In a moment of brief reflection, one recent morning, I posted something to Facebook about what it might mean to actually believe that our past, as Christians, is not merely lost or “forgotten” by God, but restored. As frequently seems true of Facebook posts, there was nuance and further explanation that I wanted to ad, so I figured this would be as good a place as any. First, the original post:
As children of God and disciples of Jesus, our past isn’t forgotten, it is redeemed and restored.
We in the church have heard things like this for a long time, but there are practical results from understanding what this means.
In surrendering our life to God we don’t lose our uniquely created identity, we don’t become like everyone else. Instead, we find out who we actually are, who we were uniquely created to be all along.
One of the most devastating effects of sin and brokenness in the world is that people’s true identity, true potential, true creativity and true impact is suffocated. Rebellion, which the world refers to as “personal freedom,” doesn’t allow humanity to flourish, it enslaves human beings by lowering the ceiling of possibility and limiting the ability of people to dream of better or more, or even best and most.
The cross of Christ accomplishes the shattering of that ceiling, the restoration of purpose and potential in anyone who would submit to the Lordship of Christ.
What this means is that the cure for cancer and Alzheimer’s, the brokering of peace in war-torn lands, the feeding of the starved and malnourished in the 3rd world, and a thousand other ways brokenness need to be mended, can be solved, but not without the creativity and unique power of liberty that is only available to human beings through a vibrant relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Immediate solutions may not be apparent, but the mending and healing of brokenness is not optional in the kingdom of heaven, it is central.
When we say our lives are redeemed and restored, what we mean, whether we know it or not, is not just that our future is gloriously secured in God, but that our past is also reclaimed. All that was possible had we never made a mistake in life is not forsaken or lost, but restored. We will, eventually, see the results of the impact God designed each of us to make in the world. His kingdom come, His will be done, is a prayer that Jesus told us to pray, and then He spent months and years also showing His disciples how to tangibly pursue that kingdom.
There is always a struggle for Christianity when we talk about our past. This is probably because the core of our salvation experience exists within a tension. When we are saved we are declaring not only our future trajectory, but also the irrelevance of our past failures to derail this new future. This isn’t articulated as irrelevance most of the time, that comes across with far too much finality for our tastes. But, it is not unusual for converts, and those who lead others to the point of conversion, to be committed to the idea that God has saved us “out of” something. This is appealing because there is truth in it. With the Exodus as our example of what redemption looks like, we can easily begin to demonize our past and stigmatize everything that came before our conversion.
But this oversimplification is neither the story of salvation, nor the story of the Exodus. The reason the Israelites were in Egypt in the first place, according to Genesis, was because that was the only place where there was any food. Add to this the fact that one of the heirs of the man who was named Israel, good old color-coat Joseph, was actually second in command over the entire nation of Egypt – the nation that would become the slave master of the descendants of Israel – and what you are left with is a much more complex story of what The Exodus, as well as our own salvation, actually means.
Salvation is not nearly as much a “starting from scratch,” as it is a reimagining, or recovering of what was always supposed to be. The story of the world’s brokenness, which began with Adam and Eve’s foolish decision in Eden, was not a story that began tragically! This is a story that began better than any story we’ve ever known (with the one possible exception being Jesus’ own divine conception)! The world was perfect, not just smooth or peaceful or really nice or beautiful…it was perfect! That’s how humanity’s story begins.
So what has been needed all along is not a completely new idea, or a radical revision on the beginning of everything. What has been needed, and what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus provides for us, is a retelling of the story that took such a tragic turn. What we have been given is an unexpected plot twist that wrinkles our brow at first, but then begins to wash over us like a warm house on a winter day. God didn’t rewrite the story from the beginning with Jesus, He revealed to the entire world what the story was supposed to look like all along!
People weren’t supposed to die.
People weren’t supposed to get sick.
Heartache and injury and pain and suffering were never supposed to be feared by human beings.
Tears were only supposed to exist as evidence of deepest joy, laughter and beauty; not as the overflow of sorrow and loss and regret.
Egypt was a place of hope and grace before it was a place of slavery and sorrow…just like the earth. And so what was needed was restoration of the hope, a new chapter which recaptured the “once upon a time…” grace of the beginning. And this, I contend, is what we have in salvation.
We are not shackled by the mistakes and failures of our past, but we are propelled by the beauty and hope of the history of all things. When we are redeemed we are not simply given a new story, chapter one in our life of salvation did not begin when we repented or prayed or surrendered, it began when God’s voice of creativity and love split the silence of the universe and said, “Let there be…” And it is this very word of creation that He speaks once again over us when we are saved, and then He calls it/us “good.”
So what would have happened had sin not entered theworld? It is nearly impossible to know. All we have is speculation. But, what happens now that sin is in world? What happens when the glory and grace and power of the creative word of God speaks into a broken place? Restoration. Hope. Grace. Mending. Repair. Innovation. Beauty. etc…
There is supposed to be a recapturing of the sense of wholeness and completion that came in Genesis 1 & 2. This is the best explanation for Jesus’ physical miracles. He, who has been created by the Spirit, inspected by His Father at baptism and has been called “good” (“with whom I am well pleased” – Matthew 3:17), begins to bring everything He touches back in line with the original created order. This is bold and brassy and completely out-of-step with everything the world knows to be status quo, but it is exactly the kind of thing that makes sense when words like redemption and restoration are being thrown around.
This is why I believe Christians are supposed to be both praying for the sick at altars as well as working to cure them in research labs. Both are evidences of restoration and redemption. This is true of science, medicine, art, manufacturing, etc… and the list goes on. If we set our eyes to far in the distance, namely on the “afterlife,” we miss two important things:
First, the fact that the beginning of perfection was not the garden tomb Jesus was raised from but the Garden of Eden that Jesus spoke into perfect existence millennia before He was ever buried.
Second, this same Jesus who would inaugurate the life of the kingdom saw it as vitally important both as an example and as a pattern of personal behavior to treat the world as if restoration was supposed to be the normative response to brokenness. He never gave in to the idea that tragedy and devastation were the way things were supposed to be, though He never denied that there was an abundance of both.
If we are to be like Jesus we have to begin to see restoration and redemption as things we participate in; as the patterns of the kingdom of heaven in the here-and-now. Why else would Jesus’ own prayer have been, “Father, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN.”