Theology Matters: How Did God Prepare Us for Redemption?

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There is an old principle of catholic theology, dating at least to the early 3rd-century theologian Origen, that God is never arbitrary. This means that God does not just randomly decide one day to do something, but rather consistently acts in accordance with a plan and purpose.1 This truth applies to our redemption. The accomplishment of it through the work of Jesus Christ is the culmination of a plan, the preparations for which had been in the making ever since human beings had first stepped away from the intimate relationship of communion with God for which they had been created.2

The general shape of God’s preparatory work is initially set out in the book of Genesis, just a few chapters after the event which precipitated humankind’s needing redemption in the first place. Genesis 12 relates God’s call to Abraham (at this point still called Abram), at which time God promised, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). All the future tense verbs make clear that God has a plan, and that plan ultimately includes “all the families of the earth.” He set that plan into motion with Abraham. 

The “nation” made from Abraham became known as Israel, taking its name from Abraham’s grandson. To this nation, God would eventually give his Law at Mount Sinai after their Exodus from Egypt. The Law is without question a gift from God; it is not a burden or a punishment. The Law is the body of teaching and instruction God gave the people of Israel that would enable them to live in covenant relationship with him. 

But Israel found there was a problem. Simply put, the problem with the Law is the keeping of it. The people turned away from the Law time and again, and learned as a result that God both hates sin enough to punish it and loves his people enough to forgive and restore them. God proved ever faithful, even if his people did not.

In living with God under this covenant, the people of Israel, slowly and over many generations, began to know God more deeply. At the same time, the people of Israel also began to know themselves more deeply, realizing how pernicious and intractable the problem of sin was, even with the gift of the Law. One of the ways God prepared the world for redemption was to teach humanity (through Israel) to articulate our need for it. 

To the people of Israel, God also sent his messengers, the prophets, both to call the Israelites to repent and return to the Lord and also to reveal more and more of his plan, including specific promises that would be fulfilled only in the person of Jesus. Here and there the prophets also call Israel to remember that God’s promise to Abraham ultimately extended to all nations. This wasn’t all about them; God was preparing his people that he might bring all nations unto himself (see Isaiah 42:9, 60:1-14). 

But what about the rest of the world, which Christ also came to redeem? In his epistle to the Romans,3 St. Paul explains that during this time prior to sending his Son, God was also convicting the nations beyond Israel of something similar, namely that they too were living as slaves to sin and unrighteousness and so in need of redemption. 

While fertile soil for the message of redemption offered by the gospel, the knowledge that humankind is unrighteous would not have been sufficient in and of itself to prepare the world for the great act of redemption that came through his Son. God had to match knowledge of our unrighteousness and unfaithfulness with knowledge of God’s righteousness and faithfulness. It was that knowledge which God prepared in his people Israel, the nation into which his Son was born, and from whom the whole world was redeemed.

The Rev’d Andrew Van Kirk is Campus Priest at St. Andrew’s Westridge and Associate Rector at St. Andrew’s, McKinney.


  1. Origen used this point to argue that the Son of God must have always been a part of the Godhead, but that’s a matter for a different blog post. ↩︎

  2. The biblical account of this is the story of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, Gen. 2:4-3:24 ↩︎

  3. Broadly speaking I am following Romans’ argument about Israel in the Law in the explanation above. ↩︎

Posted by The Rev. Andrew Van Kirk with

What is Redemption

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As a seminary student at Perkins School of Theology at SMU, I valued my time sitting in any class that Roy L. Heller taught. Dr. Heller was my Hebrew professor and my Old Testament professor; and I still enjoy hearing him teach at Church of the Transfiguration on Sunday mornings. I remember one day in particular, sitting in his class, hearing him describe the Hebrew word go’el, the word we translate into English as “redeemer.” The light he shed on the subject was overwhelming and offered me an understanding of redemption that I never really grasped before.

Typically, when I think of redeeming something, I think of coupons or even Groupons. When I was a kid, I thought of redeeming the hundreds of tickets I’d “won” at places like Chuck E. Cheese or Dave and Busters; of course, the prizes I redeemed my tickets for were never as valuable as the money I’d spent winning them in the arcades. And my husband will attest to my love for sales and coupons. I make every effort not to buy something at a regular price, unless we are in dire need of the item.

But that kind of “redeeming” isn’t exactly what comes to mind within the walls of a church or the confines of the biblical narrative. “My Redeemer” and “The Redeemer” appear throughout the Old Testament in the Torah, the Psalms, the Prophets, and other Wisdom literature. In the prophet Isaiah (59:20), we hear that God will redeem those who are repentant. But when we turn to the New Testament, when we look more deeply into the scriptures of the Christian faith, we find… Jesus. Throughout the New Testament we find many references to Jesus as the One who redeems us from slavery to sin, the law, the power of Satan, judgment that is to come, and death; we mostly find these references in the Epistles.

What we do find in the Gospels is not much talk about “redeemer” but more talk about “ransom.” In order to truly understand this idea, we must return to the Hebrew word go’el. In the Hebrew, a redeemer is one who does the righteous deed for a near relative. For example, a redeemer would purchase a field that was sold in a time of need because a relative had fallen into debt; a redeemer would purchase an Israelite slave who had sold himself into slavery in a time of need or poverty, in order to set him free. Often, a redemption price is also called a ransom. Dr. Heller described this in a contemporary example: suppose you are at a restaurant and you can’t pay your bill, so the manager requires you to wash dishes in the back until you are able to pay your bill; thankfully, a relative happens by the restaurant, realizes that you’re working in the back, pays your bill and relieves you of your required service.

Redeeming is so much bigger than just trading in a coupon for a discount or turning in some tickets for a prize. Redeeming is the kind of work that demands great sacrifice for nothing in return; it requires love beyond all measure; and it mandates that the one who redeems is responsible for the one who is redeemed, both the wrongs done to him and the wrongs done by him. And so, God is the redeemer of Israel in the Old Testament—both responsible for saving Israel when it is in trouble and saving Israel from itself. For us, Jesus is the primary figure of redemption: he saves us from ourselves and he saves us for himself.

In our own worship services, specifically Holy Eucharist, Rite II, we say (through the celebrant’s words) that we celebrate and remember Jesus’ own work of redemption by offering a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving through the elements of bread and wine that are becoming the Body and Blood of Christ. The work of our redemption has already taken place—Jesus offered himself on the cross, a ransom for many—and when we gather together as communities of faith to worship our God, we are called to remember that redemption. The word for “remember” here isn’t as simple as looking back fondly on a good moment. No, this is the kind of remembering that you do with your whole self: past, present, future, mind, body, soul. And that kind of remembering changes us, each and every time we do it.

That’s the tricky thing about redemption in Christianity… We don’t get to go on about our business as usual; we are changed. We are redeemed from sin and death, but we are also redeemed for something else. We are redeemed by Jesus for the kingdom of God—for the greater purpose of serving the Redeemer. In the Catechism section of The Book of Common Prayer, under the questions about Sin and Redemption, we read that Jesus “The Messiah is one sent by God to free us from the power of sin, so that with the help of God we may live in harmony with God, within ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation,” (BCP, 849). We are redeemed for the purpose of living in harmony within the kingdom of God and all that God has created, humans and creation alike. When we turn from sin we are changed into people redeemed for a purpose greater than ourselves.

Posted by The Rev. Alina Williams with

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