There is a return on energy expended, but it does not always land on the specific perpetrator of the act for which the return is due. While in some cases the actual culprit gets the stroke, in other cases it can be future generations, or totally innocent bystanders who get hit by what Sri Aurobindo calls the “lightnings of a retaliatory doom.”
The individual responsible for setting a certain line of action in motion may obtain the fruits of that action in the short term, while nature prepares a response that happens to hit in the next generation or later. The same may be true of nations in their collective action upon others. One day there comes the payback and individuals who had nothing at all to do with the original action find themselves caught up in the rebound of energy that simply took its own time to work itself out.
We can see here, then, the working of what Sri Aurobindo calls the second transitional law of Karma. Energy is not lost. The effect is simply not immediate nor does it precisely hit those who set the force in motion. What is missing here is our preoccupation with individual responsibility as Nature treats all energy and all action as part of a whole and visits the response upon whomever happens to be there at the moment of the rebound.
Sri Aurobindo concludes: “It is evident that we cannot make much of a force that works out in so strange a fashion, however occasionally striking and dramatic its pointing at cause and consequence. It is too uncertain in its infliction of penalty to serve the end which the human mind expects from a system of penal justice, too inscrutably variable in its incidence to act as an indicator to that element in the human temperament which waits upon expediency and regulates its steps by a prudential eye to consequence.”
The lesson is sometimes clear and obvious, but since it does not fall on the perpetrator, it has a more diffuse effect to suppress the extremes of the vital arrogance in a general way.
This action “serves therefore a certain moral purpose in the will in the universe, but is not itself, even in combination with the other, sufficient to be the law of a moral order.” The “other” here referred to is the force of specific retributive justice which also does not function in a precise manner satisfying to our human moral and ethical sense. We see Nature acting not on individuals, in and of themselves, but on larger movements of energy within the unified field of the manifestation. Nature does not seem to care upon whom it visits the retribution. It is truly in this sense a random “lightning strike”.
Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section II, Chapter 15, Mind Nature and Law of Karma, pp. 136-137, http://www.lotuspress.com/item.php?item=990117