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.
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.