Thursday, July 02, 2009

Grace, Brain Chemistry, and Bono

Grace is hard.

I was reminded about the difficulty of grace while reading an article on about evolutionary psychology.

Human beings are willing to suffer loss if it means punishing someone who has acted unfairly. As the article states...
"Our sense of fairness and our willingness to inflict damage on one another combine to encourage contributions to the common good and deter people from cheating. Researchers call this altruistic punishment."
Moreover, there is a physiological response. The striatum, a region of our brains which respond to "rewarding behavior", "lights up" when we engage in altruistic punishment. Apparently our sense of justice is deep. That is a good thing. As the Scriptures teach in Leviticus 19:15, "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly."

The only problem is that our sense of justice is limited. Someone who casually watches the evening news and condemns a man for a perceived injustice may reach a different conclusion while on a jury in a courtroom. Our understanding of justice is also perverted by sin. We often take pleasure in the fall of the mighty. Schadenfreude apparently stimulates the same part of the brain as altruistic punishment. Moreover, we often have a poor estimation of our own sinfulness. We see ourselves much better than we really are, or more rarely, much worse.

We believe firmly that everyone should be rewarded for good, punished for bad. The lead singer of U2, Bono, has a helpful way of describing this desire for fairness. In the book, Bono in Conversation by Michka Assayas, he describes the cycle of reward and punishment as "Karma."
"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,"
"Karma", as Bono describes it, is rooted not only in religion and according to the New Scientist article, also nature. Grace works outside of "Karma." Grace suggests that we get better than we deserve.

Bono explains,
"And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that. . . . 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."
Grace is good news, but we resist the good news because it goes against what we believe to be true. Grace is unearned. We rarely extend it to others, and we cheapen our own response to it.

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