God Does Not Restore

(the image above is by Neil Fowler via Creative Commons)

A few weeks ago I was listening to a sermon at Valley and it occurred to me that I’ve been wrong about something for years.

God does not restore.

He does not fix things.

He does not heal.

At least, not in the way I’ve understood healing.

Take John 8 for example. Jesus is in the temple, sitting on the ground, with a large group of people around him when the religious leaders push their way through the mob. They shove in front of the teacher a woman. She is ashamed. She is afraid. She has been ripped from a moment of deep intimacy and drug through the public square. Fighting to escape, to run, to vanish she strained and resisted, but those with power pressed her forward. They yelled as they went, labeling her an “adulterer”,  a “sinner”, a “whore.” She knew that here, in front of this rabbi sitting on the ground, her life was to come to an end. 

There were two things in the Law that were clear. First, she was property. She was owned by her husband or father. Like livestock, her future was not her’s to determine. Who she married, where she lived, the number of children she would have, the man she would love – all of these were decided for her. Maybe in ideal circumstances someone might give her a voice in the course of her life, but her dreams being heard was not the norm.

The second thing the Law said was that the act of adultery had damaged her. It reduced her value. Like a horse with a broken leg, there was nothing to be done now but to put her down. 

 For years now I’ve talked about the work of Jesus as “an act of restoration.” Looking to the first three chapters in Genesis, I’ve said that God’s intention through time is to restore broken relationships. If you’ve heard me teach you’ve probably heard me say, “Before we rejected God we walked and talked with him in the garden and we lived in partnership with one another. The work of Jesus is rebuilding those relationships.” My conception of God’s plan was that he was in the business of fixing things, and that the end result of his healing would be creation restored to its intended state.

What would it look like Jesus had restored the woman in John 8?

He would have returned her to her status as property. Like when I reattach the arm of one of my kids’ broken action figure, he would have given her back her original functionality. I imagine Jesus walking the woman to her father and explaining that she is once again suitable to be married off as if the adultery had never happened.

But this is not what Jesus did. Rather, he dismissed her accusers and then stood to face her. He said to her, “I don’t condemn you. Go. And don’t sin any more.”

When she leaves him, she is not restored. Instead, she is something completely different than what she was. He acknowledges her wound but does not allow it to define her. He frees her from her status as property, recognizing that her world has changed. He sends her on a new journey, giving her the gift of an undetermined future. He empowers her to define herself, to be different than she is in this moment.

When she leaves him, she is a new creation. The old piece of broken property is gone. In its place is an empowered woman, free to define the next steps of her journey. 

I’ve been wrong in my understanding of God’s work. God does not restore. He does not fix things. He does not put things back to the way they were.

God is in the business of making all things new.

If we are to be imitators of his love, we must also be about the business of recreation. 

When a marriage is broken, we must not seek to restore it to its previous state. Rather, we must accept that the old relationship is gone, but that a new, stronger, healthier relationship can be birthed in its place. 

When an addicted seeks recovery, we must not strive to return him to his former self. Rather, we must acknowledge that there is no going back, but that the future has the potential to be much different than the past.

When we are wronged and things are broken, forgiveness does not mean pretending as if nothing happened. Rather, forgiveness is seeking a happy and radically different sequel to a tragic tale.

When we separate ourselves from God, when we damage our relationship with him through sin, something is lost. Our relationship with him will not be the same. Instead, his mercy makes us stronger and his grace replaces what was broken with something greater.

As Jesus people I now see that we are not looking to recapture the garden. We are participating in the formation of a new kingdom. One like which the world has never seen.  

For resurrection to come, something has to die. And when something dies, it’s gone.

But there is always the possibility of rebirth.

And he who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

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