I believe in redemption. Despite this belief, I actually had to look the word up in the dictionary in preparing this essay. Seriously. Not because I don’t have a working knowledge of its meaning, but more to just make sure. Here’s what I got: redemption being the noun form of the verb “redeem”, meaning “to buy or get back; recover; to pay off (e.g. a loan); to turn in (e.g. coupons) for a premium; to ransom; deliver from sin; to fulfill (a promise); to make amends or atone for; to restore (oneself) to favor. While the latter definitions are more in line with my central belief in redemption, the first few have some significant meaning too, especially the part about paying off loans – student loans in my case. I definitely believe in redeeming those bad boys! But the definition that best captures my core philosophy is the last one, the one about restoring oneself to favor. There have been times in my life where my own need for redemption has meant next to nothing to me because I didn’t think I’d fallen out of favor, either with friends or family or society. But as I’ve grown and gained more perspective and insight, I know there have been plenty of times I’d fallen out of favor, like in 3rd grade when I unkindly teased a boy in my class because he was checking out the book “Little Women” from the library (which, incidentally, has turned out to be one of my favorite stories). He told on me and I got reamed by my teacher, my favorite teacher at that. Or in 7th grade when I got caught lying to my parents about spending the night at my friend’s house when in actuality we were spending the night at a different girl’s house whose parents weren’t home and, yes, boys were there. Not cool. I fell out of favor with my parents and was grounded for the entire summer. Did I redeem myself? I suppose so… until my next rendezvous with rebellion, that is.
But these are not the events that have really shaped my belief in redemption, though I’m thankful for how I was able to regain favor through both my efforts and the grace of those I disappointed. The time that is largely responsible for shaping this belief is this: Seven years ago I made the decision to walk away from God. A Christian all of my life, I decided my life with God wasn’t turning out quite as I liked or hoped, so I told Him I didn’t need or want Him anymore. Not fully appreciating the reality that just because I didn’t really understand what He saved me from in the first place, didn’t – and doesn’t – mean that my soul still doesn’t need saving. Nor fully appreciating the fact that just because I wasn’t very satisfied with my life at that time didn’t mean God really had anything to do with that. I believe we have our own ways, outside of God, of messing things up. Five confusing and difficult years later I realized I was painfully wrong and I needed redemption. Thankfully, I got it from my loving and faithful Heavenly Father. During this time of spiritual rebellion, revelation, and restoration, I began working at an all-male maximum security prison. During my three years working there, I met hundreds of men who had fallen out of favor with just about everyone in their life and society at large. They were condemned people. One such man was Joe*. Joe committed a horrific crime and was suffering for it. Author and poet, Henry David Thoreau, once wrote, “It isn’t what you look at that matters, but what you see,” and when I looked at Joe I didn’t see an addict or a murderer even, but rather I saw a kind, honest, caring yet broken and hurting man. He wanted forgiveness; restoration. He needed redemption. And I believe he got it. I believe this because Joe believes in the One who redeems and restores our very souls – Jesus Christ.
*Name has been changed to protect his identity