Lebron James (a.k.a. King James) has caused no small stir the world of professional basketball. In what resembled a celebrity divorce, he shook the Cleveland dust off his feet only to wiggle them in the white sands of South Beach. Cleveland got stood up at the altar while Lebron parades around town with his new girlfriend(s). The Heat are in first place and the Cavaliers are dead last. Despite the desperate longings of all Cleveland fans, poetic justice is heretofore denied. The divorce wasn’t an amenable one and the aftershocks still reverberate. The Cavaliers try to save face while Lebron rubs their face in it. The drama is as entertaining as it is silly.
Last Tuesday night the Los Angeles Lakers handed the Cavaliers a 55-point drubbing. And like a husband who prides himself on exploiting how pathetic is ex-wife is without him, Lebron James tweeted during the game: “Crazy. Karma is a [expletive]. Gets you every time. Its not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!” It’s not good to wish bad on anybody; unless, apparently, you’re Lebron James speaking of Cleveland. Poor Lebron. Little Ol’ Cleveland just won’t leave him alone to play million-dollar footsie with his new suitors.
Dare I call into question King James’s theological acuity. After all, I don’t want him tweeting about me! But he was quite confused to use “karma” and “God” as cooperating partners (i.e. syncretism). Karma, an Indian concept, is the universe’s (or gods thereof) way of maintaining moral balance. Do good things and good things will happen to you. Do bad things (like pick on Li’l Lebron) and bad things will happen to you (like 55-point losses to the Lakers). In the end, god (whoever or whatever that is) rewards those who do good and punishes those who do bad. So do good, Cleveland.
This, however, has nothing to do with how God orders the universe. Lebron was right in one sense: God does see everything. I suppose this includes the process by which Lebron fathered two children out of wedlock, whose mother he’s stringing along as a perpetual “fiancee.” Nevertheless, God does see everything but not in order to reward self-righteousness. God doesn’t measure his favor based on human merit because no human is meritorious of his favor (Rom 3.10-18). Good things happen because Christ happened. And only those in Christ can expect any favor from God.
Still, there are Christians who might snicker at Lebron’s sophomoric tirade but themselves live as though God does co-op karma to accomplish his will. For example, how often do we think that since we read our Bible this morning then God owes us some favor this afternoon? Or, since I prayed earnestly about something that God should return the favor. I scratched God’s back so he will scratch mine.
What about the other side of the coin? My car wreck this afternoon was God getting me back for sinning this morning. Or, since I’m on God’s “bad side” then I shouldn’t expect his favor until I can get back on his “good side.” That’s a karmic way of life, and one that is not fit for God’s people.
There are consequences for sin that God rightly sees they’re played out (Gal 6.6-10). But this is different than viewing the universe as a cosmic chess game in which we’d better make all the right moves before God checkmates us. God doesn’t relate to us based on how well we impress him. On our best day, we are still law-breakers and God cannot abide law-breakers (Rom 3.23). As Christians, we are at all times dependent on the intercessory of ministry of Jesus (Heb 7.25) “who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor 1.30). There is never one moment when God does not relate to his people apart from the imputed righteousness of Christ. We don’t impress God. He impresses us in Christ. Jesus is the only one who has rightly obeyed and earned a way back into Eden (Heb 10.19-20). And our best effort at worship must be filtered through and cleansed by the interceding ministry of Christ.
In catechizing our children we ask, “Can you see God?” They respond, “No, but he always sees me.” Lebron might tell his children that since God always sees you then make sure what he sees is good so that he’ll do good to you. Let us tell our children differently and biblically. What God sees in and from us is worthy of eternal death. But he sent his Son to die for what he saw in us. Now, for all who repent and believe, even when God sees everything about us he chooses to see Jesus instead (Col 3.3).
Lebron may think himself worthy of God’s applause, but God has a far different understanding of “heat.” One taste of God’s heat and Lebron will beg to be back in Cleveland.