For some time now a differentiation of ‘salvation’ from ‘redemption’ has become increasingly apparent. Both terms are used in everyday parlance as if they are speaking of the same thing: just two words for one and the same process of ‘deliverance.’
However, despite this convergence — accentuated by Christian theology taking over these terms for its own purpose — there is a vast difference between ‘saving’ and ‘redeeming.’ Saving, or salvation, is about ascending out of trouble: the deliverance is about getting out of harm, by rising above its destructive power; whilst redeeming, or redemption, is about descending into trouble: the deliverance is about going through harm, by reversing its destructive power.
The Jews were specially chosen by God to ready them for the coming of the Messiah. Such a Messiah would establish, by his own suffering deed, the new path of redeeming the human dilemma. But this requires us to remain in it and go down to its depths, before the depths can be fundamentally changed, becoming the ‘new land of heart’ upon which will stand a pillar of fire for redeeming the world.
Given this hope, then it is nothing short of tragic, almost to the point of betraying its mission, that Christianity, East and West, has lost its root in the long struggle of the Jews to move closer to the mystery of the Messiah, and lapsed back into the salvational dynamics of earlier religion. If Christ was not the Redeemer, and if the task of Christianity is not to complete the sacrifice he made to plant the redemptive process in harsh soil, then there seems little point in having a religion that dares to call itself ‘Messianic.’
In recovering redemption, we are trying to recover the religion that should have followed from Christ, but largely did not. Either the relatively few seeds and sparks of redemption scattered throughout a basically salvation oriented Christianity need to be developed much more fully, or we must start Christianity again, from year zero. If this is too radical, at the very least a basic renewal is needed to reinshrine Christ as the Redeemer of all the world, and Christianity as the path of those who ‘go where Christ went, and do what Christ did.’ This is not to deny that, on the ground, and in the particular circumstances of their lives, many Christians over the centuries intuitively followed a redemptive path, even when the church, or the tradition, to which they belonged espoused salvation, or some misleading melding of salvation and redemption in a mish-mash.
The time for clarifying the difference between the two ways has come– to encourage Christians to act for the redemption of ‘all’, and cease to concern themselves with ‘their’ salvation.
No one genuinely touched by the Redeemer has any care if they go to heaven after they die, or if they attain illumination in this life, or if they are graced with help that will facilitate their completeness of being.
The more redeemed the person is, the more they are inspired and moved to redeem other persons, even if it means their personal existence becoming like ‘the seed that must go into the ground and die, to bear fruit.’ If the Redeemer had wholly remade your heart, then you would gladly accept to be crucified like him for the sake of the most hurt and broken of human beings, those who will never be consoled and never be mended.
The focus of redemption is entirely on this world and its destiny over the long span of its evolution and history. Salvation might be articulated as other worldly, for example as concerned mainly with ascending ever more transcendent rungs of being until they attain encounter, or union, with God; or it might be articulated in more this worldly terms, for example as concerned mainly with enlightening us about ‘what is real’, or ‘the way things really are’, here and now. None the less, in neither version does salvation take on the task, nor pay the price, for redeeming the world process in its entirety, from beginning through middle to end. Salvation is less ambitious, in saving what can be saved; but redemption takes on the impossible, in seeking to redeem everyone and everything. Salvation is rational, redemption is irrational. Salvation asks less of saviour and saved; redemption asks more of redeemer and redeemed. Yet, asking more, redemption gives more. Salvation is loving, but redemption is ‘the love supreme.’
Redemption asks us, can God love this much? Can I lean on an unknown and uncertain, mysterious love, have faith in it, and remain faithful to it all down the line, and to the end of the line, never knowing whether the end will be bitter or a great unexpected rejoicing?
[I] Latin Terms for Saving and Redeeming
By consulting the dictionary, I found that in English both ‘saving’ and ‘redeeming’ are of Latin origin. As Latin is usually more limited in poetic resonances and noetic subtext than Greek, this is unfortunate in itself. None the less, a few important hints about why salvation and redemption are so different come through.
This is what the New Webster’s Dictionary says:
[i] SALVATION is at root to ‘save’ — ‘saving’ somebody from something damaging in which they are lost [ = know no way out], imprisoned [ = unable to get free]. This is close to ‘salvage’ – akin to the act of saving a ship from [a] wreck at sea or [b] capture by pirates; ‘rescue’ from something dangerous. To be ‘salvable’ – ‘that which can be saved.’ This raises the question, what can be saved, or preserved, from being [a] wrecked by existence, or [b] captured by evil?
The dynamic is, to those in harm’s clutches, you drag them out of it to safety. Similarly, to those in darkness you bring light [enlightening]; or you wake up those who are asleep [awakening].
We can be saved from disaster by a certain gift, ability, or skill — ‘he was saved from hitting the animal that jumped out in front of the car by his agility and quick reflexes.’
And save might be close to ‘salve’ — anything that heals, relieves, or placates; a soothing balm applied to a wound.
[ii] SAVE — the Latin root is ‘salvus’, which means ‘safe, unharmed.’ Thus the core point about saving is ‘to preserve from harm, injury, loss, or destruction; to keep intact or unhurt; maintain; safeguard; to keep from being lost [as in a game or match]; to set apart, reserve, lay by; to avoid the consumption, waste, spending of; to treat carefully, to obviate the necessity of; to lay up money; to keep without spoiling, as in food [ham saves well].’
