In Helene Cooper’s book, The House of Sugar Beach, she tells of the time during the Liberian Revolution, in which her house was broken into by soldiers. These blood thirsty men took a young Helene and her sister down stairs into the basement with the intent of gang raping them. Right as they were going to commit this atrocity the door to the basement flew open. It was their mother demanding that the soldiers release her daughters. In return, the mother said that they could take her. These men smiled, and agreed to her terms. Helene and her sister were released, and for the next hour or so, they hid in their rooms listening to the brutal sounds of the soldiers as they took their turns ravaging their mother.
Helene and her sister had been redeemed.
The Bible goes to great lengths to talk about our redemption as followers of Jesus Christ. The very term means to buy back. Redemption presupposes slavery, peril and an overall unwanted prior position. Like Helene and her sister, we were perilously close to sin ravaging and destroying us. We were completely powerless against the soldiers of sin, a point Paul makes abundantly clear to the Ephesians (2:3). But at the last moment, the doors to the basement of our prison were flung open when like Helene’s mother, Christ provided the terms of our redemption: we would be released, and he would take our place. Paul expresses this most clearly to the Corinthians when he says of Jesus Christ, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”- 2 Corinthians 5:21.
What Helene’s mother and Jesus Christ teach us is that redemption is costly, and yet redemption is also freeing. In an individualized postmodern society like ours, I fear we have a great misunderstanding of freedom. We’ve taken freedom to mean the absence of responsibility, that one can do whatever they want, when they want. This is what many mean by freedom when they talk of freedom of speech. I can say what I want, even if it demeans and destroys you, because, well, I’m free to say it. Or many would say that I’m free in my sexuality to explore and have sex with as many people as I’d like regardless of how my actions may affect others. There’s even open marriages, where the spouse is “free” to have relationships with others, and this is esteemed as being “mature”.
Yet this is not how the bible views freedom, and redemption. Freedom is not the absence of responsibility, that’s chaos. Instead freedom, real meaningful freedom, is only enhanced by responsibility. We see this in redemption. Christ redeemed us at infinite cost to himself so that we might be free to serve him (responsibility). No one articulated this better than Paul when he said that he was no longer a slave to sin, but now that he’s been redeemed, he’s a slave to Christ, and to righteousness. Christ has bought us, both releasing us from the grip of sin and Satan, and setting us free to worship and find our joy in him.
In my years of pastoral ministry I’ve never met a joyful serial adulterer- one who had sex on their terms. What I have experienced are couples who have been faithfully married to one another for decades who are the epitome of joy as they have committed to selflessly seeking the other person’s happiness within the responsible boundaries of marriage. A person who is ruled by their appetites and spends money “freely” without any kind of responsibility, I can tell you now, that’s not joy. But the person who handles money responsibly, and goes to war with their material appetites, that’s joy. As my father is known to say, “ ‘No’ is the most freeing word in the English language”. Meaning in life is not found when each one “does what is right in their own eyes”, but when one finds satisfaction outside of themselves in a Holy Other.
If this be the case, then redemption is not for our restriction, but for our joy. Christ did not die for our duty, but for our delight. I have been set free, but this freedom is not an unfettered pursuit of my desires, that’s slavery all over again, it’s the joyful mission of bringing God pleasure because he has liberated and set me free.