I first turned in a very old book on theological words to an article written by F.J. Taylor, a former Bishop of Sheffield. I was not surprised that “redemption” is lumped together with “deliver,” “reconcile,” “ save,” and “atone.” My word last time was “atonement” and I thought of just copying it all over again. However, there may be some redeeming value to try to say it slightly differently.
Taylor writes that redemption is related to a Hebrew way of thinking in very concrete ways. You buy back something that was formerly yours but was given up for some reason. It could be buying back freedom for a slave, and in fact it comes from the same root word for ransom. He gives several Old Testament examples such as the release of Israel from Babylon as a ransom paid by God to Cyrus; God gives him Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange—Amazing. Or, the first born belonged to God and must be redeemed or ransomed which justifies the whole sacrificial system. Obviously there is a great sense of relief and joy when the payment is made.
The descriptions of the prior suffering captured my attention. When I walk through church after church in Europe, the Biblical stories of such mixed emotions are portrayed magnificently in windows, frescoes, sculpture and paintings. They shaped Western culture and in some cases still do. However, I no longer feel I have to accept a world view that is over two thousand years old about some angry god that demands payment. My take on Jesus is that he preached that we are forgiven and we do not need to go through some kind of sacrificial gestures to be OK. The focus is on our “redeeming” each other and caring for each other in the way that Jesus lived his life. Our inhumanity to man, anxieties, sin, or whatever you want to call it, is very much present, but in Jesus we have a model for dealing with it. More significant is that there is an assistance or grace that can suddenly transform our experience.
There have been mentors, teachers, ministers, many different types of saints who have given a redemptive twist to my journey. To repeat myself once again, I see most of the writers of the New Testament and the Church Fathers unable to totally free themselves from the Old Testament world view so that Jesus becomes the required ransom for the sins of the world. The angry god demanding that ransom does not work for me. I clearly cannot define for myself what God is, but in my own clumsy way I can ask God to be there for me. I still have that experience and trust I will grow in it. As for that other god, I conclude with the same sentence I wrote for the “atonement” piece: “I cannot worship that god, and my guess is that Jesus did not worship that god either.”