A few years ago, a friend and I decided to make proper use of a mid-week day off, and travel to a nearby beach town. Because of the timing of our visit and the fact that it was mid-week, everywhere we went was eerily quiet. Walking down the main street we were greeted by the flashing lights and electronic sounds of games arcades, and we decided to visit one, to spend some of our hard earned two pence coins! As I walked into our chosen arcade, a big neon sign caught my eye, with the word ‘redemption’ on it. This was the cash desk where vouchers or tokens won on certain machines could be redeemed for cash. As I looked around a sadness hit me, as I saw many people playing on slot machines, people of all different ages, at about 11am in the morning. You could tell that for some this was a daily hobby, spending hours of time and lots of money in the hope that they would hit the jackpot and be able to make the journey to the redemption desk to exchange their winnings for something greater.
It made me think about how we all search for redemption in one way or another.
That sign has been on my mind again recently as I’ve explored what redemption might mean, a word we use a lot in ‘Christian-land’. We talk about God redeeming us, redeeming things, his redemption plan for the world. I’ve always thought about redemption in terms of being saved by God, that God has redeemed me, which I believe is true. But there is another meaning of redemption which I’ve perhaps neglected, one that takes me back to that slightly sad games arcade in that quiet beach town on my day off.
The second meaning of redemption is about gaining or regaining possession of something, normally in exchange for something else. So in that games arcade, you win tokens which you then exchange for real money. You give in what you have (or what you have is taken from you) and you receive something much better in exchange, something of a higher value. Something better than what you had before.
When I’ve lost things in my life or things have been taken from me – friendships, jobs, projects, whatever…it at times has felt unfair. People have often told me that God will, in time, redeem that situation, that I will get back whatever I’ve lost if I trust Him and wait. But what I’ve come to realise is that it’s so much better than that, and it goes right back to the very core of who God is; a massively creative creator, who is always pioneering new and amazing ways to restore, heal and bring people back to Himself.
Sometimes we don’t get back what was taken from us…we get something even better.
Take the story of Joseph (from the book of Genesis in the bible) as an example. I often imagine what Joseph must have felt like, being ripped away from his father, broken relationships with all his family, sold into slavery and thrown into prison. I wonder about those months and years that he spent in prison, with everything that had happened going round and round his mind. What did he think the redemption plan was? If it was me I would have probably imagined my brothers repenting, me being allowed to go back and live with my family, doing what I was doing before. What was God’s plan? Joseph became one of the most powerful men in Egypt, he saved the lives of thousands of people preventing them from being killed by famine, and in the end his relationship with his family was restored. Wow. Do you think he ever even imagined that as he sat in prison, alone, with his life in shreds? At the end of the story when being reconciled Joseph says this to his brothers; “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” – Genesis 50:20
Or Job. Job literally had everything taken away from him apart from his life. Through all his pain and questioning he never lost faith in God. At the end of his story we are told that ‘the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before’ – Job 42:10.
Or Moses. Because of a stupid mistake Moses went from being the son of a Pharaoh to a shepherd tending sheep in the wilderness. He lost everything. But it was Moses that God used to set the Israelites free from slavery. That’s kind of a big deal.
The bible seems to be full of people who in their loss, in their mistakes, in their grief, trusted God and waited, and out of that came a redemption plan that reached so far beyond their own imaginations. Greater purposes came from those messy situations, where what was taken or lost got replaced with something so much greater, something that stretched so far beyond meeting their own needs into meeting the needs of others.
When things are broken we can try to fix them so that they become exactly what they were before. We can see redemption as getting back what we had before and nothing else. But sometimes we need to just put the broken pieces in the hands of God, trusting that He, as the ultimate and most incredible creator we know, will take those pieces and make the most beautiful mosaic, something that will reach out and bring purpose, destiny, healing and redemption not only to our own lives, but to the lives of many other people.
I love this so much about God. That His creativity is not limited to the earth and the things He has made or done in the past. He is endlessly creative in the ways He engages with us; His provision, His interaction with us, the way He brings healing and restoration, all done differently for each individual, a masterpiece He paints differently for each of us. Even His redemption is creative beyond our comprehension, beyond anything we could ask or imagine in our wildest dreams.
“When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body” – 1 Corinthians 15:37-38
We can be like seeds that get crushed. But it would be ridiculous to try and gather all the tiny parts of a seed and try to put it back together again, as it was before. We would know that this brokenness, the crushing of the seed, put in the right hands and given the right care, can grow into the most incredible tree, that brings life, fruit and shelter to many others for years to come.
I want to be able to trust that God, the first and ultimate artist, is the one who determines what kind of plant the crushed seeds of my life will become. What a relief, because every time I have had a plan in my head and I’ve finally let it go and let God take control, what grows is mind-blowing, overwhelming, something I never could have predicted or created.
It actually makes my own plans look ridiculous.
That is creative redemption, and day by day I am absolutely loving seeing it happen in my own life, and in the lives of others.