The biggest shift in my spiritual perspective involved coming face-to-face with how I viewed the Bible. In this season of life, I read the Bible from a completely different perspective than I had before. In times past, I approached the Bible with a transactional mentality. I went to God’s Word for what I could gain from it. I would read the scriptures with the goal of trying to make myself better. As much as I talked about the grace and mercy of God, I wanted to please God by proving my devotion.
In fact, that was the root of my problems. I didn’t truly believe in the possibility of God’s redemptive story. I only believed that God could redeem me in “salvation,” or in the moment when I made the decision to follow Jesus. I thought that he was redemptive only in that moment, not that he could take me from the lowest of low places and build me back up. When you read the scriptures with this lens, it’s hard to believe that some of the stories are even real. They are far away from our context. But put yourself in their reality and you’ll find that the biblical accounts are not far away pictures of a mythical spirituality. They show us just how powerful God’s redemption can be for us. Consider these examples:
• Noah was a drunk.
• Abraham was too old to have a son.
• Isaac was a daydreamer.
• Jacob was a liar.
• Leah was ugly.
• Joseph was abused.
• Moses had a stuttering problem.
• Gideon was afraid.
• Samson was a womanizer.
• Rahab was a prostitute.
• Jeremiah thought he was too young to do God’s work.
• David was an adulterer (not to mention a murderer).
• Elijah was suicidal.
• Isaiah preached naked.
• Jonah ran from God.
• Naomi was a widow.
• Job went bankrupt.
• John the Baptist ate bugs.
• Andrew lived in the shadow of his big brother.
• Peter denied Christ.
• The disciples fell asleep while praying (and ran away when Jesus really needed them).
• Martha worried about everything.
• The Samaritan woman was divorced five times.
• Mary Magdalene was demon-possessed.
• Zacchaeus was greedy.
• Timothy had an ulcer.
• Paul was a Christian killer.
• Oh . . . and Lazarus was dead.
When you take note of these examples, you start to realize that we don’t believe in a God who discards people and throws them in the gutter when they make mistakes. We also don’t have a faith that gives us the power to put others away for mistakes. Even the worst of people can be redeemed from their past. While it is inspirational to say that in theory, how far do we believe that God’s redemption can reach? Seeing my own mistakes has forced me to answer that question.
I believe that God can redeem even those who are abusive and predatory if they turn from their ways and receive the help they need. That’s why I refuse to hold on to hatred of and bitterness toward my abusers. Clinging to that pain and letting it cloud my vision would be easy, but I believe even my abusers can be redeemed.
I believe God can redeem absentee parents, including my biological father, even as I deal with the pain of his absence. I spent so much time running from being like him and being bitter because he ran from me that I didn’t realize he had a past just like me. Maybe he needed something that he never received in his own upbringing. Maybe he struggled with trauma and never had the privilege of going to therapy to work through his pain. He made poor choices that affected our family and my future, but even with all that baggage, he can be redeemed.
I have been wounded by fellow Christians who impugn my motives and make uncharitable statements about my positions. Their vitriol has hurt me and still continues to leave wounds that I’m working through. But as much as I wanted to leave the faith altogether, I came to the conclusion that we’re all learning and growing. A few years ago, I was just like them with that same attitude toward others. If I can be redeemed, then so can they.
Hashtags and protests reveal countless instances of white supremacy and bigotry from racists who feel empowered by the climate of our culture. Their actions and words are vile, revealing the darkest parts of the human heart. But I pray that they leave their evil patterns of behavior. Even racists can be redeemed by God.
The 2016 election revealed the church’s collective apathy toward the marginalized. When the American church should listen, it has silenced our voices in favor of the status quo. We are still reckoning with the pain of the policies that have hurt so many and the rhetoric that continues to dehumanize. But God can still redeem the comfortable and complacent people in our society.
I was addicted to self-destructive patterns of behavior that almost destroyed my life and everything I worked for, but God didn’t give up on me. He came after me and picked me up, even after my most embarrassing moments. God brought me out of my pit. Because He redeemed me, I’m convinced that everyone who has fallen short can find redemption.
For years I’ve heard that “the ground is level at the foot of the cross,” but now I actually believe it for myself.