Basically, then, ‘to keep someone from injury or danger.’ To save means ‘preservation from danger, destruction, or great calamity.’
In Western Christianity: to deliver from the power and consequences of sin. Or, the rescue of man from the bondage and penalty of sin.
[iii] REDEMPTION – the Latin root is ‘redemptus’, which means ‘to buy back.’ Its financial metaphor means, ‘to buy or pay off, as something pledged, by payment or other means.’
Two points are key to redeeming in Latin: [i] ‘to recover something pledged, by some means; to discharge or fulfil a promise, or a pledge; to make amends for; to offset’; and [ii] ‘to obtain the release or restoration of, as from captivity or bondage, by paying a price or ransom.’
The theological meaning [but obviously Western Christianity again] — ‘to deliver from sin by means of a sacrifice offered for the sinner.’
[II] Greek Terms for Saving and Redeeming
Three friends, two of them Greeks, and one who has spent years in Greece and speaks Greek fluently, responded to my request that they tell me what saving and redeeming are in the Greek language.
[i] FIRST REPLY [from John C.]
Saving is from ‘sotiria’, meaning anything from ‘preservation and safety to deliverance and salvation.’ The root is ‘so-os’, meaning ‘whole or intact.’
Redeeming is from ‘lytrosis’, meaning anything from ‘ransom and release to deliverance and redemption.’ The root is ‘lyo’, meaning ‘loosen, or free’; or ‘lytron’, meaning ‘proof of release, ransom.’
[ii] SECOND REPLY [from Bruce C.]
As far as I know the Greek word for redemption – lytrosis – has similar overtones to the Latin one..
In other words it suggests ‘buying back, paying a price, ransoming, paying a price for freedom, if you like..’
Salvation – sotiria – is cognate with the verb ‘sozo’ which simply means ‘save’, as in ‘save somebody from drowning or some other danger..’
Another Greek friend adds to this: saving, and salvation, goes back to ‘sotiria’ [Σωτηρία]. In ancient Greek texts, apart from salvation and redemption [used in a Christian sense], it would seem to be a ‘preservation or safety’, ‘a way or a means to safety’… ‘Soterios’ means saving, or delivering. ‘Sotir’ a saviour or a deliverer. All are words that go back to the very beginnings of Greek as we know it.
[iii] THIRD REPLY [from Costa C.]
Now for the Greek roots of the English words “salvation” and “redemption”, which are, as you rightly say, of Latin not Greek origin. The noun ‘lytron’ and the verb ‘lytrono’ all originally referred to a ‘ransom.’ By extension already in classical times, as for instance in the early fifth century BC with the poet Pindar, it came to have the meaning ‘expiation’ and was taken over in a closely related meaning by Christian writers, e.g. the phrase in Matthew 20, 29 “lytron anti pollon” where the Son of Man came ‘not to be served but to serve’ and to give his life as a ‘lytron anti pollon.’ Hence the word ‘lytrosis’ became standard for ‘redemption’ in Greek theology, and the word’s origins do indeed suggest that the root idea is certainly not “going up and out of our world” but one of “being returned, through another’s sacrifice, free within it.”
In Greek, the word ‘sos’ means ‘safe and sound.’ The various associated words, ‘sotir’ – ‘saviour’, ‘sotiria’ — saving, deliverance– and the verb ‘sozo’– all have the sense ‘save, keep, preserve from danger’, generally in classical Greek a very this worldly matter, even if ‘sotir’ is regularly applied to gods, heroes and, on their model, to political figures.
In short the Greek roots of both words do not seem to me to indicate a distinction in terms of this worldly versus other-worldly, but rather a distinction in terms of ‘lytrosis’/redemption involving the payment of a cost by one party for the benefit of others, while ‘sotiria’/salvation is an act of grace coming from outside for the recipient. This fits with the thought that Christians are called on to continue and complete the self-offering, and sometimes even sacrifice, of Christ.
[III] Commentary On Latin and Greek Terms
The Latin terms for saving and redeeming leave out much that is vital to this distinction, and reflects the history of the West, where these terms drew closer together due to the influence of Western Christian doctrine. Still, we do find some crucial pointers.
The first concerns who pays for redemption. It is the Redeemer who pays for the redeemed, not the redeemed who pay; and there must be payment. Moreover, there is a pledge, or promise, involved in redeeming. Neither of these key factors holds for saving. Saving is not driven by any pledge, or promise, from the saviour, but on the contrary, is a gratuitous act. Hence it was called, probably accurately, ‘grace’, meaning it is gracious, magnanimous, freely offered. Conversely, in the pledge, or promise, involved in redemption, the redeemer is not free, because of having earlier pledged or promised himself to those to be redeemed: he is bound to them by his own commitment. Moreover, whereas it costs nothing to the saviour to save, other than giving of his time and strength and talent, or wisdom, skill, and power, the cost to the redeemer for redeeming is much higher. The redeemer goes far beyond giving; he sacrifices himself, to redeem those in trouble.
