Hmm, might need to work on that title before presenting the movie pitch.
Last time we were looking at what salvation means and whether ‘salvation’ is the most helpful word to use. We exhausted my stock of relevant Greek and Hebrew words, so now for some English alternatives – almost all beginning ‘Re’.
It’s important to recognise that all these words are used as metaphors and images – as indeed all language has to be when describing non-concrete concepts. Salvation is not a physical thing like a chair, so we have to use imperfect parallels and analogies to point towards what it means.
Redemption/redeem are the terms I prefer to use instead of salvation/save. ‘Redemption’ currently lacks the unhelpful associations and false readings associated with ‘salvation’. It even has a positive ring to the modern western ear; it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about redemption when it wouldn’t be to mention salvation. Redemption is a regular theme of films and stories, with villains or flawed characters getting a chance to be redeemed or redeem themselves by some noble, selfless or self-sacrificing act.
To redeem originally meant to buy back or reclaim something (e.g. making a payment to free a slave). The Old Testament frequently uses the word (well, the Hebrew equivalent), usually I think for paying to release something or someone owed to God as a sacrifice/offering.
To redeem now also implies restoring the good essence of something which has become tarnished or corrupted; renewing its original and good character and nature. It implies finding, recovering and bringing out the remnants of good in something that has fallen; restoring the shine and beauty and value.
So redemption is not merely destroying or removing what is bad or broken or damaged but reclaiming it and restoring it, renewing it or re-creating it anew from its old parts. It’s what I believe God is doing with us and with the current cosmos – not discarding the old, but building a new us and a new heavens and earth out of the reclaimed and renewed material of the existing.
Crucially, redeeming can also mean making good of what seems bad – bringing good out of evil, darkness out of life, hope out of despair, success out of failure. Christ’s good news is paradoxically predicated on bad: new life for us out of his death, our gain out of his loss. Somehow, through this, God is able to bring good out of the worst things in our own lives. For me, this is one of Christianity’s most important and most mysterious truths.
Redemption is available to all, and we all need it in some form. But that doesn’t mean we all require the same kind of redemption. Rich and poor, powerful and powerless, oppressor and oppressed, aggressor and victim all need redeeming, but the way of redemption may look very different for those on either side of these divides.
Ransom – similar to redemption, to ransom means to buy back something which has been stolen, taken over or co-opted for other purposes. It also implies a cost or a payment. Jesus said that he’d come to give his life as a ‘ransom’ for many, though he didn’t say what or who he was ransoming us from. Some see it as ransom from captivity to sin, others as captivity to Satan. I prefer to interpret it as captivity to unreality, to false versions of ourselves and false ways of living.
Reclamation links with ideas of salvage and redemption; it’s about retrieving and restoring that which has been lost or stolen, rejected or discarded. That might be people or things, or parts of ourselves that others have rejected or we’ve not seen as acceptable.
Rescue – it’s often said that Christianity is a rescue religion. I think there’s a lot more to it than that; and of course, it rather depends what are the problems and evils you think we need to be rescued from. Is it rescue from our sin, and from God’s wrath and punishment for that sin, as in the evangelical view? Is it rescue from Satan and evil, from forces of corruption, chaos and destruction in the universe, as in a more Orthodox view? Is it, as in Eastern religions, rescue from the perpetual cycles of ‘karma’, or from illusion into reality? Is it rescue from physical enemies and oppressors, as in some Old Testament views?
Perhaps there’s some truth in all of these, but again they are all metaphors or images pointing to a reality we can’t quite describe. We do in some sense need saving or rescuing from sin and its effects and consequences, and from chaos and evil, and from illusion and unreality and all the endless vicious cycles of the universe and our own behaviour. But I’m not sure that the conventional religious pictures of these things are particularly accurate or helpful. We need to keep refreshing and renewing our religious images and ideas – redeeming them even – to make sure they stay meaningful.
We may not all need rescue from the same things, but Christ will rescue us according to our need. This rescue is not an escape from our problems, but rather their redemption.
