Redemption as Transformation from Death to Life

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Thus, deliverance from death and the power of sin was required as "the negative facet" in the divine plan (Isaiah 43:14-17; Hebrews 9:15; I John 5:4-5).11 Redemption as deliverance was not a wiping away of sin in the sense that it can be swept aside as insignificant. Nor was it the satisfaction of debt in an overly-literal sense. Jesus Christ's journey into "the far country" in search of those who had chosen death rather than life was not completed by the payment of debt incurred by sin against God. The language of payment can only begin to express the love beyond limit that rendered human persons capable once more of attaining a share in God's own reign and glory (II Corinthians 3:18; I Thessalonians 2:12; I Peter 5:1). Jesus Christ's life and death made possible for humanity: restoration of the life lost through sin; sanctification of the body (Romans 12:1); acquiring of the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16); and the fulfilling of God-given potential to attain maturity in the faith, which is to have the stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). But redemption is not yet complete. That which has been performed in his living and dying will be complete when he returns in glory (Romans 1:16; 8:23; 13:11). Until that time, the efficacy of redemption entails a movement from imperfection to perfection and for fulness of life and participation in the life divine. With this in mind, let us consider three aspects of redemption as transformation from death to life: personal, social, and cosmic.

First, let us consider the personal hope of transformation from death to life, imperfection to perfection. According to some non-Christian theorists, such a hope of transformation is a psychological illusion which enables the expression of discontent at personal insufficiency. The hope of perfection, writes Julia Kristeva, is an illusory blending of a person's "superego" with their own "ideal ego" (Kristeva 1989a:185). Believers derive sadomasochistic pleasure from their suffering awareness of sin and sink into melancholy, like Job who sank into his ashpit, before the imagined face of the "Thing" or "imagined sun" which is their God (Kristeva 1989a:185, also pp. 15, 176). Dispense with God, the "permanent, tyrannical superego," and one will dispense with the dejection and sadness that results from a supposed call to perfection. Humankind, claimed Nietzsche, can bear its own burden of imperfection; it is only because humankind looks into the brilliant mirror "God" that their own nature seems so dismal (Nietzsche 1986:70-1). Nietzsche and Kristeva assert that the very hope of transformation from imperfection to perfection is harmful to the human condition because it results in depression and dependence. To aspire to God-likeness is a denial of one's potential. By contrast, Christian teaching is that to aspire to God-likeness is true fulfillment. Jesus Christ manifested true humanity and revealed deification to be its true norm; to become like God (theosis) is to achieve one's potential in Christ (I Corinthians 15:50-7;

Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 2:10; II Peter 1:4). What, then, is the relationship between redemption and perfection? Is the hope of perfection something from which one should seek release?

According to Christian teaching the relationship between redemption and perfection is intimate and concerns the operation of the Holy Spirit in a person's life. Jesus urged his hearers: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Athanasius writes: "For He has become Man, that He might deify us in Himself. . . and that we may become henceforth a holy race, and 'partakers of the Divine Nature'" (Athanasius 1989e:575). Jesus Christ "put on the creature" that he might both recover and consecrate it, consecration being the outcome and instantiation of the divine energies in a person's life. As Clement of Alexandria says of this transformation: "to drink the blood of Jesus, is to become partaker of the Lord's immortality; the Spirit being the energetic principle of the Word, as blood is of flesh" (Clement of Alexandria 1993:242). God's grace does not force persons but invites cooperation (synergy) with God as the Holy Spirit makes Jesus Christ's redemption real in the life of the believer (Romans 7:6, 8:14; I Corinthians 2:11; Galatians 5:5; Ephesians 2:18). The relationship between redemption and perfection is dynamic and ongoing as the Holy Spirit enables one's mode-of-being or life-orientation to be turned toward God. Yet, says Kristeva, the relationship between redemption and perfection leads to dejection, citing Job's cry of despair: " 'What is man that you (God) should make so much of him?' . . . 'Turn your eyes away, leave me a little joy'" (Job 7:17; Kristeva 1989a:185). To Job, hope for transformation seems too much to bear. He does not want to be redeemed because he loathes his life and has no desire to live forever (Job 7:16). He is close to committing "suicide of the soul" and has lost all relish for life.12