There is probably a third implication: those who need redemption are more stuck in whatever destructiveness holds them fast; their condition is more tragic. Dragging someone up and out of what is threatening and restricting them contends with less of a problem, because it catalyses their own capacity for a more intact, and whole, state of being; thus saving is easier than breaking the hold of the tragedy that claims those in need of redeeming.
The Greek terms do not add much illumination to the Latin ones. In the case of sotiria and salvus, the Latin term reflects directly the Greek term. In the case of lytrosis and redemptus, the Latin term is not directly derived from the Greek term. Why this happened, who knows? Despite this difference in the term, the Latin meaning seems still focused on the Greek meaning– paying a ransom is common to both.
There is an important point worth noting, however. It concerns the real meaning of the Redeemer ‘paying’ for the redeemed. Existentially, to pay for another is to make up for their lack. You pay what they cannot, at cost to yourself. This is your sacrifice, for love of them.
Unfortunately, paying can get sucked into a scenario of ‘expiation’ very different in meaning and spirit. To expiate means to appease or propitiate a feared and loveless authority; you seek to pacify their anger by giving in to their demands.
We have no relationship of inherent truth, nor of inherent love, to the authority/power ruling over us. If we submit, it rewards us, if we defy, it punishes us. That is a relationship of fear, and compliance, between the boss and the bossed, like a despotic monarch with cowed subjects. It has no dynamic of truth, nor any dynamic of love, ‘moving’ the heart. In fact, as well as fear, there is a backlog of resentment and anger against the boss, which is too unsafe to honestly express. It gets projected onto other people who will not bend the knee. They are unregenerate sinners, and will get zapped for their disobedience.
This is a legal transaction. You get out of line, then you pay, or expiate, to get back into line. It is a moral balancing of the books.
Thus according to the teaching of Western Christianity on ‘Atonement’, the Redeemer takes away the punishment God is justly directing at the sinner by suffering it instead; and because of this, the Redeemer also has the power to appease, placate, make amends, to God who is justly enraged by the sinning. This entire interpretation is an evil Lie. William Blake was hitting the nail on the head when he called it Satanic, and further asserted that the ‘father’ who is moralistic, and judgemental, about sin, and demands to be paid back for the injury it causes him, is in reality none other than the Prince of This World, and the Father of All Lies, Satan the Accuser.
‘Expiation’ is therefore where redeeming is twisted, distorted, fundamentally falsified spiritually.
In old Gaelic, redemption is ‘reamhfhuascailte.’ It means to buy captives back= ‘someone was captured.. and let out.. because a large ransom was paid.’ This is a ‘loosening’ of ropes holding the prisoner fast, an ‘opening’ for them. It is something redeemer and redeemed do ‘jointly’ or ‘together.’ It can only be ‘bought at a great price.’ It ‘reaches abysmal suffering.’ The debtor whose ‘pledge has not been redeemed by him’, and is ‘putrefying and decaying’, can be redeemed by another. You ‘redeem the pledge’ you have made; you are keeping a promise. Redemption is the converse of ‘accusation’: “Will you be redeeming and accusing us at the same time?” To redeem, you must stop accusing; if you persist in accusing, you cannot redeem.
Western Christianity, it seems on the linguistic evidence, seized more on ‘redemption’ than ‘salvation’, but twisted redemption to a point where it lost virtually all its spiritual truth, and divine love. Atonement is a totally loveless teaching about the God of Love. Yet, just to complicate matters more, the Christian West often called atoning by the term ‘salvation.’ It is only in terms of the vile teaching on atonement that fundamentalists could end up saying, ‘unless you accept Christ as your one and only Saviour, you will get the punishment coming your way, and worse than that, you will end up beyond the pale as far as God is concerned.’ This piece of Satanic bullying recognises that the Redeemer has a special power which other helping, and saving, figures lack; but it completely misunderstands that special power, in its thrust and ethos, and also misunderstands the job of work that this power must undertake. Given the nature of the job, then the power must be unique to get the job done. This is why the Messiah must be, not only a special man chosen by God — in Hebrew ‘Messiah’ means the ‘Anointed One’ — but also at the same time God. Redeeming is, as a process, beyond even the most exalted, completed, illuminated, human being. It is a conjoint task, conjoint power, of the ‘divine-humanity.’ Such is Christ.
“Horse sense is a good judgement which keeps horses from betting on people”, sagely remarked W.C. Fields. Yet the Daemonic God does not give up on human beings, however far they have fallen; he gets them through it, to a restored and free condition on the other side of its existential shipwreck and capture by evil. God believes we can make it, given divine and human conjunction in the deepest point of the human tragedy. The true Anger of God is not turned on us, but will not tolerate the attempt by evil forces to derail the human journey and battle towards eschatological victory.
Consequently, instead of expiation, appeasement, placating, propitiating, making amends, making redress, the ‘paying’ by the Redeemer is the most radical love. It is nothing else but love taken as far as it can go. If I pay for you, at cost to me, then my love for you will go to any lengths to restore you. If I pay the absolute, most ultimate cost for you, then there simply cannot be any bigger, or more profound, love for you. I cannot do more. I have done the maximum. ‘Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friends.’ This is nothing to do with the scenario of Atonement in Western Christianity.
