(Re)Imagining Redemption

David Kelsey, Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School, asks a very simple yet powerful question, “What earthly difference can Jesus make here?”

I’m in my sixth year of pastoring.  I’ve completed three degrees that carry theological weight.  I’ve been ordained by and am pastoring a community of grace and together we help each other discern how to partner with God in the ongoing creation of the world. We claim our allegiance to a king and to a kingdom. We sing and pray to the God of the Universe. We pray intercessory prayers expecting this God to affect us, move us, change us, encourage us, sit with us, help us and love us. Our theology is Biblical. Our effort is true.  Yet at my core . . . the center of my being . . . I keep asking the question, “What earthly difference can Jesus make here?”

I think about the woman who found out her husband (the man who was supposed to be her best friend and confidant) was cheating on her with another woman and having a separate family simultaneously. What earthly difference can Jesus make there, in that situation, for that family? What about the children in the second family who didn’t know their father had a separate wife? What difference does Jesus make with those precious girls lives?

Or how about the family that who lost electricity last night because the father keeps lying about money and not telling his family that last month he lost his job? What earthly difference can Jesus make there . . . for that family?

What about the community that was hit by a typhoon and lost the town square, business buildings, electricity, and even hope for a future? What earthly difference can Jesus make there?

What about anti-gay bullying and the families of the boys and girls who killed themselves because of the incessant teasing and bullying over sexual identity or because of scandalous pictures being texted or ‘sexted’ across phones? What earthly difference can Jesus make in those situations?

What about the city of Boston or West, Texas.  What about the children still traumatized in Haiti? What about a country that still feels threatened that the US military is going to kill them? What about the elementary school shootings? What about the evil we see every day? What about poverty? What about the millions who die from preventable diseases? What the children that never meet there dad because he died in an unjust war? What about the debt that befell you from a dying parent? What about the terrible illness you’ve had to endure? What about your family struggles? What about your pornography addiction? What about your personal burdens? Your pains? Your struggles?

What earthly difference can Jesus make here . . . now . . . for us?

My theology says that God intervenes in our lives. My soul believes that God is among us, present, holy, authentic, vibrant, and immanent.  I trust that as Rob Bell says, “God is with us, for us and ahead of us.”  My theology says that redemption happens in a concrete way in a concrete circumstance.

God redeems on a level where we can see, feel, touch, experience, have, hold, accept, own, believe in, relish in, participate in, strengthen and partner with. Redemption, for me, occurs daily.

But am I wrong? Is this just wishful thinking?

I don’t think so.  God is a God who makes all things new.

And the church is called to be co-creators. We are to imitate Jesus. We can’t redeem (why else would we need a Redeemer), but we can strengthen redemptive moments and partner with God to help restore relationships.

It’s noteworthy, though, that Jesus did come to our world to give sight to the blind, to set captives free, to bring good news to the poor. He came to do ministry – not just preach it. He helped neighbors in need. He loved and cherished all life. He chose life over death, good over evil and justice over oppression.

And we can too.

Redemption becomes more and more concrete when we as the church partner with God and help imagine a world where suffering, injustice and pain lessen.

I believe if Jesus were here today he would find himself in Boston, West and Haiti helping rescue those in need. He would find himself in Ghana stopping the spread of malaria. He would find himself in Atlanta shutting down sex trafficking parlors. Jesus would find himself in your city taking care of the needy, the sick and the poor.

Redemption is happening. It happens on spiritual (interior) and physical (exterior) levels. But it doesn’t happen overnight. Redemption, like most anything, happens over time. God is moving in this world and if the church wants to see it more clearly then the church must start moving and creating too.

How do you imagine redemption?

Barrett Owen

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About the Author
Barrett Owen is the admissions associate at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology and pastor of National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. He blogs weekly at Liminality: Exploring the holy, in-between spaces.

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