So, as you can imagine, God couldn't turn down this one from the old buster, the devil his-self! So He, the Almighty, says, "Satan, you're ON!" So, sure enough, poor old Job, innocent as a lamb, loses his health, his wealth, and his loved ones. Then his so-called friends come to him and say: "Job, old boy, what great sins did YOU commit to deserve this obvious displeasure of Jehovah?"
Poor old Job protests his innocence. Despite all his suffering he holds on to his faith in God's wisdom and goodness. God, in the end, therefore wins the bet with Satan. Whew!
All of Chapter 9 of the gospel of St. John describes a curious incident in which Jesus comes upon a man "blind since birth." Jesus is asked by his usual taunters, "Who sinned, this man, or his parents?" Now, mind you, the poor fellow was blind SINCE BIRTH. So if it was he, he must have sinner in a past life! While Jesus here has a perfect opportunity to endorse reincarnation, Jesus ducks the issue and says, "Neither has sinned!" Jesus explains that this man was born blind for the glory of God! What!!!! You kidding? Lucky guy, eh? Jesus then heals the man of his blindness. The story that follows is very touching and poignant but not needed for this article.
So what do we have here? Let's pause for "station identification."
Old Age'ers (fundamentalists) might tend to think that misfortune heaped upon a good Christian is a sign of God's disfavor. Some Christians, to turn this around, think that material success, health, wealth, position, and a loving family are a sign of one's virtue and one's finding favor in the good Lord's eyes. New Age'ers might tend to view a fellow meta-physician's troubles as a sure sign of some past bad karma. Neither view is necessarily correct.
The law of karma, it is said, is exacting. Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the famous "Autobiography of a Yogi") said the metaphysical law of karma finds expression in Newton's third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In Vedanta and metaphysics, this is the law of duality as well as part of the law of karma. St. Paul wrote, famously, of the law of karma saying "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap." (Galatians 6:7).
So look at what we have: by the law of karma one would naturally think that Job and the man born blind since birth must have done something to have earned their suffering. But by Jesus' explanation and by the story of Job, there appears to be a third option: a divine source. I call this the "Third Rail."
Think of karma as a pendulum: good and bad karma. (Never mind, for now, which is which. For the moment just think that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Or, to quote from Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "What is day to the yogi is night to the worldly man; what is night to the yogi, is day to the worldly man.") In the centerpoint of the pendulum lies, however momentarily, a rest point: a point from which the pendulum begins, and ends, its motion. This point we call God.
According to the dogma of man's free will, we understand that God has given us the power to choose good or evil. ("To eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.") This is like pushing the pendulum for the first time. It begins with the appearance of material and ego-active desires, likes, and dislikes. In this we abandon the God's eye view of Oneness: seeing God in all and, as a result, seeing "through" the illusion that the senses, matter, and ego have any intrinsic reality and attraction (or repulsion).
Once the pendulum swings into motion, the interplay of good and bad karma, action and reaction, will keep the pendulum moving essentially forever until, suspicious and wary, worn and torn, we decide not "to play" the "Great Game" of ego.
When the prodigal son of Jesus' story in the new testament decided to return to his father's home, he had a long way to go on his journey. But his decision to return is the starting point. It says (and not just once) in Revelations (3:12), "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." This "pillar" is like the shaft and center point of our pendulum.
The threads of past action (karma) are subtle. The question of karma vs. grace may be somewhat a false dichotomy. Think about Job, or that blind man. Nothing in their respective stories suggests that they are souls already freed from karma ("saints," you might say). That means that they certainly have karma to overcome. Thus the fact that they each encounter troubles can logically, at least, be attributed to such karma.
Where God's grace (the "Third Rail") enters is the timing and nature of those troubles: testing their faith and equanimity at time and in a proportion they can digest. By passing their tests with the flying colors of faith and equanimity, they have become free of some of their past karma. You see: BOTH-AND. Both-And is the nature of Infinity (while EITHER-OR is the product of the play of duality and the limited view of the intellect using logic and reason). Nonetheless, there is an element of divine intervention. It is the "good" karma of reaching upward to God: we make one step in His direction and He takes two in ours. "Faith is the most practical thing of all." I once heard my teacher, Swami Kriyananda say that when I was still quite new and it puzzled me to no end. I think, now, I understand it much better.
Krysta Gibson, editor and publisher of the New Spirit Journal, wrote an article (that inspired this one) and I thought you might enjoy reading it too: http://bit.ly/ZieeAa
Meditate on a great pillar, a shaft of light, as the symbol of the inner spine. This is, in part, the meaning of the Hindu "lingam" (a stone pillar....too often, but incorrectly, likened to a phallic symbol). This "pillar" is our own center, our subtle spine, to which if we withdraw mentally and with good posture gives us psychic protection, spiritual fortitude and insights.
Om namoh Shivaya!