I am fond of telling the rehab ladies that God is slowly transforming us into the people he created us to be. You know, restoration.
I came across nearly the exact phrase while reading the final chapter of Amber Von Schooneveld's Hope Lives, a study that our church has been focusing on during Advent and that I have been teaching at Santa Maria and Bonita House for the past 4 weeks.
As I was processing that familiar phrase today, I thought about another aspect of God's character that I talk about a great deal: redemption. God is in the business of giving value to those things in our lives that seem completely worthless.
And that got me to thinking ... what is the distinction between restoration and redemption? Someone in my office saw me staring at my computer screen with pages of notes scattered across my desk and asked me, was I working on a homework assignment? "No," I assured her, "I'm trying to figure out the difference between restoration and redemption for my lesson next week." She registered a look akin to, "Sorry I asked..." and then sort of backed her way out of my office.
When I typed the word "redeem" into the search engine at Dictionary.com, 8 different definitions came up. One was labeled as the "theological" definition. Here it is: to deliver from sin and its consequences by means of a sacrifice offered for the sinner. I guess that is the definition I'm supposed to gravitate toward, but ... it's really not entirely what I had in mind.
Yes, God redeems our lives in this manner -- offering forgiveness of sins through the life, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. But another definition says: To buy back, as after a tax sale or mortgage foreclosure. That sounds more to me like what God does in our lives -- taking something that no one else sees the value of and insisting, oh yes, it is most definitely worth a great deal. However, unlike people in the real estate business who search out "deals" in foreclosure sales so that they can ultimately turn a handy profit, God is more in the business of revealing the value that was there all along. It's not turning straw into gold; it's more like coming across a rare piece of artwork at a garage sale that's marked $5 but is really worth $1 million. In this situation, the seller blinks his eyes in startled disbelief and exclaims, "Who would have thought it was worth so much?"
That's redemption ... realizing the true worth of situations in our lives that express themselves as pain or suffering or challenges or frailty or brokenness. Equally important, it's realizing the true worth of our very selves.
This is the way that Jesus viewed people. That's why he hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes and slightly-dense fishermen and that's why the broken flocked to him like white on rice. They were the proverbial pearls of great value found by the discerning merchant (Jesus).
I see so many people focusing on destinations when God desires for us to pay more attention to the journey. We pour all of our time and energy and resources into "arriving" when God's intention is for us to take note of the mile markers along the way. That's the "redemption" of our life experiences. It's not about being delivered from a particular situation as quickly as possible, striving to forget that such a thing ever happened. It's seeking to understand the lessons about ourselves and God and others that float to the surface in these situations.
I suppose since I opened this can of worms regarding the distinction between redemption and restoration, I need to define and process the word "restore" as well. Again, Dictionary.com provides a handy definition: To bring back to a former, original or normal condition. I know lots of women at the rehab facility who would fiercely shake their heads side to side to hear that this is what God is doing in their lives. Their journey into sobriety has their brains insisting, "I'm not who I was." And they're right ... this has certainly been my experience with the women as I watch them come back to life from one week to the next. Yet if I came into this world with a sack of human frailty tied around my neck, is that the "former, original or normal" condition that I am being restored to? Perhaps in the theological sense, restoration is more about sanctification -- this "going on" to perfection. Returning to the journey metaphor, complete restoration is not a destination we can expect to reach in this lifetime, but we can certainly progress in this journey each day.
Through the life and teaching and actions of Jesus, I experience redemption in my own life (a gradual acceptance of just how valuable I am in God's eyes) and learn to apply it to the lives of others (intentionally choosing to view them in the best possible light). I experience restoration as I seek each day, bit by bit, to live my truth -- a life of great value made possible through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Redemption and restoration. Two great miracles made manifest every day in the ordinary lives of people like you and I.