2015 Theme of the Year (Part 2)

Seeing the World Through a Redemptive Lens

Last month I wrote about trying to redeem moments of time in 2015. Now I want to focus on the second part of my “redemption” theme for 2015: seeing the world through a redemptive lens. (Stay with me here as I explain the background to a “redemptive lens.”)

During the week-long intensive class I took at HoneyRock Camp in November, the professor had us examine and imagine three different lenses or worldviews that different “churches” might have had, applied to their views on the Bible, the Trinity, and Jesus, the church, humanity, and other categories. The professor asked one group to read through the first three chapters of Genesis, trying to imagine how the “Edenic” church would have viewed these topics. The “Edenic church” would have looked pretty great—life was good, relationships with God and others were great, and humanity was viewed as created in the image of God.

Another group was tasked with imagining what the church at Nod would have been like. Nod is the place where Cain was sent after killing Abel in Genesis 4, and the professor explained that the idea of the “Nod church” represented what those who believed in Yahweh would have thought when the fall and its consequences were fresh. Nod represented a fallen worldview, a lens through which things probably didn’t look so great since Eden was over, Jesus’ incarnation was years away, and humanity was viewed as broken, fallen, and prone to murdering and such.

Finally, my group was tasked with imagining what the early church at Jerusalem, right after Jesus’ ascension, would have been like and how it would have viewed these categories. As we tried to put ourselves in their 2000+ year old shoes, we supposed that the Jerusalem church would have still viewed humanity as fallen on some level, and yet, because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and resurrection, humanity would have been more than fallen. This fictional worldview would have viewed humanity as redeemed, which is not to say that the Jerusalem church had some romantic or illusory view of rosy humanity. “Redeemed humanity” would have meant that the church saw people as broken, and yet covered by grace and worthy of ministering to.

Our professor asked us, “Have we inherited a use of Scripture that views a fallen world or a redeemed world, one that sees our role as partnering with the work of Christ and helping ‘redeem’ all that’s fallen?” He challenged me with the statement that, if I view the world as fallen, or as the “Nod church” would have, I undo the work of Christ. Again, that’s not to undermine the fact that we are all broken and fallen. The truth that I am fallen in my own nature is crucial, but Christ has redeemed me. Redemption language doesn’t negate the fall but views it in light of Christ. Our professor pointed out that if we are trying to encourage and walk alongside people, we don’t need to view them with a fallen lens but rather a redemptive one. Redemption implies a prior fall from which a person is redeemed, after all. However, we don’t have to start with, “How is this person fallen?” but instead we can ask, “Where are redemptive qualities in this person?” as we seek to love them.

So, what does that mean for my theme of the year? If you know me or have read of my self-professed cynicism (which I like to think of as in a “recovering” state!), too often I view people as fallen. I’ve said many times that somehow “I hate people; but I love people!” and I think that tension comes from the fact that I’m “looking for Eden.” I view people—even in the church—with the hopes of returning to “Eden” in a sense, but people can’t live up to that, so I end up being all too aware of their (and my own!) brokenness. I guess that puts me in the Nod camp, where I’m cynical and aware of how broken this world can be. Too often, I go looking for people to be perfect, “Eden people” and am disappointed; as a realist, I should know this and look for people to be “Jerusalem people,” but unfortunately I don’t act on this. However, Christ isn’t asking us to look for—or even be—Eden. He wants us to be “Jerusalem people:” people who are inherently fallen and prone to wander, but who God nevertheless chooses to enter in with and make new and whole again, people who are redeemed.

As we were engaging in this discussion as a class, my thoughts drifted back to my three weeks in Jerusalem this summer. I wrote about it in a post back in July, and five months after my time there, it felt like things were coming together, like different themes and lessons were colliding into a bigger picture. If you have read about my time in Jerusalem, I learned a ton, but I left a little disappointed that I didn’t fall in love with the city of Jerusalem, a place that is so important in my own tradition and our corporate Story.

Sitting in a freezing classroom in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, I realized that the “Eden vs. Nod vs. Jerusalem lens” discussion and conviction echoed what I found when I actually went to Jerusalem in 2014. I went expecting to fall in love with the place, to have some amazing “revelatory” experience, in short: to find Eden. What I found instead was a desert (more or less). I think my disappointed expectations left me feeling like a person from Nod (Nodian?) a bit: aware of the place’s shortcomings more than its potential, rich history, or various offerings. I was disappointed, hoping milk and honey meant a land of Edenic resources and riches, when instead it meant something so much more: the “promised land” in the sense that it was for ancient Israel “the land in which God promises to provide.” I wonder what my impressions of Jerusalem would have been if I had traveled there expecting to find Jerusalem, a fallen place but one in which God is working and where redemption is nevertheless occurring, versus Eden, a place that is romantically unrealistic in this broken world.

So, for the second part of my “redemption” theme of the year, my hope and prayer is that I can shift my mindset, my expectations, my lens so that I am looking for redemption in the world, not looking for perfection and, when disappointed, resorting to cynicism about the brokenness revealed. What that actually, tangibly looks like is something I’m working on. But, the once-in-a-lifetime learning experience I had with Wheaton in the Holy Lands last summer, along with the courses I’ve taken in grad school and our discussion about having a “Jerusalem lens,” a redemptive lens, rather than an “Eden lens” have helped me work through that more. A lot of it has to do with my overall mindset and how I first react to people and situations, as well as how I approach loving others. And a lot of it probably has to do with silencing my inner cynic who, when people do flake out or drop the ball, wants to say, “of course.” Instead, I have to choose to see the redemptive qualities in that person, the ways in which God is working and reflected.

I’m not sure if this makes any sense, but if you feel like commenting or asking questions, I’d love to hear your thoughts! May you, like me, daily try to choose to see people and the world redemptively, aware of the brokenness but even more aware of God’s great work of restoring and healing a hurting world unto Himself.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,