“Evil can never be undone, but only purged and redeemed” (Dorothy L. Sayers).
THE ANONYMOUS LATIN-SPEAKING PROVERBIST WHO ORIGINALLY SAID ERRARE HUMANUM EST (“TO ERR IS HUMAN”) PACKED A GOOD DEAL OF SAD MEANING INTO A FEW WORDS. We do err, don’t we? All of us do. And when we’ve done so, our hearts are later broken when we see our failures honestly. If our failure is one of great or tragic proportions, our sense of sorrow can be deadly.
In its most literal sense, the word “redeem” means “to buy back.” More generally, its meaning is “to set free or rescue.” When we speak of redemption, what we have in mind is really the coupling of two basic ideas: deliverance and restoration. To have failed and then to experience redemption is to be given one’s life back. It is to be “bought back” from the sentence of death by someone else’s grace.
It is a deeply held belief of mine that we live in a world where there is such a thing as redemption. If I didn’t believe that, I’m not sure that I would judge human life to be worth continuing.
The gift of redemption, of course, is never unconditional. Indeed, one of the main objects of our existence ought to be discovering what the terms of our redemption are. And not only discovering them, the joyful embracing of them ought to be the mainspring of our happiness, even if it is through great suffering that we are to be redeemed.
If you’ve ever known serious defeat and then been pulled back from your deadly, downward spiral by someone else’s grace, you know what it’s like to have life breathed back into your lungs redemptively. Shouldn’t we all be wanting to be the agents of such grace for others?
One of my favorite scenes in all of Peter Jackson’s magnificent screenplay of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is the one where Lady Arwen, cradling an apparently dying Frodo in her arms, prays that he might be spared: “What grace is given me, let it pass to him.”
Whatever grace has been given to us (and it is much), can we not be willing, if not eager, for that grace to be passed to those around us? Would we not die, if by our death someone else could live? And if you think others don’t deserve the grace by which they could be redeemed, let yourself be reminded of this: neither do you and neither do I.
“No creature that deserved redemption would need to be redeemed” (C. S. Lewis).