For Kristeva, the believer will always be disappointed by their defects and conscious of the judgment of God; there is no escape from the dialectic of judgment and forgiveness. The hope of perfection drives one to despair - as, indeed, might the physicalist hope for the ideal body; materialist hope for an impressive job or house; or moralist hope for sanctity in the eyes of others or oneself. Yet, writes John:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. (I John 4:18-19)

The perfection to which he bears witness is a perfection of love which takes the believer beyond judgment and into a new boldness about life and its possibilities. Why is this? Because, writes John, God lives in us; "we have known and believe the love that God has for us" (I John 4:16). Of course, the analyst may have a kind of love for the analysand, but this love is paid for its time. God's love is free; it is a different kind of giving. As distinct from Kristeva's representation, God's is a love that desires transformation far more than we are capable of desiring it ourselves. Thus, God's love made up for Job's lack of desire for life and brought him back from despair. As John Chrysostom writes:

I said you are gods and all of you are the sons and daughters of the Most High. And this is said because you have been born of God. How and in what manner? Through the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit. 93B)

redemption 237 (John Chrysostom 1862:59,

Redemption does not only release from sin but awakens consciousness of the availability of love which allows persons to be reborn.13 A gift is not fully given until it has been received. Thankfully, writes Maximus the Confessor, God gives to those who pray not as they ask but as they are able to receive (Maximus the Confessor 1985b:113).

Secondly, let us consider redemption as transformation from death to life in social terms. What does "redemption" look like in social terms? What might it mean for the church to live redemptively in the hope of God's coming reign? These questions may be approached variously. For our purposes, let us concentrate on biblical examples of when and why redemption exceeds earthly conceptions of justice, and ask why and how the church is called to embody a redemptive polity. To address the former question, we need a working definition of justice. Following Agnes Heller, let us suppose that principles of justice can be discussed in two ways: either as constitutive or as regulative ideas, i.e., either as the substance of justice (such as norms and rules which apply to every member of a social grouping), or as the criteria of justice (such as values upon which justice is administered for the good of the state, fraternity, or efficiency) (Heller 1987:25). Consider the difference between the following maxims of justice that might be either constitutive or regulative: "to each the same thing"; "to each according to their need." The former disallows and the latter requires the norm of proportionality. They are irreconcilable and illustrate the difficulty in arriving at a working definition of justice; no norm or rule can cope with the multiplicities of individual and social needs: "Since individual and social needs almost never coincide, and no norm or rule applies to the former, justice stops short of the singularity of the person. Individual structures of needs are the limits of justice" (Heller 1987:32). Moreover, writes Heller, a sick person requires more than the practice of justice; no "just" society provides the sick with good friends (Heller 1987:33).

The subject requires more consideration than is possible here. Yet we can ask: Does God's redemption exceed the limits of justice as humanly conceived? Was the landowner who hired laborers at different hours in the day, and paid them the same wage, just? (See Matthew 20:1-16.) Was Boaz just when - within the social constraints of the day - he married Ruth rather than merely redeeming the inheritance, in order that her dead husband's name was maintained with the land (Ruth 4:9-10)? Both instances raise issues concerning the relationship between equality of outcome and the ethics of the means whereby an outcome is attained. The landowner exercised corrective justice (which Heller terms equity) to modify social norms and rules, such that the singularity of the workers was taken into account in the final outcome; provision was made for the needs of laborers left behind. Boaz perceived needs which required satisfaction and to which the social conventions of redemption did not apply, such as the need for respect for a dead man's name. His actions were governed by an ethos which exceeded the prescription of norms. Similarly, the prophet Isaiah implies that God's redemption exceeds human notions of justice when he describes Jacob and Israel as deeply unworthy:

Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you insect Israel!

