As they bounded into the stadium for the third-round
playoff game, each member of the football team was screaming,
—Redemption, redemption, redemption!— That was the key word
for the challenge they faced.
Earlier in the week the word of the moment was —revenge.— The
team wanted to erase the memories of a 41-7 defeat at the hands
of their playoff opponent during the regular season. It marked
the only loss of the season. Now was the time to get back, to
rub noses in the dirt, to humiliate the rival team.
How did the word revenge change to redemption?
Enter Coach Nizzi, football coach for Boys Town High School in
Nebraska, who didn—t equate victory simply with humiliating
the opposition. No, Jesus had given a far better word to describe
the challenge. That word is —redemption.—
Redemption is the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, and
your chance to share in it, no matter what your life circumstances
are. Redemption is offered by God so that you might fulfill
your purpose in life as a Christian.
Redemption means to identify what is scarred, broken and in need
of healing in your life. It means to bring these experiences
to Jesus and to allow him to mold you into a new creation, to
teach you a new way to live.
For the Boys Town football team that night, the experience of
redemption became one of openness. Each member gave his all
while respecting the fact that the opponents also gave their
best. The result? A final score of 15-14.
Who do you think won?
Who—s a Winner?
Who wins and who loses always seems to require scorekeeping.
In the eyes of the people of his time, Jesus was no winner.
Indeed, it looked as if he was beaten down in death. The crucifixion
was the final buzzer.
Jesus had taught over and over that death was never the winner,
that death was not final. Yet, many of his closest friends didn—t
get the message. They gave up, abandoned him, leaving him to
face his greatest opponent alone and in great suffering. They
didn—t understand that the road to redemption would first travel
through suffering to the point of death.
Redemption Happens! Wouldn—t that be a great bumper sticker? Yet,
what would it say to a world that experiences violence in so
It would be the rare person who, in searching through the family
tree, would not hear stories of relatives who lie, cheat, steal,
abuse alcohol and other drugs. You may have heard of cousins
who committed acts of violence toward other family members,
maybe even sexual abuse or the inward-turning violence of suicide.
Whenever you uncover the truth about violence in your own life,
and in the lives of family members, you are presented with a
The Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy puts it this way: —I have
set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose
life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving
the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him—
(30:19-20). Redemption begins when you choose to pursue life
Athletes often use the phrase, —No pain, no gain.— In this context,
it is meant to encourage you to endure the pain of getting in
top physical shape in order to be ready to compete.
This philosophy runs counter to the most basic motivating force
present in the lives of even the youngest human beings. We all
want to move from pain toward pleasure. What good, then, is
Pain lets you know that something is wrong. When you attend to
your pain, you can decide to respond to it so that it will go
away. Simple examples include taking aspirin for a headache
or having your broken bone set. You can address the issue of
Pain, however, can multiply. Painful event upon painful event
can add up to a lifetime of suffering. At this point, suffering
differs from pain.
Juanita (a composite of many abused young people) is an example
of a person whose pain has crossed the line into suffering.
Juanita is a victim of sexual abuse within her family. She has
suffered for years. She is filled with questions and doubts:
—Why did this happen to me?— —Why do I hate myself?— —If there
is a God, how could this happen to me?—
Juanita is sexually acting out with just about every boy who pays
any attention to her. She takes drugs to try to escape from
both the physical and emotional pain of her life. How can she
find redemption in the midst of her suffering?
You can find one answer in John—s Gospel: —In the beginning was
the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God....What
came to be through him was life, and this life was the light
of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the
darkness has not overcome it— (1:1-5).
These words speak the truth about Jesus— very nature—to be the
light in the darkness. As humans, we may be inclined to believe
that Jesus is only attracted to goodness in us, to the light
in our words and deeds. Jesus also comes our way because
we are in the dark.
Jesus— choice to be a light in the darkness is best understood
through the central teaching of the New Testament. This teaching
is about redemption: the passion, death and resurrection of
Jesus and our chance to share in it.
By using Jesus as a model for confronting and
working through our own suffering, we discover a very useful
skill: how to find meaning in suffering. Learning and practicing
this skill is to tap into the real power of the Resurrection.
That power is best expressed in the following equation: Joy
(Resurrection) = Suffering that has been worked through.
This joy is discovered in suffering that has been thoroughly dealt
with, not just dumped. Jesus did not toss the cross from his
shoulder. Rather, he faced it. In doing so, Jesus gave each
of us a new way to look at the purpose of suffering.
Toward the Light
What new purpose does suffering serve? Suffering, in the context
of love, can lead to purification and education (new learning).
Let—s return to Juanita in order to understand this more fully.
One day, Carla (a composite adult guide) steps into Juanita—s
life. She helps her get the proper care that she needs in order
to address her suffering.
