Redemption as Gods Solidarity with Humankind

In what sense, therefore, does God's solidarity with humankind in Jesus have redeeming power? Why is God's solidarity with humanity an important aspect of redemption? In addressing these questions, it is helpful to recall that in the Old Testament, the idea of redemption is expressed by two verbs, ga'al and padah (HTS), with their deriv atives. The former, ga'al, is used in the legal and economic sense of paying a price for one's kin, to redeem them from slavery (Leviticus 25:25), or to buy back the family property or inheritance (Ruth 4:1-12). God is the redeemer go'el (^ who delivers the people from oppression (Exodus 6:6; Isaiah 43:1, 44:22) and displays mighty power in the face of enemies (Psalms 69:18; 107:2). Padah is also used of redeeming by paying a price (Exodus 13:13, 34:20) or setting free from servitude (Deuteronomy 7:8; Jeremiah 15:21). Solidarity is integral to redemption in each of these passages. Kinspersons act for the well being of a relative and in solidarity with the family as a whole, and Yahweh is likened to such redeemers (I Chronicles 17:21; Psalms 31:5, 34:22; Isaiah 43:1, 52:9). Yahweh makes deliberate interventions on behalf of those whose future is unprotected, which might involve the figurative "paying of a price." It is worth noting, however, that this image should not be overplayed. Consider, for example, how there is no hint of a sum of money paid by God to Pharaoh in the defining instance of redemption in the Old Testament, namely, the exodus from Egypt. God's redemption was an act of deliberate intervention which flowed from "steadfast love" or mercy (hesed^U 0) but there is no sense that Pharaoh had gained a "right" over the people of God. Thus Moses sang:

In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed (fl^tji.S; LXX, eXutproaro);

you guided them by your strength to your holy abode. (Exodus 15:13)

The emphasis is upon God's taking the initiative on behalf of needy persons rather than upon Pharaoh's just claim.

The theme of solidarity as an aspect of redemption persists into the New Testament. Jesus's baptism is an astonishing identification with those called to repent (Matthew 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:21-2). Indeed, Jesus's solidarity with sinners (hamartoloi a^apxroXoi) (Matthew 9:10, 11:19; Mark 2:16; Luke 5:53, 7:34) is one of the most significant features of his ministry. Assuming with E. P. Sanders that such passages speak of Jesus's association with the most disreputable and fringe members of society and not simply those less than scrupulous in observing purity laws, it is arguable that Jesus stood together with those who offended not only the scribes and Pharisees but the ordinarily pious also.4 He was a "friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 11:19), ate and drank with the outcast and excluded (Mark 2:16-17; Luke 5:30), and allowed himself to be touched by those regarded as guilty of repeated and extreme wickedness (Luke 7:3 7-9). The writer(s) of John's Gospel also offer(s) startling examples of Jesus's solidarity with those in need (John 5:1-18, 7:21-4). The pericope presents his body-language as identifying with a woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). Jesus is recorded as declaring the wrath of God on a world perishing under the weight of its own sin (John 3:16, 36; 8:24; 16:8-10), and as calling individual persons to a renewed relationship with God (John 3:5-8, 4:23, 5:25, 14:1). Paul speaks of Jesus Christ's solidarity with humankind to the extent that he "died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6) and became accursed for humanity by accepting on our behalf the judgment of the law and being hanged on a tree (Galatians 3:10-13). He emphasizes Jesus Christ's solidarity with humankind in death. However, the polyphony of New Testament witness reminds us that redemption in Jesus Christ is to be associated not with his death alone but with every moment of his life and ministry; his whole life was born of the necessity of love.

Thus, God's solidarity with humanity in Jesus Christ is an important aspect of the incarnation. But why and how does this solidarity have redemptive significance? At least three answers to this question are given by ancient, Eastern Fathers of the Church: the incarnate Christ's solidarity with humankind has healing, restorative, and persuasive effect. Let's consider each in turn. First, Jesus Christ was a "physician" who, being both human and divine, was capable of freeing human souls from death and corruption, healing them from ungodliness, and restoring to health (Ignatius 1993a:52). His was the "medicine of immortality," the antidote to sin which prevents us from dying and protects against evil (1993a:57).5 Athanasius wrote:

He "delivered" to Him [the Son] man, that the Word Himself might be made Flesh, and by taking the Flesh, restore it wholly. For to Him, as to a physician, man "was delivered" to heal the bite of the serpent; as to life, to raise what was dead; as to light, to illumine the darkness; and, because He was Word, to renew the rational nature. (Athanasius 1989c:87)

At creation, all things had been moved and given life by the Word of God. At the incarnation, all things were once more filled by the life-giving presence of the Word, and this "filling" had healing effect because humanity was touched with divinity and, thereby, restored to its vocation: "For He was made man that we might be made God" (Athanasius 1989b:65). Similarly, Gregory of Nazianzen affirms: "what is not assumed cannot be healed and what was united to God is saved" (Gregory of Nazianzen 1954: 215-44, esp. p. 218). This healing was manifest practically and immediately in Jesus's ministry: "He lived a holy life, and healed every kind of sickness and disease among the people" (Ignatius 1993b:64). But it also had ontological effect. The incarnation was not merely a "drop in" visit by God. It constituted a re-creation of humanity because, in Christ, humankind became once more a communicant of divine life. Jesus Christ is the new Adam (Romans 5:15) whose life and ministry has healing and restorative effect for the many.

Secondly, the incarnation had this positive effect because humankind was once more enabled to grow in the knowledge and likeness of God; its original vocation had been restored. Thus Gregory of Nazianzen described the gradual dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the apostles after Pentecost as "making perfect their powers" such that their work might be considered worthy of the majesty of God (Gregory of Nazianzen 1989b:326). John of Damascus spoke of the redeemer making it possible for human nature to attain "perfection," which would be characterized by the following properties: "absence of care and distraction and guile, goodness, wisdom, justice, freedom from all vice . . . communion with Himself" (John of Damascus 1989:75). The healing effected by the incarnation did not have mechanical effect that overrides human freedom, but offers to each person the possibility of becoming more like God and, simultaneously, of becoming more fully human. This is because the essence of humankind is not found in the dust from which we were created (Genesis 3:19b) but in the "image of the invisible God" (II Corinthians 4:4) who is Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, God's solidarity with humankind in the incarnation has redemptive effect in so far as it enables us to learn the things of God. Redemption, argues Irenaeus, is not by violent means but "by means of persuasion": "For in no other way could we have learned the things of God, unless our Master, existing as the Word, had become man . . . redeeming us by His own blood in a manner consonant to reason" (Irenaeus of Lyons 1993:526). Arguably, the persuasive effects of the incarnation would have been necessary even without the fall into sin. According to several early Fathers, the weakness of mortal, human nature - even without the intrusion of death - was sufficient to warrant the incarnation in order that humankind might attain knowledge of God. Hence Athanasius's observation concerning how God knew the weakness of human nature, it being created from nothing, and made provision for their knowledge of himself. This provision included the works of creation, the law, and the prophets, and, pre-eminently, the incarnation: "He did not leave them destitute of the knowledge of Himself, lest they should find not profit in existing at all" (Athanasius 1989b:42). If so, then the redeeming effect of the incarnation was "more than necessary"; it was more than necessary to deal with sin and was an act of abundant love in order that humankind might be drawn toward enjoyment of God. Jesus Christ entered into solidarity with humankind that "through Him [they might] get an idea of the Father, and knowing their Maker, live the happy and truly blessed life" (ibid.).

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  • rezene
    How does jesus christ redeem humankind?
    3 years ago

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