India just has its way. It assaults the senses, and then stubbornly defies description, leaving the visitor simply at a loss for words. It is a nearly impossible struggle to reduce India to words on a page, to confine it within the structure of sentences and paragraphs. India simply won’t have it. The unrelenting chaos, the noisy confusion set to a constant simmer, rampant suffering, atrocious pollution, all of it and more, hits you hard in the gut and then dares you to try and describe what you feel. Good luck.
Though words often seem inadequate, we remain compelled to speak about what we have seen, about what we have learned, about the mind-rattling, heartbreaking challenges India consistently offers up. After years of visiting India and absorbing what life is like for many of the women who live there, one thought has dangled like a loose strand in a tangled ball of yarn in numerous conversations with our ministry partners. At first, we resisted pulling this thread of thought, certain it would only lead to more and greater tangles. It has refused to be ignored, however, and so this time we bravely tugged and soon found ourselves deep within the tangles: a twisted snarl called karma.
Karma is the basic principle that dominates India’s collective religious thought: the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence decides their fate in future existences. In other words, everyone always gets what they deserve, like just desserts, if you will. If you are born a cripple and are forced to beg for bread on the streets, you have only yourself to blame. You have gotten what you deserve, and thus no one will feel any compulsion to help you.
Karma says there is nothing to be done for the 270 million people considered “poor” in India, especially those who spend their days in the degrading destitution of slum communities. They are simply getting what they deserve, and thus there is no reason to help them. Their women need not be protected from physical abuse or sexual assault. Their children need not be educated, or even fed and nurtured. Their sick need not be cared for with even the simplest of medicines or remedies. There is no point, says karma.
And that’s a very convenient lie.
Standing in stark contrast tokarma’s lie are those in India who follow Jesus. These believe that suffering is not the result of wrongs done in a previous life, but instead that suffering is the result of a created order tragically broken by sin and evil. The fortitude of our Jesus-following brothers and sisters in India is staggering as they look at poverty, suffering, and injustice done to the most vulnerable not with the eyes of karma, but with the heart of Jesus, not with a religious pass tucked away in their pockets, but with the compassion of our Savior driving everything they do.
It was Jesus who felt compassion when He looked at the crowds, hungry and far from their homes, seeing them as sheep without a shepherd. It was Jesus who gave instructions to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, care about the sick and visit those imprisoned. It was Jesus who said let the little children come to Me, for the Kingdom of God belongs to them.
And for those who believe the lie that karma orders the destiny of the disadvantaged and the destitute, a convenient lie that insists we have no responsibility to serve those who suffer, the compassion of Jesus is a most inconvenient truth. As we follow Him, we walk the road he walked, as He walked, stopping to care kindly for those in need, regardless of how they got there.
Inconvenient? Usually. Worth it? Absolutely. Karma certainly wouldn’t agree, but karma isn’t in charge. Jesus is.