Thoughts On How We Define “Redemptive”

I had an interesting conversation with a woman in church this past Sunday. We were talking about the Christmas Eve services at Coral Ridge. I asked her if she had come, and she said no, she was busy getting things ready for dinner, but two of her children had been there. She then asked me about the organ piece that Chelsea had played. Evidently her children came home and told her it was “horrible.” I knew it was not what most people considered a “traditional” Christmas piece, so I did my best to explain that it (the first movement of Marcel Dupré’s Symphonie-Passion titled The World Awaiting Its Savior) was meant to sound agitated with discordant notes, contrasted with a portion in the middle that is serene, a lullaby for the Savior to come. After all, isn’t the world an agitated mess awaiting its Savior?

(If you’re interested, here’s a link to a YouTube video of  the piece played by Robert Costin to give context:–pB6GY)

She then asked me if there was anything “redemptive” about it. I didn’t really have a chance to answer her since church began, but it has stuck in my mind ever since. When Christians ask the question of if something is redemptive, we’re usually trying to figure out if it goes into our “good” box or our “bad” box. In the good box are things that God can use. In the bad box are those things beyond redemption.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, in her memoir Pastrix, says that growing up in the church gave her an ingrained “sorting system.” There were containers for every person, event, and idea to be placed into. Saved vs. not Saved. Us vs. not Us. Good vs. Bad. All of these pretty much meant the same thing. When she left the church, she thought she had put those labels behind her. She was more open minded. But she later realized she hadn’t escaped the sorting system at all. Her labels had just changed.

Things that go into our redemptive box are usually nice. Pretty. Comfortable. They make us feel happy. Safe. Because that’s our definition of good, right?

Silent Night, which we also sang Christmas Eve, goes into our “redemptive” box because when we sing it, it brings those feelings of peace and sentimentality we love. But when we listen to a piece like The World Awaiting Its Savior, with its agitation, it goes into our “not redemptive” box, because how can a piece with such jarring notes, that can make us so uncomfortable when we hear it, be good? Thomas Kincade with the cozy cottages and peaceful streams … redemptive. Jackson Pollack’s abstract art … not redemptive. I mean, what in the world is abstract art about anyway? No cottages? 😉

And even as I write this, I am putting people into boxes. There is the “enlightened” box for those who see God can use all aspects of our life and world for His redemptive purposes. Then there is the “un-enlightened” box for everyone else. Which just highlights the fact that we are all sinners in need of grace.

The question becomes then, how can something be used for redemptive purposes when it brings discomfort rather than comfort? When it irritates us rather than soothes us? When we don’t even understand it? I certainly don’t have it all figured out. But I know that we are created in God’s image. And as He is a Creator, so we create. I know that all truth is God’s truth. And truth isn’t just things that make us feel comfortable and happy. Truth often brings pain, irritation, anger, discomfort.

I’m pretty sure God’s definition of good is not just what makes us feel safe, comfortable, and happy. One of my favorite quotes is from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Mr. Beaver tells Susan about Aslan the Lion. She’s a bit afraid to meet a lion, so she asks if he is safe. Safe? …Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

He is good. He is the King. The King who would choose to be a baby, born to die, for us. Is He confined to using only what we think is good for His redemptive purposes? Thankfully, no. His plan to redeem, to raise the dead to new life, to make all things new through Jesus Christ, is far bigger than the box we want to confine His work to.

One day there will be no more pain or tears. No more discordant notes. But until then, He chooses to bring redemption right where we are. Right in the middle of the mess, pain, and destruction of sin. Sometimes through Silent Night. And sometimes throughThe World Awaiting Its Savior. Imagine that!