Yet what is most crucial to the paying by the Redeemer of a ransom for those who are being redeemed is that this deed of final sacrifice is in order to fulfil an old pledge, or promise, made by God to all whom he has created, all things, all creatures, all beings, all persons. The Jews will at times confuse the reward and punishment fairy tale, which is rooted in primitive human superstition toward capricious gods and parents, with the existential cutting edge of the truth, and love, of heart that God is trying to forge in them. However, gradually God makes it clear that he has abandoned any kind of ‘final end’ for humanity that would preserve a few humans, and abandon many more humans [for example, his change of heart after Noah], and instead is yoked heart and spirit, is committed unwaveringly, to an unbreakable promise, a real pledge, that God will redeem what he has made. David in the Psalms= “Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Yahweh; Yahweh hear my voice, let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. For if you should mark iniquities, O Yahweh, who could endure it? But there is with you merciful forgiveness. Therefore will you be respected.. From morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in Yahweh. For with you is plentiful redemption. And Yahweh will redeem Israel from all his iniquities’ [King James, Psalm 130]. The Psalmist, like the Jews as a whole, has been chastened and deepened by the Daemonic cataclysm of Exile to Babylon which seemed, at the time, the end of the line — the end for the Jews as a nation, and the end for their religion.
It is only after the calamity of the Exile that the Jews go deeper in heart, and out of that place of heart crying, the coming of the Messiah crystallises for them. But the necessary context for this is first establishing the cutting edge of existential cause and effect. From early times, a ‘stand’ for truth in the heart is made by God, forcing the Jews to stand for truth from the heart, and to know the difference when they were doing so, and not doing so.
Though there is an ethical dimension to the Daemonic God’s ‘tough love’, allowing us to point to the difference between ‘good and evil’, the ethical dimension itself is taken deeper when it is understood that what is at stake is whether passion is true or false to the truth upon which, and by which, the heart ‘stands.’ The deeper issue is not ‘right or wrong outer behaviour’, but what ‘truth’ is in the heart. Truth in Hebrew means pillar, or door: it refers to the active passion that either hits the target, or goes way off target, the active passion that either stands up or falls down, the active passion that either steps up, or flees. When passion is true to truth, it is a pillar for the world, and it is a door that allows people to step through a barrier into a new condition of heart otherwise blocked.
‘God sees into the heart’, and for us, our Daemonic schooling is a kind of growing up wherein we take increasing responsibility for what heart, what passion, we act from. Do we act from a false heart and therefore are false to the world? Or do we act from a true heart, and therefore are true to the world? What people do with their heart, out of its passion, cannot just be ‘tolerated’, and ignored, as often is the case with liberalism. This would be to not care what happens to the world– redemption’s whole focus. Anything anyone does is fine; that the world might be tottering on the edge is of no concern, because people are ‘at liberty’ to do whatever they want, and damn any consequences.
Hence, ‘truth and falsity of heart’ undercuts ‘good and evil’; and once we have reached the heart ground of passion, through genuine self-examination brought about by acknowledging the creative or destructive consequences of our actions, then we can wrestle more honestly, more sincerely, to delve even further into the hidden depths of heart, to give these to God’s spiritual action. When the Spirit starts to work in our depths, as was obvious with David in the Psalms, then great change in the human ‘engine’ of action starts to become feasible. From this point on, it is a new ball game.
What appears — to those with Satanic eyes — to be ‘reward and punishment’ is actually, understood spiritually, ‘truth of heart’ and the struggle in each and every human being to be true or false to it. Only a person involved in this struggle, like David, attains the ‘righteousness’ of God. For even when true to truth, we are aware of our own falsity, and this creates repentance, humility, non judgementalism. ‘Judge not lest ye be judged’ is addressed to the Satanic misinterpretation of this whole arduous area of experience, where we seek to come out of lazy indifference to the heart, by suffering the pained realisation of the conflict in our own heart. It is a person who is cheating on this struggle who becomes judge and jury in regard to the ‘sin’ of other people. This is the ‘self-righteousness’ that God repudiates. The ‘whited sepulchres’, the ‘hypocrites’, feigning outer rectitude whilst their hearts are far from clear and clean inside, are those whom God blasts the harshest. ‘They acknowledge me with their lips but their heart is far from me.’
The lesson David learned, and teaches us, is that a person does not reach the point of asking God to redeem them until they have arrived in the place of brokenness. Honest sorrowing in regard to our heart’s failure — not casually presuming on redemption — is what reassures us that the mercy and compassion, the forgiveness, involved in redemption will be extended to us. ‘Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness, and in your great tenderness blot out my transgression. ..For I am well aware of my faults, and my sin is before me continually. ..Yet, since you love sincerity of heart, teach me the secrets of wisdom. ..let the bones you have crushed rejoice again. Turn your face from my sin, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and put in me a new and constant spirit. Cast me not away from your Face, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. ..My sacrifice is a broken spirit, a contrite and humble heart God will not despise’ [Septuagint, Psalm 50].
It can be concluded that, as it is declared in Isaiah and other places in the Old Testament, ‘God will only be angry with human beings for a time’, and such anger will not determine how, or where, humans end up.
