Friday, March 14, 2008

Redemption of the World?

One of my former religion professors really didn't like the idea of propitiation. For him the concept of appeasing an offended God or dispelling God's wrath didn't make sense in the context of the New Testament. His understanding of God led him to embrace expiation instead--the idea of making amends or reconciling a broken bond.

Although this may seem like splitting hairs to some people, it really is a significant distinction. Propitiation evokes the image of an angry Old Testament God with a rapacious bloodlust--the only way to satisfy this God is through the ultimate bloodshed. By embracing expiation, my professor was effectively throwing out that Old Testament image of God in exchange for a God who blesses the peacemakers and seeks out the lost.

I understand God in a similar way. I believe in a God who is more concerned with reconciliation than retribution, who is more likely to pardon than to punish, and who cares more that justice is given to the lowly than that justice is served to the law-breakers. I believe in redemption.

But it recently occurred to me that I don't really know what redemption looks like. Growing up, I was taught that redemption had something to do with God forgiving me so I could get into heaven. Since we were fallen people in a fallen world, redemption meant being perfected (after we died) and living in a perfect world (heaven).

That's all fine and dandy, but is that all that redemption is? Is it really so individualistic? Is it only about me getting into heaven? What about the service of others in God's name? What about the reign of God on earth? What about the redemption of this life and this world?

I believe that the redemption that God has in mind is the redemption of the world--not just of individuals. It isn't something that clergy or conservatives or Christians have a monopoly over. It is God reconciling the world to Godself. Redemption is tied up intimately with the gospel of the kingdom: "Get ready! God's reign on earth is coming!"

But how do we get ready? What do we need to do? How can we contribute to a project (like reconciliation) that really belongs to God? What does the redemption of the world look like?

Can this world even be redeemed?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Where Do You Go When You Die?

I've been thinking about death a lot lately.

Well, I guess I've actually been thinking about aging more than death, but for me they are both wrapped up together. I'm beginning to reach a point where aging is no longer something I look forward to. My grandma is dying and my dad just celebrated another birthday--and it's kinda freaking me out.

I remember as a little kid, all you want is to be older. With each birthday comes more privileges, more freedoms, and more knowledge. The older kids are always bigger and cooler. As a kid, you idolize your friend's 16 year-old brother who gets his first car and starts going on dates. You wish you were a high schooler with a locker and text books like you see on your favorite TV shows. But once you are that 16 year old with a car and a girlfriend and a locker and text books, all you want is to be in college. Each birthday is something you look forward to--up to a point.

So, I realize I'm still very young, but I've reached the point where I don't have any birthdays to look forward to until I retire. There's nothing special about turning 25 or 29, and there is certainly nothing exciting about the tens digit getting higher. Each new birthday I celebrate brings me a year closer to death.

I don't mean to be morbid (I promise I'm not one of those people who thinks that being fixated on death is somehow sophisticated), but I'm beginning to wonder if my apprehension of aging/death has something to do with my uncertainty about the afterlife. My biblical studies have made it clear that the Bible is equivocal about the afterlife. Sometimes there is nothing, sometimes there is sheol (a state of partial existence that fades into nonexistence), sometimes there is heaven and hell, and sometimes it is just really unclear.

If you were to ask me about heaven and hell, I would have to respond, "I really don't know that there is much to say about either one." Sure, my agnosticism on the issue may seem like a cop out, but I really don't think we can be very certain about something that no living person can experience. But that doesn't mean that it isn't an important question--after all, that question is what makes me apprehensive about death.

We all want something to live for and we want our lives to be more than just a short-lived battle against entropy. For some of us, there is hope and meaning in the prospect of an afterlife. Because I was raised knowing that there is a heaven and a hell, having that certainty disappear on me is unsettling.

So, where do you go when you die? I'm just not sure that there is much I can say on the subject. I believe in God. I believe in redemption.

I just hope I'm right.