Redeemer: Somebody like Jesus who bails us out. Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 March
REDEEM rə'dim verb. Compensate for the flaws, deficiencies, or evil of something or someone.
2. Save someone from sin, error, or evil.
3. Gain or regain something, in exchange for payment; repay, or clear a debt.
4. Fulfill a promise.
[Redemption rə'dɛm(p).ʃən noun, redeemer rə'dim.ər noun, redeemable rə'di.mə.bəl adjective.]

When people talk about redeeming or redemption, if they’re not Christian they’re usually talking about recycling cans and bottles. In California when you buy something in a recyclable container, you’re charged an extra fee (the California redemption value, or CRV) which we’re meant to get back when we take the container to a recycling center. Although not everybody bothers to get their CRV back; they toss it in a recycling bin. Or even the trash—and then someone else will go digging through the trash looking for recyclables, hoping for that sweet, sweet CRV money.

Christian redemption isn’t quite like that… although I have actually heard a sermon or two about Jesus recycling sinners. Supposedly God created us with an inherent value, but by sinning, we’re throwing ourselves in the trash… and I guess Jesus is gonna be the guy who fishes us out of the trash and gets our full value. Meh; it’s a shaky simile.

The Christianese term has to do with saving someone from sin, error, or evil. And properly, it has to do with debt. In the bible, the LORD ordered the Hebrews to not just abandon family members to circumstances, to debt, and to poverty: They were to help them.

Leviticus 25.25 NASB
“&thinsp‘If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor that he sells part of his property, then his closest redeemer is to come and buy back what his relative has sold.’ ”

The “closest redeemer” (Hebrew גֹֽאֲלוֹ֙ הַקָּרֹ֣ב/gohélo ha-qaróv) actually means “next-of-kin redeemer.” It’s not automatically your closest male relative; not every man had the wherewithal to actually redeem anyone. It’s your closest relative who’s a patriarch, the head of a significant family. It’s the closest relative who can afford to help you.

This redeemer bought back the property. If you sold your oxen—and these weren’t really oxen you could spare; you kinda needed them to plow your field—your redeemer bought ’em back and returned them to you. If you sold your home, your redeemer bought it back and returned it to you. If you sold your farm, your redeemer bought it back and returned it to you. Getting the idea? If you were destitute, and even had to sell yourself into slavery, your redeemer bought you back and freed you.

Your redeemer didn’t buy back your property so he could retain possession of it, and let you live on his farm, in his house, plowing with his oxen, with him as your lord and you his serf. Nope, he gave them back to you. Because you’re family, and God had made your redeemer wealthy enough to do for family.

Yeah, it’s not a mindset we find at all among most Americans. Even Christians.

It’s certainly not a Mammonist view.

Sometimes—but I’ve found it to be rare—a person will explain their constant radical forgiveness for family members with, “They’re family. I can’t turn away family.” That family member will regularly disappoint everybody around them, and even take advantage of the grace offered to them—exactly like many a Christian will do with God. And keep getting forgiven.

More often I’ve heard people insist, “Well there has to be a cut-off point. You have to stop enabling such people. Just tell them, ‘This is all I’m going to help you; after this you’re on your own.’ It’s what’s best for them. It’s tough love.

I understand this attitude. Especially when we’re talking about addicts or abusive people: We shouldn’t enable such people to continue their addictions or abuse. ’Cause what we’re really enabling is their self-destruction.

But the cut-off point, and “tough love,” tend to be applied to everything. To everyone. Society puts a limit on how gracious people are expected to be. If people exceed that limit, they’re not said to be generous and gracious; they’re getting swindled. As if they don’t realize they don’t have to forgive and be kind any longer; they’ve done plenty; they can stop now!

The LORD never gave the Hebrews a cut-off point when it comes to redeeming one another. There’s no, “Redeem your kinsman 70 times, and if he sells his house a 71st time, now it’s on him; he goes houseless.” Nope; you bail him out. As long as you’re able. Because he’s family. And because the property needs to stay with family.

Leviticus 25.23-24 NASB
23 “ ‘The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine; for you are only strangers and residents with Me. 24 So for every piece of your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land.’ ”

“But it’s costing me a fortune.” And here we come to the real issue. People don’t mind being gracious, being infinitely forgiving, when it doesn’t cost a dime—or even when it does cost a dime, but we have a giant supply of dimes. When money isn’t a priority, money is no object. But when money’s all we think about, either because we have none or we covet it, money is most definitely an object.

The reason people don’t care to redeem family members—far, far less some needy stranger in a faraway foreign country, or a city across the country, or in the next neighborhood, or in the same neighborhood—is because we care more about our money than them. Why should they cost us? Why should I take my hard-earned money, which I was about to spend on a 24-pack for the weekend, and give it to some bum? And by “bum” I mean a family member who’s living in her car. That bum. And how dare the government take my tax dollars and do it for me?

Jesus our redeemer.

As Christians know, Jesus is regularly called our redeemer. We didn’t just sell off our property; we sold ourselves, into sin. And Jesus bought us out of that slavery.

Yeah, Paul describes us (and himself) as slaves to God. It’s because Paul would use any metaphor to make his points. But the metaphors only describe what reality is like, and don’t get too literal with them or you’ll end up with contradictions. ’Cause Paul’s writings allow us to either imagine ourselves as slaves whom God’s bought for himself, Ro 6.22 or slaves whom Jesus deliberately freed, who follow him in gratitude, but we’re still free. Ga 4.5 The scriptures don’t give us a specific formula for how atonement works, because Jesus never spelled it out. So the apostles used any and every idea to talk about it.

And most Christians really like the redemption idea: It means we’re free. And if the Son sets us free, we’re truly free. Jn 8.36

Occasionally you’ll hear about how our Redeemer lives. That’s not a quote from the New Testament; it’s from Job.

Job 19.25-27 NASB
25 “Yet as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last, He will take His stand on the earth.
26 Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I will see God,
27 Whom I, on my part, shall behold for myself,
And whom my eyes will see, and not another.
My heart faints within me!”

Job was speaking about how he knew, despite his lousy circumstances, God would eventually get him out of it. He’s the living God, as opposed to all the inert, dead gods the pagans worshiped; Job fully expected to see God do something on his behalf.

So yeah, the verse isn’t specifically about Jesus—though he is God. Hence Christians borrow this quote to talk about Jesus. After all he’s alive. And he bought our freedom from sin and death. And eventually, at his second coming, each of us will see him with our own two resurrected eyes.