Despite that, the Daemonic anger has an important purpose, over the short run, of shattering our heartlessness and returning us to the heart. Once heart rebuked and heart restored, then we make strides that take us deeper into the heart, where we confront suffering in a new way, and learn the link between the deepest pain and the deepest love. Daemonic suffering goes deeper than Daemonic anger. This is where we face up to the unanswered questions of existence, especially those that address the existential fact that life is not just, and there is an undeserved suffering and punishment aplenty that hits the righteous, the true and the loving of heart, just as there is an unmerited happiness and reward aplenty that falls into the lap of the unrighteous, the false and uninvolved of heart. The prophet Habakkuk [600-700 B.C.] cries to Yahweh– you are too pure to endure any kind of suffering, any trouble or exhausting toil, thus how is it that you can acquiesce in the existence of suffering, and in particular, how can you endure the moral abomination of the suffering that is inflicted on righteous people by the wicked people?
Happiness and woe are not distributed on the basis of merit, or earning one or the other morally. For the God who insists on justice in the way people deal with one another in a community, this is a problem; for it shows that the existential arena of the world is not just, but is in fact, unjust. If God is so keen on justice among all people — and through the prophet Amos, among many others, Yahweh declares with a ringing voice that until justice comes to Israel, the liturgical songs and burnt offerings stink in his nostrils — then why did he not build it into the very workings of existence? Clearly, God ‘allows’ the existential situation where good people are abused and lose out, and wicked people are comforted and win out. Existence is basically ‘not fair’, as any alert child realises soon enough. The apportionment of joy and sorrow makes no sense. Sometimes heart truth prospers people whilst at other times heart truth dooms them, and this is nothing but existential consequences, like karma. Yet, this is not always evident historically, and in general, the world contains much undeserved and unearned suffering, much undeserved and unearned satisfaction.
Suffering has some other meaning in existence. It cannot be explained morally, or even rationally. It is irrational fact, like death.
Habakkuk is told by God, ‘the righteous will live by his faithfulness.’ This is a typically pithy Jewish reply. A vital point is made, but there is no reasoning to explain it. The arrow hits the bull’s-eye and you get it, or you don’t. There is no philosophy to amplify it. We should not go farther than what the prophet was told by the Daemonic God. It is something like, ‘truth of heart is its own reward, you need no outer reassurance of what happens to you in the world. If you are grounded in the deeper heart, you will be able to do what you have to do, and let it fall where it may.’
Yet the question of why there is so much innocent suffering in this world is not fully addressed by God’s reply to the prophet. There is no solution to this life. Christ’s Cross embraces the searing question and provides not an answer but a way through.
Salvation replaces neurotic and self-inflicted suffering, unnecessary suffering, with joy. Redemption, by contrast, goes into the suffering both brought on ourselves and visited upon us because of other people and because of the way existence is; the suffering inflicted by the Daemonic becomes its engine of change.
After the Exile, when the Jews were free to return home, though it meant re-crossing the desert wilderness in which they had been at risk to harsh elements and threatening tribes hundreds of years earlier, the Biblical text says to encourage the return, ‘Yahweh has paid the ransom for Jacob.’ It should by now be clear that this payment is God suffering for humanity. This is the ultimate mystery of the deep pain connected to deep love, and is revealed in its ultimate by Christ on the Cross. God suffers for us, pays our ransom, to make it possible for us to get through the place of trouble and toil, the wastes where deadness and evil dwell in their pure spiritual nakedness. As the Jews crossing the desert to the new land of heart, so Christ on the Cross, Descending into Hell, and being Resurrected, as the payment of ransom that forever wins for us a way through to the new heart promised by God, the heart that though still human, vulnerable, fragile, influenceable, will become the Abyss filled by the heart of God.
This divine and human heart has no other motive, no other passion, than to redeem, at any price to the redeemer, for the sake of all being redeemed. In redemption God says to us, if you love me, love my world. ‘Feed my sheep’– and what a redemptive word this is, spoken by Christ to Peter, because all too many human beings are indeed sheep, docile, passive, inoffensive. That redemption is prepared to suffer even for those who choose to make no spiritual effort is even more extreme than suffering for those who can make no spiritual effort. Never mind the criminal, the insane, the disillusioned, the hopeless, if redeeming even is pledged to, and pays for, the human sheep, then its love knows no bounds. Nothing can stop love of such fiery propulsion.
The conflation of saving and redeeming is endemic in West and East. To realise this is so, all we need do is examine the branch of theology that deals with Christ’s sacrificial action on the Cross. Theologians adopted the term ‘soteriology’ to refer to the key event in redemption. This betokens confusion over whether Christ is a Saviour, or a Redeemer. Actually he can be both, but if the latter is reduced to the former, then only saving remains, and redeeming disappears. Then the account of Christ that Christians rely upon for guidance is lacking in respect of who the Redeemer is, and what his redeeming work is doing. This is disastrous. Why has no theologian, West or East, ever used a term like ‘redeemology’?