Carla commits herself to connecting Juanita with the best available
resources to promote healing and health. This includes spiritual
resources. Carla even commits herself to being a mentor for
Juanita in her struggles.
As a result of Carla—s support, Juanita begins to learn about
God, about real love, about reading the Bible and about a new
way of living. Juanita comes to a point of conversion. This
powerful experience of grace changes her entire way of looking
Juanita—s understanding of conversion tells her that she is —in
Christ...a new creation— (2 Corinthians 5:17). How does understanding
this help her cope with her suffering?
Quite simply, Juanita—s conversion challenges her to embrace the
truth about her past. She has, in fact, been sexually abused.
She has been a drug abuser. She has engaged in indiscrimate
Juanita does not feel good about her past. She does not always
see hope for a positive tomorrow. Still, Jesus invites her to
state these facts, to name these truths, as one important step
on the road to healing.
As Juanita walks this road, she must learn new ways to behave
and to make decisions. She must change her attitude toward other
people if she is to form new relationships built on Christian
When she has honestly faced her past, Juanita must let go of her
old ways. They must die. In this way, she begins to make
some sense of her suffering. It has helped her begin to live
in a new and healthy way.
As Juanita is restored to physical, mental and spiritual health,
she experiences real friendships for the first time. After several
years of hard work learning new ways to relate to young men,
she goes on her first real date. She and her date choose a good
movie. Both watch the movie and enjoy the conversation and meal
afterward. She is dropped off, thanks her date, shakes his hand
and goes inside.
Juanita feels good about herself. She sees concrete changes in
her behavior. She is moving beyond living as a victim. She is
now beginning to live as a redeemed person, a survivor of past
suffering. Juanita has tapped into the healing power of the
You may or may not identify directly with Juanita—s experience.
Yet no one—s life is exempt from suffering. Whether it is the
death of a loved one, a tragic accident that leaves you permanently
injured, the divorce of your parents or a broken relationship,
every one of us has suffered and will suffer. How, then, can
you find meaning in suffering?
The key is to ask and search for the answers to two questions:
1. What did I learn from suffering? Did you learn something
meaningful—or something meaningless—from your experience of
2. How does suffering purify me (change me
for the better)?
These questions help you to recognize that there are two distinct
ways to approach suffering; one leads to meaning, the other
Meaningless suffering tends to ignore these two questions. Such
pain is marked by thinking, —Life is unfair,— —I am bad,— —I
am powerless.— You may feel hurt, angry, hopeless, depressed
and unloved. Your behaviors reflect how you think and feel.
You act out violently toward others through words and actions,
or toward yourself by using drugs or attempting suicide.
In contrast, meaningful suffering embraces the opportunity to
answer these questions. Even in your darkest moments you can
find reasons to be hopeful and to recognize that you have power.
You look to the present and the future as opportunities to grow.
You know that you are loved by God. You learn that some family
members, teachers and friends will support you through your
trials. You don—t act out violently or wallow in self-pity.
You even reach out to others.
Discovering meaning in working through suffering models the actions
of Jesus in his passion, death and resurrection. When Jesus
was betrayed by Judas and Peter, he did not strike out at them.
When he was beaten and crowned with thorns, he did not swear
back or fight his tormentors.
On the way to the cross, Jesus accepted help from others. He allowed
Simon to carry his cross with him. He allowed a woman to wipe
his face. Ask yourself: Who do I allow to help me as I struggle
to work through my suffering?
Jesus was then crucified. And how did he respond? He reached out
to forgive his executioners, saying, —Father, forgive them,
they know not what they do— (Luke 23:34). Jesus modeled the
ultimate power of God, of redemption, in forgiving the very
people who thought they had the power to have the last word
in his life.
Forgiveness is not an easy skill to practice. It often can take
much time, even years in the case of abuse victims, to work
through the experience of forgiveness. Yet, when that moment
arrives, the true power of Christ—s presence is in the hands
of the one who forgives, not in the hands of the one who victimizes.
Jesus reached out one last time to the thief hanging on the cross
next to him. When this criminal spoke out in defense of Jesus,
he was invited to share in the glory of redemption.
When you reach out to others despite your own pain, you are like
Christ. You, too, will reflect that light in the darkness, the
same darkness Jesus swallowed up by dying, and shattered by
The Final Score
What of our football game? Coach Nizzi—s charges came out on
the short end of the score. They lost a second game to their
opponents, though just by one point. So—where—s the redeeming
victory in this defeat?
Quite simply, redemption had moved from word to
action (and the Word became flesh). The team discovered that
they were up to the challenge. They rose up from the humiliation
of their first defeat and played their hearts out.
As with the crucifixion of Jesus, the numbers
on the scoreboard did not tell the final score. The buzzer may
have sounded, but its deeper meaning was just starting to sink
The game was over, but a new season in their lives was just beginning.
Redemption does indeed happen!