08 Nov The Gift of Redemption
This past weekend I was invited to attend Shabbat at a local synagogue as the guest of one of the members. It was the first Shabbat since the tragic events in Pittsburgh the previous Saturday, and it was a privilege to show my support for my Jewish neighbors and friends. Almost right behind me as I walked through the door Friday night was a Hindu couple who live in the same neighborhood as the synagogue. They, too, wanted to come and stand in solidarity with their neighbors. Vases of flowers and green potted plants surrounded the altar, and I discovered that they were gifts from Muslims, Christians and others who also wanted to tangibly express their sorrow over the Tree of Life murders as well as be an encouragement to the Jews who gathered in community over the weekend.
After the service concluded, numerous people thanked me for attending. They spoke of how moving it was for them to experience this outpouring of community support. One person’s comment, in particular, resonated with me and has stayed with me ever since: that in the face of evil and tragedy, goodness also shines through, and it is the goodness that will have the final word, not the hatred.
Theologians have a name for this: it’s called redemption. In plain terms, redemption means that none of us can mess up so badly that God can’t “redeem” it, can’t bring something good from it. Yes, we can and do make huge mistakes. Yes, we can and do suffer moral failure. Yes, we can and do hurt others deeply by our selfishness, betrayals, pride, envy and judgments. Sometimes the person we wound most is ourselves, though almost always there is collateral damage suffered by those around us. Sometimes we inflict wounds knowingly; sometimes not. But no matter the reason or the source or the specific circumstances, God’s redemptive power is greater than anything we can do. That is not to say that our actions don’t have consequences—they most certainly do. But, even as we deal with the fallout from our mistakes and failures, we do so with the certainty that God is working good in the midst of them.
That someone at the synagogue could name and cling to this truth in the aftermath of the horrific shooting at Tree of Life, was a testimony to how faith shapes our daily lives. Trusting in God to redeem life’s darkest moments allows us to simultaneously weep and pray; mourn the dead and celebrate their lives; condemn violence and offer mercy; sing and repent. The reality of redemption allows us to honestly grapple with the fragility of life without succumbing to hopelessness. It allows us to name our foibles and follies, then receive grace and start again. Without the second chances that redemption offers, every failure would be catastrophic, laying us flat on our faces without giving us the strength to get up again. But because of the blessed gift of redemption, we are invited to keep holding our heads up—not because we are guiltless but because we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
Yours for the Kingdom,