The East has lacked the Satanic twist in redeeming, but to avoid this, has accentuated a more Christ-centred kind of salvation, what my Greek friend describes well when he says= “salvation is an act of grace coming from outside for the recipient. This fits with the thought that Christians are called on to continue and complete the self-offering, and sometimes even sacrifice, of Christ.” God’s grace has never been understood with such beauty, goodness, wisdom, and ‘self-offering’ as it has in the Christian East; and though some Greeks wanted to receive this gift of God separate from the world, most Greeks realised the divine giving had to be passed on to the world.
None the less, my friend’s way of putting it inadvertently betrays the Greek bias. Christians in the East ‘continue and complete the self-offering of God’ more readily than they ‘sometimes’ continue and complete the sacrifice of the Redeemer.
God’s grace to help us up, even if spread from us into the wider world, is not the redemption that must go down where no grace, no help, can reach. Only the God of redemption loves this much, to go to that place, to pay that price, to free those held in bondage. The Messiah, as the bridge between God and humanity in this dark, hard, suffering work, asks us to come with him.
The Russian tradition of Eastern Christianity arguably has moved farther from salvation and closer to redemption. The Redeemer’s sacrifice is approached through the acceptance of unchosen suffering which smashes the ego, and the rational mind, and leads deeper, to a place in the heart where finally we understand the will of God, and break through to unreserved love for one’s fellow human beings.
Words are only words. We need not be confined to their limits..
But this conflation of ‘salvation’ and ‘redemption’ is more than verbal confusion. It is also a failure of resolve in action, and that is serious.
[IV] The 7 Differences of Saving and Redeeming
Saving and redeeming differ in seven main respects.
The one who ‘saves’ pays no price for the one saved. In stark contrast, the Redeemer pays for the redeemed one, because no one needing redemption can pay.
The process of saving helps the saved overcome what is holding them back from ascending to the best. This is why gods, heroes, politicians, are ‘saviours’ in pre Christian Greece: their coin or currency is the best people can become, can rise up to, can aspire to. Saving is rising upward toward the summit, the excellent, the exalted. Think of a spiritual master teaching a disciple meditation. Or, a master painter mentoring a learner. Saving works toward the highest, the most realised, the most intact, the most whole. Modern thought runs with this Greek tendency in the theories of Maslow’s Self Actualising, or Foucault’s Self Perfecting, and even Nietzsche’s Superman.
In salvation, we are travelling towards the zenith where ‘God is’ in greater fullness. In redemption, we are travelling toward the nadir where ‘God is not’ in greater absence. On the Cross Christ says to God not, ‘why have you punished me’, but ‘why have you abandoned me’? Christ is undergoing our human condition of being without God deeper down; we have lost God in the heart, and so do not experience God at our base, in our ground, holding us up. On the contrary, all that is beneath us is an Abyss into which we can fall forever. This is why our heart is apprehensive and anguished, in a permanent state of dread, or what David called ’fear and trembling’, or the ‘sickness unto death.’ The heart has no ground on which to stand.
In stark contrast to salvation, we are not helped by the Redeemer to rise out of this deep place of final defeat and dereliction; we are helped to move ‘through’ it to the other side. That is ‘resurrection.’ Hence, the coin or currency of redeeming is not the best, but the worst; the act of redemption works with the worst, and out of it, raises a new and different kind of best: a best chastened, forged, refashioned, by its ‘season in hell.’
In short, it is the Redeemer who pays the ransom to get the captive through the problem where they are stuck. And ‘the stuck’ refers to the people who cannot rise, cannot shine, cannot use any ladder of ascent to rise up through stages of spiritual purifying and illumination which draw ever closer to God. But this is not just ‘them’, it is a part of all of us, though it may be more evident in certain ‘lost’ people. None the less, the lostness is present in depth in everyone. The Redeemer pays a price the lost cannot pay. But he also suffers a wound we cannot accept, lifts a weight we cannot carry, bears what we find unbearable, endures what we cannot endure; this is the deep ‘sacrifice’ of the Redeemer. This is done to free us, to enable us to get through, and be raised from hell, once we pass through the place where it has put down foundations in the heart.
Heaven is given to hell, indeed heaven is defeated by hell, but once inside the heart of hell, heaven changes it from within.
But this means, then, that redeeming works with the worst, the dark, the broken, the tragic, the failure, the weakness, the ruination, the error, at its very deepest, at its source deep in the heart. Christ came for sinners– not for the elevated, or those being elevated. Christ came for those beyond any ‘saving’ hand up, and that is why Christ had to descend down to their level, working in abysmal deeps. Saving aims up at the bright zenith; redeeming plunges down to the dark nadir. From the nadir of hades and hell, and below these the ambivalent Abyss, springs up the resurrected heart passion. In so far as we are redeemed by Christ, so we become Christlike redeemers of the world.
Yet, as a Redeemer, he suffers what we suffer differently, and part of how his suffering changes our depth, is that it helps us come through to a new way of suffering. By God suffering human suffering, it is changed; and its resurrection means that henceforth it will suffer differently.
Consequently, we who are ‘dead with Christ’ are then ‘raised with Christ.’ Resurrection means nothing about Eternal Life, or going to heaven after death, but refers to our being returned to the world freed of the hell holding our heart prisoner, and so now we become fully passionate, which means fully on fire with redemptive love for the world. This new heart and new passion raised from depth knows no limit, no impediment; it proceeds and cannot be stopped by evil or by human reluctance of any origin. What redeemed us, in our depth, becomes our redeeming of the world, in its depth.
