different “shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.” What could be fairer and more just than that?
Christ also offers mercy to the oppressor, the sinner, to the ones who did wrong. Part of that mercy is the fact that he offers justice to the victims. Because of Divine Justice, I, a sinner, do not need to somehow undo the wrongs I have done. That is good, because much of it cannot be undone by mortals. I do, however, need to undue the damage I have done to my own soul; and like the damage done to others, that too is generally beyond my ability unaided. But Christ offers mercy, grace, the ability to transition from Sinner to Saint.
What, then, of apologies and restitution? Is it not incumbent on one who steals to restore what was stolen, and on one who offends to offer apology for the offense? It is, but in the eternal scheme of things that is not because I am to undo my wrongs. Offering restitution is part of repentance not as a prerequisite but rather as a symptom of the kind of person who is not a sinner. When I overcome the urge to take that which is not mine I also find myself possessed with a desire to restore what I have taken before. If I do not have that desire, or if I have it but it is not strong enough to overcome whatever concerns might be preventing my making restitution, that is a sign I have not yet moved past that sin, just as sure a witness of my continued spiritual illness as bleeding is a witness that I have not yet healed a physical wound. The fact that for some of my sins no restitution is possible and there is no mortal from whom to seek forgiveness makes the repentance of those sins harder to diagnose, but does not make the repentance itself, the change of heart and desire, any more challenging.
Consider, in this light, the Lord’s advice:D&C 58:43 “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” He does not tell us that confessing + forsaking = repenting; rather, he tells us that confessing and forsaking are ways that we can recognize repentance: diagnostic symptoms of a repentant soul.
As I look at life and as I study scripture, I see Divine justice, a kind of mercy, and eternal law, a gift of meaning, but I do not see karmic justice. However, many of my friends and acquaintances, including people whom I respect and trust, see Justice and Mercy, karmic and self-contained, almost personified, and ever at odds with one another. Is there something I am missing? People discuss three justices: justice1 = the laws of nature, including wickedness ≠ happinessAlma 41:10; justice2 = a fair chance granted each of us by Christ; and justice3 = karma, a cosmic balance applied in part in mortality and more thereafter. For whatever reason, I can’t seem to find justice3 in the world around me.
When I find a gap between my understanding and that of others, I tend to wonder if it represents a place for me to learn and grow or an opportunity for me to teach others. What say ye, O wise reader? Is there karma?