The weekend of my wedding—it must have been at our rehearsal dinner—one of my family members on my father’s side made an odd suggestion. He said that I should drop our family name and take my wife’s surname instead.
This wasn’t because he disliked me and thought I wasn’t worthy of carrying the name. Rather, it was the opposite: he thought our family name wasn’t worth carrying on. I’m not sure how serious he was about this suggestion, but I know it wasn’t an idle joke. He was at least 50% serious when he made it.
It’s not like my family has any more of a sordid past than any other middle class American family—in fact I think we’re pretty typical. A lot of divorce, a grandfather who was a very smart and talented man, but struggled with fatherhood and found it very difficult to affirm his four children while they grew up. Surely many of you can relate?
But throw in what seems to be a genetic disposition to depressive disorders and a life marked by tragedy and hardship, and it becomes easier to imagine why this family member thought the way they did about our family name.
What I told this person was that I knew all about our family’s checkered past and such, but I wasn’t interested in discarding our name.
I wanted to redeem it.
I told them I wanted to be a part of making our family name something to be proud of, by being a good man, a good husband, and a good father. Now, I’ve made some minor and not-so-minor missteps along the way, but with God’s help (truly) I think we’re fulfilling this wish of mine. This year will see our 8th wedding anniversary and our son’s 2nd birthday. We still love being married to each other (even after seeing some pretty ugly sides!) and our son is an inexpressible joy to us and the people around him. In spite of the dark spots on that side of my family tree, there is a lot of good in it too, and it is worth holding on to.
In the movie Batman Begins, the villain Ra’s al Ghul is threatening to destroy Bruce Wayne’s home city of Gotham, believing it has become irredeemably corrupted by greed and injustice. In a confrontation between the two, Wayne tells him “Gotham isn’t beyond saving.”
I think this is exactly how God views our world. As the Accuser stands before him endlessly listing out each of our evils and arguing the merits for our destruction, God sees beyond, to the potential inside each person, and sees that none of us are beyond redemption. Even when nobody else can believe it, much like Luke Skywalker is the only one who can still see the spark of good left in Darth Vader, God sees that our world and the people in it are not only capable of being saved, but worthy of it as well. It can, and it someday will, be redeemed.
See, God is into redemption. It’s the family business! Rather than destroying everything by fire and starting over when we mess up, God shows a different, stronger, kind of power. When we submit to his influence we let his restorative power work its magic in us.
That’s part of the majesty of God, and one of the things that I most admire in Him. The ability to use any vessel, no matter how cracked and leaky, to accomplish His purposes and bring light back to the world. That’s good news!
Witness the recovered drug addict who now helps others find the path to sobriety, the former gang member who now works for peace, the missionary-murderer who helped convince his tribe to turn from ruthless violence to peace in “following [God’s] good trail.” See the man who had loaded his gun and was on his way to kill his wife and children when he just happened to glance at the TV to see Chuck Smith preaching, and ends up a pastor to over 12,000 people (watch his incredibly powerful story here). Look even at the rich American, blinded by his pride, wealth, and selfishness, who sees a transformation in his own life and starts using his influence and money to help others, or look at any of the millions upon millions of similar stories re-enacted by men and women across all strata of life and all corners of the globe.
Indeed, it seems that not only is God able, but he absolutely revels in turning the unredeemable and broken-beyond-repair into agents of peace and light!
There is good in my family. There is good in Gotham. There is good in the world. There is good in YOU.
And all of it is worth redeeming.
Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
Falsehood aptly defended loses not it’s falsity.