Like God, we will suffer for love.
There is a third meaning of ‘redemption’ that the verbal roots in Greek seem to miss. This is largely financial. It means that God ‘invested’ in us, believes in us, has faith in us, and so will not give up on us, but will go to any lengths, to pull us ‘through’, and bring forth fruit out of us in the end. This metaphor of humans bearing fruit, and the fruit being a ‘return’ on God’s investment, runs through the New Testament. This is another reason why Christ’s paying the ransom for us, making sacrifice for us, is not Western Christian Atonement or expiation; it is the one who has invested a lot in us refusing to ‘write us off’ as a bad investment. On the contrary, the investor goes way beyond his initial investment of money, for to bring that investment to fruition, now he must spill his own blood for the sake of it still flowering, despite being ruined.
Several further implications flow from ‘the investment coming good.’ It also means that redemption can bring good out of bad, recreation out of ruin, a new departure out of hitting the brick wall. In some important sense, bringing good out of bad, the ultimate victory out of profound tragedy, is what redemption is, as a process of change that descends to depths, travels through depths, and rises again. There is no transcending of the problem; the problem is transformed, becoming the matrix of rebirth.
The Redeemer always, by his suffering, wins for the redeemed a ‘second chance’, even when all sane assessment would conclude all chances are despoiled, all chances have run out.
Rather than Western Christian Atonement or expiation, the Redeemer paying the price, spilling his own blood to make good his investment in us, is God winning his bet with Satan in the Book of Job. Redemptive history does not start in the Paradisiacal state of humanity; it starts in a gamble between God and Satan, ‘the Adversary.’
Saviour figures are usually praised and lauded, revered and respected, thanked and held in ‘high’ esteem and affection. In Hebrew, saving implies ‘favour’; this means that the saved are supremely valued by the saving agency, not just to be discarded as if they were of no more significance than the flotsam and jetsam, the debris swept away on merciless tides of forgetting. Not surprisingly, those who value us even when we cannot value ourselves are especially valued.
By contrast, the Redeemer comes ‘not to be served but to serve’, and in this process, the Redeemer is not only humbled, but fundamentally disrespected, spat on, dismissed. The redemptive deed is miles greater and miles deeper than any salvational deed, but people reject redeemers. To redeem, you have to embrace not only being unsung, not ‘recognised’ for the bigness and profundity of your heart, the supreme lover treated as the lowest of the low, but also you have to be ready to be actively shunned, despised, not liked, and even killed for your pains and efforts on the people’s behalf. There is in the world today a huge irrational hatred for Christ, and even allowing for Christianity’s horrendous mistakes historically, that does not explain all the enmity that the Messiah stirs up. No Buddha figure, no Shaman, no Sage, stirs up this kind of ‘objection’ from people. It is visceral, below the neck, not reasoned. I once saw a Buddhist monk in Staffordshire catch sight of an old wooden Cross nailed to the side of a barn, and he winced.. Why?
The Messiah, the Redeemer, is rejected by people, even punished and killed by them [religiously and politically– the Roman state and the official Jewish religion], because the Cross inverts all our human hopes, and lets us down.
—[a] We do not want a Deliverer as low and covered in dirt as we are, as seemingly powerless as we know ourselves to be; we want a saviour figure who represents the apex of human attainment [spiritual or material].
—[b] And we do not want to change by travelling through the sewers, but rather, we want immediate rising out of the pit where we are trapped– we want a ladder of instant ascent, whether this ladder takes the form of ‘spiritual’ yogas and disciplines, or ‘ethical’ uprightness in which we inhibit bad behaviour and follow only good behaviour, or instant forgiveness of all our sins if only we will emotively ‘acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour.’
The Hindus say openly that their gods, and God, does not do ‘suffering’, and worse, ‘humiliation.’ Yet, for redeeming to work,  we have to be unsung, non-recognised, and  we have to get down in the dirt with those stuck there, and so we get dirty, to effect any change from within the dirt.
Redemption is more like a secret agent, working underground. It is the religion of no name, and every name, as it secretly infiltrates. People can serve redemption without realising they are doing so, and redemption can infiltrate other religions and even operate in situations of ostensibly no religion. By working unsung, and by embracing humiliation, disrespect, misunderstanding, even being killed for the supreme love you ‘give away’, allows redemption to be more in the Spirit, less in the Form or Word or Structure. As Christ said to his disciples, referring to the non disciple doing things in Christ’s name– leave him alone, for if he is not against us, he is with us. He does not need to be in our group.. In redeeming, you have no ‘credentials’, no badge, no membership card to the kosher club, no external or extrinsic validation.
‘Salvation’ is universal, it is the same religion wherever or whenever it exists. It goes under countless names. In Shamanism, it is the good red road of ‘making sacred and spiritual understanding.’ In Hinduism and Buddhism, it is rising from ignorance into illumination. In Orthodoxy, it is the 3 fold ladder of the ‘practical life, the contemplative life, the mystical union with God.’ In humanistic psychology and therapy, it is self-actualisation, peak experience, becoming Whole, and such like. In ordinary affairs, saving happens whenever a greater sends a helping hand down to a lesser, to ‘give them a hand up.’ So, parental caring and helpers of various kinds, teachers and healers, are also ‘saving.’
