The Great Redeemer (not the Great Fixer)

In Christianese, we use the language of redemption to describe a variety of situations. But often we misuse this term, questioning God’s “redemptive power” when we expect God to fix our problems and nothing changes. Perhaps we invoke the language of redemption without understanding what redemption really is.

To redeem is not to fix. These words and their definitions are very similar. Fixing and redeeming both involve restoration. But there is an important difference.

Fixing:things::Redeeming:people.

We as human beings have agency to fix. We fix broken things all the time, including relationships with people. We even, in fact, often try to fix people themselves, but we quickly learn that is not an agency we have. God made people in God’s own image, and God gave people free will to do with what they would. Therefore, God is not first and foremost in the business of “fixing.” Though God, in God’s great omnipotence, certainly can fix anything on a whim, the experience of most of us along this journey of faith is that God lets things play out as they will, especially—so it would seem, in the worst of times—suffering.

God is very interested, however, in the redemption of entire people.

When we encounter troubles in this life, we often call on God to redeem our situations, but usually what we’re really asking is for God to fix things, and that typically isn’t God’s way. God’s gift of free will allows us to make our own mistakes, and it also allows us the opportunity to clean up our own messes. But it doesn’t promise that we won’t make the same mistakes again, and it doesn’t promise that God will tidy up our messy bits for us.

What God’s gift of redemption does do, however, is free us from the burdens of our past mistakes. It allows us to live life with the confidence that, though we have erred, and though we will err again, we belong to someone. We are marked and chosen and purposed. We are restored and holy, though not sinless. We are forgiven, though not fixed. We are, simply, redeemed.


Lent: (Surprise!) It’s Not Really about Chocolate

Lent can be a controversial tradition in the church. Many Protestants believe Lent is not applicable to them. Many others (Catholic and Protestant alike) who do observe the season miss its point entirely, giving up caffeine or sugar, and mistakenly believing they’re somehow suffering for the sake of Jesus.

But Lent does not exist so we can suffer. The Lenten season does not call us to “suffer for Jesus.” In fact, Jesus himself suffered during these days so we wouldn’t have to. Jesus died so we could live. Ergo, the point of Lent is to highlight the opposite of suffering—our very great need for and dependence on Jesus, the Christ, our Lord and Savior.

When teaching our teens the significance of the practice of Lent, let’s go beyond the surface. Help them dig into the meaning of Lent in a way that will mean something to them. Assist them in identifying unhealthy habits in their lives, and—instead of teaching them that Jesus would want them to go without that one thing for 40 days—teach them what Lent is really about: bringing balance to our self-centered lives, and finding ways to make everything we do more God-focused.

Therefore, giving something up for Lent isn’t about a 40-day, one-time fast. It’s about learning to balance our hobbies or indulgences with our spiritual disciplines or healthy choices. If your teens are going to give up video games or Twitter, help them replace the time they would’ve spent doing that with something more God-centered, like a devotional book, or prayerful journaling, or volunteer work. If they’re going to give up coffee or soda or sugar, help them replace those unhealthy voids with natural stimulants and energy foods (like apples or bananas).

The point of Lent is not to suffer and then forget. The point of Lent is to examine, to fast intensely in order to see the positive difference a change can make in one’s life, and then—afterward—to adjust one’s life and practices to reflect something that is overall more healthy. Teens should understand that, once Lent is over, if they just resume their usual habits as if Lent never even happened, then they’ve missed the entire point. The goal is that they’ll want to incorporate their new habits and practices into their lives, even after the 40 days are up.