When the great contemporary theologian, U2’s Bono, decided to survey the landscape of grace in the confines of a three-minute rock song, here’s a portion of the lyric he wrote:
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that
Changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness
She travels outside
Of karma, karma
She travels outside
I love the way Bono sums up the impact of grace in our lives: “She travels outside of Karma.”
Karma is an eastern religious concept—embraced by both Hinduism and Buddhism—that means, essentially, you get what you deserve. It’s the same message embedded in our Christmas gift-giving mantra: “If you’re good, you’ll get. If you’re not, you won’t.” Even if we don’t openly embrace eastern religious thought in our lives, we most certainly embrace Karma as Western Christians. Researchers confirm, over and over, that the overwhelming majority of us still believe that the way you get to heaven is to be a good person—you get what you deserve. And many more of us who know “the right answer”—that faith in Christ, and therefore redemption through the saving act of Jesus, is the only path to eternal life—live functionally as if our salvation depends on our own goodness.
Grace is God’s fundamental momentum, expressed by His dogged commitment to morph “beauty out of ugly.” And, in light of that definition, grace is most like the martial art of Taekwondo. Central to the practice of Taekwondo is “using the attacker’s force of momentum against him or her.” That’s exactly opposite of Karma, where “every action is met by an opposite one.” Taekwondo trains the participant to recognize an enemy’s energy and momentum, then use it against him. That’s why a smaller person can defeat a larger person, by using the larger person’s momentum to defeat him.
In the same way, the Nativity reminds us that the miracle of the virgin birth—the Incarnation of the Son in a dirty feeding trough, begins the insurrection of grace into the world through the leverage of a martial art. Jesus takes what Satan meant for evil and turns it to good; He forces the momentum of the Evil One’s knife thrust back toward him. In Romans 8:28, 31-32 Paul sketches God’s beauty-out-of-ugly personality: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Here’s how to translate what Paul is saying into Taekwondo language: “If God is always using our enemy’s momentum against him, how can that enemy possibly win? If He’s already defeated Satan’s plans to ‘kill, steal, and destroy’ by plotting his own execution on a cross, turning the enemy of God’s victory into a glorious defeat, how can you think He won’t do the same in your life?”
The Taekwondo of the Nativity is the source of all thriving—captivity is best expressed by “you get what you deserve,” but grace sets us free to live in radical, passionate obedience to the One who has sacrificed everything to be with us. That ugly little manger in Bethlehem is the fulcrum of transformation—turning every ugly thing on its ear…
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following Jesus. He’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bibleand author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution,The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.