However, when St John had a pupil who went back to his old life of robbing, and St John travelled alone in the wilderness to bring the man back — and risked himself to the desert and to his erstwhile pupil’s vicious robber mates — he was redeeming. St John is the person in Christianity who ‘switched’ from the most exalted theology of salvation — the summit is not just mystical experience of God, but becoming God and human at once, the ‘Christification’ which is an ontological gift of the highest for humans — to one of the most tumultuous, and violent, stories of Redemption. But if Christianity does not switch from saving to redeeming, then it dies and is pointless.
Hence, if Salvation is universal among all religions, just given different nuances and emphases, then in so far as Christianity becomes only about saving, then it loses its uniqueness and distinctiveness. Why do we need yet another salvational religion, when we have plenty already?
In short, Redemption is the only unique, and distinctive, religion. It breaks from the universal pattern, to do something radical, that is different.
It is in fact foretasted by Shamanism — in the bad black road of ‘worldly difficulties and war’ — and perhaps in places in other world religions.
But the reason the Jews are the people selected by God for something special entirely pertains to them being ‘chosen’ to carry the honour, but also the burden of a people roughed up by God and reforged in a hot furnace in order to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer. The irony is, though distinctive and unique in origin, only Redemption is truly all embracing, truly universal, in outreach, or outcome. Why?
The limitation in salvation of any form is that though it reaches down a certain distance, to haul up to its height those it helps, not all humans can be graced like this: not all humans can be raised up by any of the means of salvation [unless it works as magic, just transforming the lower into the higher in an instant].
Indeed, in a more subtle sense, a huge area of the deep heart, its Hades and Hell and Abyss, is not touched by any salvational act, or power. The Buddha’s deep heart is no more redeemed, and he has no more access to it, than the deep heart of the vilest criminal. The ‘deeps of God and humanity searched out by the Spirit’ are lost to all humans, the Buddhas and the criminals alike, until redemption as a process challenges the deeps, and ‘goes down’ into them to reclaim them to humanity and God. This is the ‘deep’ meaning of redemption.
It hides a strange paradox: the most loving of the heart is mixed up with the worst of the heart. This aspect of the heart’s depths is what the Eastern Christian monastics called ‘the passible’, the influenceable, the malleable, the vulnerable. It is the core of the heart’s passionateness, and is why the same passionateness can result in madness, crime, and holiness. It can go in different ways, inherently. None the less, this most temptable part becomes, in redemption, the part most all-loving. What Christ said of Mary the Whore can be said of this passion of deep heart= ‘to those who love much, much is forgiven.’
Thus, only redemption will over the long haul, redeem everyone and everything. By working through the nadir, it will abandon none, and will include weak and strong, both of whom need its help in the place where all are lost.
The process that happens in the deeps — what occurs between Christ’s descending into hell, and being raised on the third day — is crucial. In the way Christ is undefended to evil, something in his heart passion will undercut evil, and resurrect from the depths a love ‘greater than good’ and ‘deeper than evil.’ This is the Resurrection= the resurrected heart, and heart passion.
Saving= addresses human sin.
Redeeming= addresses human tragedy.
Sin= our smallness.
Tragedy= our bigness.
Smallness= when our potential for greatness is lost, when our heroism falls into the dust, we become radically reduced– calculating, mean, possessive, avaricious, vicious, malicious, and vengeful. We count cost.
We refuse our indebtedness in this existence to everyone and everything that makes life possible. By rejecting our debt, the one to whom we owe it, whether God or neighbour, becomes feared and hated, and has to be appeased, or subjugated. In our guilt, we do both at once, buying off threat. Hence our superstitious attitude.
Bigness= the mystery is why – not how – the Image of God in us, the Royal Heart and Truthful Passion, was tricked out of its crown by the deceiver, and became unable to pay the cost of love for the world.
The Cross is the ultimate testing and proving of the warrior king in his heroism of heart action, heart stand, heart giving, in the world, for the world. The Cross attests to their nobility, and sacrifice. It is not the world that punishes this deed; that is down to the Devil and those in thrall to his Lie. This exacts a cost from us. It asks, will you pay to be here and act here for love, or if you will not pay, where will you flee to, where will you hide?
Redemption is not theory, not dogma, not doctrine, not ideology, not explanation, not philosophy, not metaphysics, not theology. It is a story — the true story of the world — and it is an account of that story, an existential account of an existential story. It partakes of Shestov’s remark, that the rationalist wants ‘to live in the categories by which he thinks’, whereas the existentialist is forced ‘to think in the categories by which he lives.’ However, he lives not categories but edges, gaps, crossing of roads, depths and a ground poised over depths on which he spills his sweat, tears, and blood. A road emerges, finally, out of trackless wastes.. In writing or speaking, in thinking or reflecting, on that strange reversal he speaks of a road ‘not marked out’, a road discovered by walking it, a road no account in poetry, or story, or art, or music, can ‘save’ you from walking.
Any discussion of walking this road takes the Shamanic form of, ‘this is where I was, this is what I did.’