I will help you, says the Lord;

Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel

(Isaiah 41:14)

This witness to the holiness and covenantal-faithfulness of Yahweh is located between references to Yahweh's judgment and to his justice (Isaiah 41:1-2, 21-4; 42:4). The God who redeems is the God who judges with all justice, but also the God who hears the prayers of the people: "I the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them" (Isaiah 41:17b). Yahweh's redemption exceeds the absolutes of justice because divine justice includes mercy. God's redemption reaches its limits only in lack of repentance and refusal to show mercy to others (Matthew 6:15, 18:33).

Thus, it would be wrong to imply that there is a bifurcation between justice and redemption because the divine economy includes both (I John 1:9; Revelations 15:3). However, where justice is strict and exact, giving each person their due, redemption goes beyond justice in its benevolence, kindness, and generosity.14 Thus, when the prophets cry out against injustice, they plead the cause of the needy:

learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:17)

The logic of justice, writes A. J. Heschel, may be impersonal and dehumanizing but the concern for justice which is tempered with compassion is an act of love. Thus Amos's plea that the people may "hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate" is qualified by the command that they do not "buy the poor for silver" or the "guilty for a pair of sandals" (Amos 8:6). Arguably, it is difficult for the church today to heed the words of the prophets because global, free-market systems mask the real human costs of profit and consumerist desire to accumulate. The "who pays?" question - at least as it refers to working conditions, inferior health and education facilities, and pollution -is rarely heard because those affected do not have buying-power in the market. Yet, the prophetic idea of redemption is never impersonal or atemporal. Whereas justice may be atemporal, the witness of the prophets is that redemption becomes temporalized wherever a neighbor is in need. The challenge to the church today perhaps is little different from that of the prophets to Israel: be a contrast polity; yours is a covenant with life not death (Isaiah 28:18; Hebrews 9:15); fight oppression and defend the helpless. The redemption of personal, singular needs accords with God's mercy; because of this it is beyond justice.15

Thirdly, let us consider redemption as transformation from life to death in cosmic terms. By faith the Christian confesses that God created the cosmos. But what might it mean to pray for the redemption of the cosmos? There is, of course, strong witness in Christian tradition that God's witness will include all creation:

The creation, then . . . now groans and travails, waiting itself also for our redemption from the corruption of the body, that, when we have risen and shaken off the mortality of the flesh ... it also shall be freed from corruption and be subject no longer to vanity, but to righteousness. Isaiah says, too, "For as the new heaven and the new earth which I make, remaineth before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name be;" . . . For in reality God did not establish the universe in vain, or to no purpose but destruction . . . but to exist, and be inhabited, and continue. (Methodius 1993:366)

God's redemptive purposes extend as far as creation itself. Athanasius's portrayal of the incarnation includes a vision of the whole of creation filled with the divine presence of the Word (Athanasius 1989a:4). For this reason, it is not possible theologically to participate in Christ's redemption and disparage or remain indifferent to material reality. Some of the great biblical visions of redemption include reference to the created order (Isaiah 32:15-18, 52:7-10; Ezekiel 36:33-8; Amos 9:13-15). The eucharist is a celebration of the unity of all creation and is "a cosmic liturgy" in so far as it sums up the life of the world and offers it to God.16 Yet, it is not easy to imagine what redemption might mean for the whole created order. J├╝rgen Moltmann urges his readers to ponder these matters with reference to the sabbath laws (e.g. Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-7) because, in allowing fields to lie fallow, the people learn to live in harmony with the land and to celebrate its blessing (Moltmann 1985, ch. XI). To those who live in cities and have no responsibility for fields, he says: "The ecological day of rest should be a day without pollution of the environment - a day when we leave our cars at home, so that nature too can celebrate its sabbath" (1985:296). To hope for the redemption of the cosmos, to pray that God's reign will come on earth, might appear to be to hope against hope. It is certainly a hope that we hold in fear and trembling, hearing the words "work out your own salvation" (Philippians 2:12b) with trepidation. We cannot, of course, earn the redemption of the cosmos by our efforts. Rather, the hope is that we might allow the work of God to be active in creation. This is not the time to presume on God's mercy. It may, however, be a time to remember that God has called us "friends" (John 15:15) and invited us to work together (Mark 16:20, sunergeo) in anticipation of the coming reign of God.

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