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In 2006, my kids and I took a family vacation to Banff National Park, located in the Canadian rockies. We hiked some forty miles in five days, exploring many of the great features of this magnificent park. Along the way, we kept noticing a certain kind of pine tree, the white bark pine, dotting the landscape, especially at higher elevations. Clinging to rocky cliffs overlooking pristine lakes, massive glaciers, and deep valleys, they looked like sentinels keeping watch over the world. Each one was obviously weathered—trunks gnarled; limbs broken off; bark roughed up by wind, rain, sleet, and snow; clumps of needles stealing bits of sunlight; clawlike roots gripping rocky slopes. These trees had passed the test of time and survived, sculpted by the elements into extraordinary works of art. They were truly beautiful—not beautiful like a child's innocent and delicate face, but beautiful like the carved and aged face of a lifelong fisherman or farmer. These trees were strong and seasoned, full of years and memory and character.
Those trees symbolize what I believe God wants to accomplish in our lives, which is to work complete redemption. he wants to use the harsh conditions of life to shape us—and eventually the whole world—into something extraordinarily beautiful. redemption promises to transform us, completely so. Once broken, we become whole again; once selfish and insecure, we become stately and serene and self-giving; once rabid sinners, we become glorious saints. In short, God purposes to claim us as his own—no matter how far we are from him, how fallen into sin, how lost and lonely. he wants to restore us to a right relationship with him and to remake us according to the image of Jesus Christ, which will ultimately lead to the renewal of the whole world. This is God's doing, from beginning to end. God is the one—the only one—who can, does, and will work redemption.
Redemption has become significant to me, and for very personal reasons, as I will soon explain. It is a biblical term, too. But like other biblical terms, such as justification, reconciliation, and atonement, it seems alien and even intimidating to us, the religious equivalent of an algebraic equation. We don't use the term much in regular speech, and we don't usually ask people, "How's your redemption going?" which would make us appear insufferably religious and weird. The word might occupy a place in our religious vocabulary, useful to toss around at church or in a Bible study, but it hardly seems relevant to daily life.
I want to reclaim the word and make it understandable, useful, and meaningful for ordinary life. It is a rich term, and it captures the entire scope and drama of the biblical story, which is redemptive at its core. I hope to define and explain the term in such a familiar and practical way that it will make a genuine difference in your life. This is the goal set before me.
But I need something from you, too, which I am going to ask for up front. I want you to read this book with your own life in mind, your ordinary life, the real life you are currently living, whether you are young or old; single, married, divorced, or widowed; employed, unemployed, or retired; rooted in a community or profoundly lonely; satisfied with your circumstances or disappointed with them; elated about life or discontented, restless, even depressed. redemption is the work of Jesus Christ applied to the unfolding story of life, your life and my life. It turns gospel truth into a dramatic narrative and makes theology applicable to everyday life. Redemption happens through God's involvement in the ordinary circumstances of life, no matter what those circumstances happen to be. You are not beyond God's redemptive reach—not now, not ever. So I ask you to read this book in light of your life as it is right now.
The Story behind the Story
I should probably explain how I came to write both A Grace Disguised, which was published in 1996, and now this sequel, A Grace Revealed. Many years ago my family suffered a terrible tragedy. My mother, Grace, who was visiting us for the weekend, my wife, Lynda, and my youngest daughter, Diana Jane, were all killed in a drunken-driving accident. I survived the accident, as did my other three children, then very young. That the accident occurred over twenty years ago means that I have gained a great deal of perspective over time. I am no longer looking ahead into some terrible void, as I was right after the accident occurred, seeing nothing but darkness. I am now looking back, some twenty years later, on what has happened since. Not that life has been easy. This book will not tell a sweet and simple story about tragedy leading to triumph. Still, I hope it will tell a redemptive story.
In the months and years following the accident, I realized that the tragedy itself, however catastrophic, could actually play a less significant role than what God could do with it and how I would respond to it. Would it cause a downward spiral of destruction, or would it illumine and illustrate a story of grace and redemption? I chose to believe it would tell a redemptive story, trusting that God was still God, sovereign and wise and good, however miserable I felt and distant God seemed to be. I set my mind to ponder the redemptive course that was laid out before me, shrouded, as it was, in mystery.
What, I began to ask, does redemption really mean, given my unwanted and undesirable circumstances? Where does it lead? how does God work redemption in our lives? These questions—and many others as well—brooded inside me. how could a grace disguised in an accident become a grace revealed, discovered, and experienced in the unfolding story of my life? Shattered as I was, I purposed to learn as much as I could and catch glimpses of how God works to redeem human life, including my own.
But this is a book for you, not for me. My story will make its way into the narrative from time to time. Still, I am more interested in helping you discern how God is working redemption in your life. This is why I invite you to read this book in light of your own circumstances. An accident and its aftermath provided the setting for my story, like props on a stage. What is the setting for your story? how can you play your role in that story well, even if it is a role you would never have chosen? how can you exercise the kind of faith that will give God room and freedom to do his work?
If anything, I share my own story with a certain degree of ambivalence. My editor and I even disagreed over how much of my story to include in the manuscript, I wanting less, she urging more. As I have already mentioned, some fifteen years ago I wrote a book about loss, written in the wake of the tragedy that so dramatically changed the life of my family. The first draft of A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss was entirely theological, telling readers what to think about loss. My friends liked the draft well enough but commented that it was too abstract and impersonal. "You have to tell your story," they said to me. "If you don't, readers won't be able to identify with it, or with you." After much prayer and reflection, I chose to tell the family story, though I felt acutely self-conscious about it.
Excerpted from A Grace Revealed by Gerald L. Sittser Copyright © 2012 by Gerald L. Sittser. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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