By James Young

Tired of being good

Functional Karma: a never-ending merry-go-round?


Australia is overwhelmingly a spiritual nation – over 70% of the nation considers itself spiritual. If you had to hazard a guess though, what would the leading spiritual belief be?

Well, it's not religion that has captured Australia's attention but the spiritual belief of functional Karma. I don't mean Karma in the sense of the Buddhist and Hindu construct of causality, as this is more of a Western knock-off version.

Functional Karma shows itself in our language: you get what you deserve, what goes around comes around or as one ad put it recently, 'you deserve to be rewarded for your hard work'. Essentially, life is all about what you do: work hard, be a good person and then life will treat surely you well.

On the surface, this is one of the greatest ideas that has worked itself into cultural consciousness. I mean, when it comes down to it, the idea that good behaviour leads to a good life and evil will always find its come-uppance is genius in its simplicity and so many of us have subscribed.

It's only after deeper inspection that real questions surface and a deep-seated flaw is revealed.

Functional Karma requires nothing less than perfection for us to confidently reap its rewards. You can work hard, be a 'good' person and have a positive impact, but how hard do you have to work for life to work in your favour, how good do you have to be?


Functional karma, at the end of the day, will leave anyone trying to end on the positive side of the ledger exhausted. Look around, doesn't that describe us as a people? The average person today has the same level of anxiety as a mental patient in the 1960's. We are exhausted.

So we make short-cuts and side-steps. We make 'good' and 'bad' subjective, so that anyone can be either as long as they believe it to be true. It doesn't really matter whether you are a good person, as long as you believe it, right?

That's the problem though. I'm not a good person, not even a little bit. On the surface I look like one, having travelled the world, married young and likeable to many – but when it comes down to it, I am not 'good'.

If I have to rely on my own excellence, my own goodness, then, by the very laws of functional Karma, means I am done. I will spend my entire life trying to live up to expectations that I will not meet and I will leave myself exhausted – bitter, twisted and alone. If good things happen to good people, good things will not happen to me because I am not good – no matter how hard I try.

Grace, God's undeserved kindness, is my only hope.

Jesus is a divisive figure, but the fact of the matter is, unless Jesus is God – unless God intervened in this world, then this world is has nothing to offer.

Unless God had sent His perfect Son into this broken, messed up world to set it free then this world will be shackled to broken philosophies like functional Karma – a never-ending merry-go-round of "work harder, do more and be better", which only leaves us well short of where we need to be.

Instead, seeing our predicament, Jesus entered our world to set people free. Jesus simply says: "whoever believes in my name will be saved" - saved from the bondage and consequences of sin and from eternal separation from God in hell. Not our efforts, not our excellence, nor our attempts to be good – because we're not. It's all up to Him.

If you are exhausted from functional Karma, from the endless effort of being good, then this is the best news you will ever receive. Grace is the good news you have been looking for, you just need to accept it.

Read more from James Young at or follow him at @ragingzephyr on twitter.

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