the weblog of Alan Knox

Bono, Karma, and Grace

Posted by on Apr 15, 2008 in blog links, discipleship | 16 comments

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that my son, Jeremy, and I went to see the concert movie U23D. Apparently, I’m in trouble with a friend of mine for not inviting him to go with us. (Sorry, Jason!)

Since I brought up the band U2, I thought that I would share this fascinating interview with their lead singer, Bono. He is known around the world for this humanitarian efforts, especially related to the organization ONE. However, many Christians despise Bono (perhaps “despise” is too strong of a word, but then perhaps not) and others like him because he doesn’t act “Christian” enough, meaning, of course, that he doesn’t do and say things the way that they would do and say them.

Back in August 2005, Christianity Today published an excerpt from a book called Bono: in conversations with Michka Assayas in an article called “Bono: Grace over Karma“. I thought my readers would enjoy this excerpt from the CT article:

Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

Bono: Yes, I think that’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

Assayas: I haven’t heard you talk about that.

Bono: I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

Assayas: Well, that doesn’t make it clearer for me.

Bono: You see, 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. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. 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.

Assayas: I’d be interested to hear that.

Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled… . It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

Assayas: That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?

Bono: No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was—the Messiah—or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched …

Bono later says it all comes down to how we regard Jesus:

Bono: … [I]f only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. …When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s— and everybody else’s. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that’s the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.

I love the way that Bono contrasted Karma and Grace. Of course, I think that many followers of Jesus continue to live as if they are controlled by Karma instead of Grace. Many believers also treat other people with Karma instead of with Grace.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-15-2008

    Great post, Alan … thanks for sharing. I have been a U2 fan since the early 80s and went to every concert they did here in Atlanta through my middle and high school years. But I fell into the “I can’t be a fan of theirs any more because I am a *Christan*” mindset. Yes, I know … sad and religious.

    I think your point at the end is excellent – although we *think* we rely on Grace, it seems most of us live as if Karma was it.

    Thanks, again, for this post – lately you have really been challenging me to step out of my religious box.


  2. 4-15-2008

    Thanks for posting this Alan. Ihad seen it once before, but lost the link. Bono “gets it” with regard to Grace vs. Works. I pray that more of our Brothers and Sisters come to truly internalize what it means as well.

  3. 4-15-2008


    Thanks for sharing that with us. It is my firm belief that many, if not a majority, of church members live their lives and attend church services with understanding and attitudes which could legitimately be described as karma.

  4. 4-15-2008


    I’m envious! I’ve never been to one of their concerts, just the concert movie last Saturday.

    I’m glad you continue to enjoy my posts. I continue to enjoy your interaction here.


    I agree, and I like the way you put it. A mental theory of grace is not the same as “internalizing” grace.

    Aussie John,

    Yes… karma drives us to do many good things for the wrong reasons. As long as we focus on behavior, then karma will rule the day.


  5. 4-15-2008

    fantastic, I will have to link this one; great job …. again

  6. 4-15-2008

    That is a great quote. I would love to hear him give some more detail on who gets this grace. Is that a more “universalist?” approach? But still, the quote is quite amazing.

    One question that has always bothered me and I wonder if you have an idea. Have you ever heard Bono talk about the song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from U2’s 1987 album The Joshua Tree? The thing I never got was that the song seems to be a strong statement that he found Jesus, but then he says he has not found what he was looking for?

    Has he ever talked about what that means?

  7. 4-15-2008


    Thanks for the comment, the link, and the kind words on your blog.


    You’ve asked some great questions. I don’t know how Bono would answer them, and I don’t know if the book answers them. I have not had a chance to read the entire book yet; I’ve only read excerpts. It does seem that he understands grace though… perhaps better than many others that I’ve talked to.


  8. 4-16-2008

    I remember reading that interview when CT originally published it. But I had forgotten about it.

    I love the way Bono thinks. Somehow, I even love the “raw” way that he puts stuff. I’m no fan of “the s-word”, but somehow, the way he used it in that context, it actually seemed to carry a much stronger weight than the sanitized “sin” that we talk about.

    I had a Greek prof in seminary who said that the s-word is actually the most accurate translation of Paul’s use of the word “dung” — the sheer contempt that Paul expressed for his past life…

    Anyway, I digress.

    This excerpt really resonated with my spirit. He is absolutely right that we TALK about grace, yet live in a context of karma. But Bono gets it.

    Praise God for this expression of truth!! It blessed me…s-word and all! 😉

  9. 4-16-2008

    Here’s a very, very brief answer on Rolling Stone from Bono re: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” …

    Personally, I can relate to the song’s words when I am dealing with doubt …


  10. 4-16-2008


    You are welcome.

    If you have not read it, i would strongly encourage you to read “One Step Closer” by Christian Scharen.

    It is a great read and it is focused on where and how their songs came from and what area of spirituality that they come from.


  11. 4-16-2008

    Thanks heather for the link. Clearly the song is about doubt, but I am still left wondering, “doubt about what?” Oh well, maybe Bono has never really given a deeper explanation… thanks again.

  12. 4-16-2008

    I like it as well. It reminds me of the show My Name Is Earl. If you haven’t seen it, Earl is on a quest to right all the wrongs in his life. He has made a list and is trying to do something good for everyone that he has personally wronged. He is trying to get Karma back on his side. It is a funny show.

    But I am glad that Grace is the divining rod of my life. I am glad that Jesus took my sins and I didn’t have to be good enough in order to recieve that forgiveness.

  13. 4-16-2008


    I thought the same thing when I read the “s-word” in the interview. But, like you said, it is certainly a word that Paul used. Its amazing how much emphasis we place on things that culture tells us is right and wrong.


    Thanks for the link to the quote from Bono. I’ve always liked that song.


    I have not read “One Step Closer”. Thanks for the recommendation!


    Do you think a believer doubts?


    I’ve never watched Earl. I agree that it sounds like he’s living a life of Karma. Thank God for Grace!


  14. 4-16-2008

    Hi Alan, YES. I do. I don’t just think it, I know it first hand.

    But in saying that, I also affirm that doubt is neither good nor bad… it is the fruit of doubt that determines our course. Doubt can either be a wellspring of assurance or a dry wind of desperation.

  15. 4-16-2008


    Yeah, I think believers doubt as well – and we should be honest with ourselves and others about our doubts. Thanks for the link. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I will.


  16. 4-18-2008

    This is an amazing interview and story. Thanks for sharing.