Troubling Redemption

by the Rev. Scott Walters


Last Monday I decided to buy a bike rack for our car on Facebook Marketplace. If you’re not familiar with this corner of the social media universe, imagine Amazon taking over the classified section in your hometown newspaper. Got it?


Well, I found a three-bike hitch-mount Yakima rack for $105 plus shipping. Not bad. The key to these online markets is that the person with the bike rack doesn’t get my money right away. I paid Facebook Marketplace, and, once the item reaches me, and I say I have indeed received what I thought I paid for, they pass my payment along to the seller. I know. Gripping stuff just begging to be blogged about.


But, probably because it was where I found myself when this blog post was due, I got to thinking about the carefully arranged standoff upon which this business model depends. I don’t want to lose my $105 until the seller has proved she will deliver the goods. And she doesn’t want to deliver the goods until she knows I’m good for the $105. So Facebook (I mean, who doesn’t trust Facebook, right?) serves as neutral middle-person … or rather … you know … middle-ginormous conglomerate overlord. Facebook stands in the breach until we’ve each, buyer and seller, proved that we’re worthy and the deal is done.


In the Bible, the term “redemption” is essentially an economic term, one that’s closely related to what happens at a pawn shop. A redeemer was someone who bought back property that had been confiscated in a debt. So, to speak of being “redeemed” by God in Christ initially throws my mind into scenarios of mutual distrust, of proving each participant’s worth, and a kind of zero-sum game in which there are only so many bike racks/eternal rewards and so many dollars/issuances of divine grace to go around.


How is this understanding problematic? Let me count the ways … But maybe this is right where my mind is meant to be caught when I hear the good news that redemption, in the Christian story, is sheer gift. Because a gift, by definition, is free of economic necessity. Nobody in a Facebook Marketplace transaction thinks they’re giving gifts. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need Facebook to make sure everyone gets precisely what they deserve. And if you do get precisely what you deserve, the one thing we know you have not gotten is a gift.


So maybe the Bible uses a term like “redemption” to blow it up. We’re enticed because we’re used to giving this for that and earning those rewards for so much effort and on and on and on. Such is the way of the world. And we assume that God’s ways must be so as well until we see Jesus. And, in him, see that nothing could be further from the gospel truth. In him, we see that grace and gift and unselfish love are what we get from God, not scrupulously fulfilled contractual obligations.


More and more, what I want is for my old economic understanding of God’s redeeming love to be blasted clean away until the gift of it is all that remains. And that gift is what I want to guide my life, draw it forward, and fire my imagination to see that creation itself is not the production only of some slavish cosmic necessity but is also the gift of that same redeeming Love.


Forget marketplace faith. Here’s the life I want:

I have to trust what was given to me
if I am to trust anything …
I must be led by what was given to me
as streams are led by it
and braiding flights of birds
the gropings of veins the learning of plants
the thankful days
breath by breath

from “Gift” by W.S. Merwin

8 thoughts on “Troubling Redemption”

  1. Gospel economic theory on a Friday afternoon. So good to hear at the end of a work week.
    Thanks, Scott

  2. I’m sorry that I don’t have Chief Bob Owens and Jean Hawks Vandiver, to mail printed copies of sermons and blogposts to. They always enjoyed them. They each now have that free and clean gift of God’s redeeming love.

    1. We sure miss them both. And what a gift for them to have folks like you and Tom in your lives to the end.

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