Release links in with rescue; it’s liberation, setting free. It could be release from actual or figurative imprisonment, from captivity, enslavement, oppression, addiction or anything which binds and holds us; anything which prevents us being truly free.
Restoration is about putting things right again, making things well, sorting things out, redressing wrongs. A related concept is justice.
Restoration in Christian terms is more than mere resumption of a former state, going back to how things were before they went wrong. It’s more even than a return to an original pristine condition. It’s about the creation of a new (renewed) state of being which is the fulfilment and fruition of what the original one was intended to be. So for example, restoring an adult human doesn’t mean turning them back into a baby again; it may involve rejuvenation but alongside this will be maturation, bringing to fullness and fruition. Restoration is progressive not retrogressive.
Renewal again means re-making anew, restoring to a new state of fulfilment and completion. ‘Behold, I am making all things new,’ declares Jesus in Revelation. We have the promise of the new Jerusalem, the new heavens and earth, and new resurrection bodies in which to dwell there. Though these are all new, they are renewed versions of the old things rather than something completely different and with no continuity.
Renewal also bears the sense of a chance to start afresh; to put behind past mistakes and wrongs, to ‘live each day as though it were the first’ (rather than the last).
Reformation originally means re-formation, re-making. We think of reformed criminals or reformed alcoholics; of moral recovery, turning over a new leaf and getting back on the right path. We might also think of legal or government reforms, attempts to improve old laws and systems.
Unfortunately reformation for me is also associated with reformed theology, and with ultra-conservative movements which often seem more about getting back to comfortable old ways than about real renewal. But that’s just a personal gripe.
Resurrection is a uniquely Christian aspect of salvation. It means being made anew (born again if you like) in a renewed, redeemed body capable of dwelling in God’s full presence in the new heavens and earth. In resurrection we are still fully ourselves, but more so; we are the real, true us we have always ached to be.
Resurrection of course implies death. We can’t be resurrected unless we’ve died – not necessarily physically, but in the sense of dying to old ways of being, old ways of thinking and relating. The only way to true life is through death, at least this kind of death; that’s one of the messages of Good Friday and Easter.
Reconciliation is healing and restoration of relationships; the putting right of wrongs between people and communities. Again, in Christian terms it’s not just return to a former state of relationship, but a renewing of the relationship on a whole new footing of love, reality and mutuality. For me, reconciliation is at the heart of Christianity, combining the two core aspects of relationship and redemption.
Resolution can mean solving problems, or bringing a good end to some troublesome situation. We talk of plot resolution; of loose ends tied up, stories being brought to a satisfying conclusion. We also talk of resolution in music, when a harmonic sequence that has wandered away from the root chord returns to it, or when a suspended chord resolves to a major chord. There’s a sense of rightness, of things being how they should be – shalom if you like.
Reality is the last word I’m looking at here (hooray). True redemption always has reality at its heart. As I said when discussing hell, facing reality can be painful and humiliating. So we deny or hide from reality, pretending things aren’t as they are; we construct elaborate strategies of self-defence against reality, ignoring the unpalatable truth about ourselves. Or if we’re more activist sorts, we may fiercely rebel against reality, doing everything in our power to reshape the world and other people according to how we want things to be.
But reality has a habit of remaining stubbornly itself whatever we do to it, or do to avoid it, and we just bruise ourselves bashing up against its solid edges. Until we learn to face and embrace reality, it will be our enemy. But when we do accept it, it becomes our friend, our guide – our redemption even. God is true reality, and redemption is the process of our becoming real; of reconnecting with reality, becoming reconciled with reality.
Or to put it another way, it’s becoming Christlike; having the image and likeness of Christ fully formed or re-formed in us. Incarnation is the true essence of salvation.
There are many other ‘Re’ words we could look at: repentance, restitution, re-instatement; more importantly repartee, recipe and reggae. But here endeth the lesson in theo-linguistics. Thanks be to God.
Next time: what must I do to be saved?