Jesus and the End of Karma, or Sisyphus at Rest

bonoNinety-nine times out of a hundred, when I hear a celebrity opine on religion generally or Christianity specifically, I know my duodenum is going to contract like a Yugo GV in a 10-car pile-up.

But when I read this, well … Bono almost made up for past bad experiences*:

Michka Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

Bono: Yes, I think that’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

Assayas: I haven’t heard you talk about that.

Bono: I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

Assayas: Well, that doesn’t make it clearer for me.

Bono: 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.

Assayas: I’d be interested to hear that.

Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled … It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

It’s easy to dump on the famously fabulous when they recite the same tired, moralistic tropes with an eye toward a higher Q score.

But it’s more important to point out when one among their ranks actually says something that the culture does not want to hear — and says it with such eloquence.

Bono’s karma comments reminded me of this, from Jacques Ellul (emphases mine):

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.

It has come into the hands of God — in the form of Roman nails.

In short, there is no law of reciprocity with God. There is no quantifying either sin or good works, such that they can be placed on the cosmic scales in search of the perfect balance that either indicts or acquits us, sends us on to the next level of supposed spiritual perfection or throws us back to a more primitive state of being for re-education.

There is no “good” work potent enough to undo a bad work, or right a wrong. Karma can’t be burned. The inexorable chain of cause and effect must be broken, its captives liberated once and for all — and that can only be accomplished by One who is both outside the human dilemma and who has also borne the brunt of its worst aspects.

Jesus, Alpha and Omega, is both uncaused cause and the effect of God’s unconditional love — the One who takes upon himself our death and breaks the endless cycles of futility and restless yearning for wholeness and peace once and for all.

The sisyphean task of ultimate enlightenment, moral rectitude, and self-transcendence is brought to an end by the One who was broken for you.

Sisyphus can finally rest from his labors.

* I had trouble locating the issue of Rolling Stone in which this exchange was reported around the Web to have appeared. A couple of my readers found the original interview in context — and it had nothing to do with Rolling Stone. So I have swapped out the Rolling Stone attributions I had here for the proper ones. Thanks to Mick and Betsy!

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12 Responses to Jesus and the End of Karma, or Sisyphus at Rest

  1. Lars Walker says:

    Wonderful. Thanks for that.

  2. ptiv says:

    I hate to be a buzz-kill, but can anyone actually trace this exchange back to an article published in RS? In my (admittedly non-thorough) research, I could never find a date or issue number (or even the ID of the interviewer). I’m thinking it’s another Charles Darwin’s deathbed renunciation type of urban legend. Bono is a bit too syncretic for the above, yes?

    • Anthony Sacramone says:

      I couldn’t find it in the RS archives, so I assumed it was not available online yet.
      But who knows — you could be right! In which case, whoever put the words into the mouth of fake Bono has still hit the nail on the head …

  3. Betsy Childs says:

    I believe that the words are Bono’s, but they were not published in Rolling Stone. They come from the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas (searchable here:

  4. Mick Mathews says:

    I found the article online. It’s not from Rolling Stone, and some of it has been altered from what I found. It’s a from a book called “Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas.” An excerpt was published in Christianity Today, link

  5. aunt dedo says:

    Thanks. Increases the music choices in heaven. Can’t wait!

  6. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » Upended by grace, freed from the past

  7. MacBeth says:

    I found not Bono’s comments, but these words of Assayas to be most intriguing:

    “Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.”

  8. Pingback: Bono’s confession of faith — Cranach: The Blog of Veith

  9. reed says:

    love it! Thanks

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