Few words are as loaded as the word “redemption.” For some people, it carries an aura of sacredness: It’s an experience of salvation, catharsis, and forgiveness all at once. For others, though, redemption feels like a relic from our history, giving off the unpalatable odor of fanaticism. I imagine that’s why usage of the word (in books, via Ngram) has declined since the 1800s.
I sympathize with the secular folks — those who feel uneasy with the baptized-by-fire connotation of redemption. Yet, at the same time, I hesitate to retire such a potent word without wrestling with it first.
I found myself wondering, “Can there be a more modern-sounding corollary to the idea of redemption?”
At first, I thought maybe “enlightenment” could be that corollary. But that didn’t sit quite right with me. After all, the word “enlightenment” has two very specific meanings: it’s a Buddhist concept, and it also refers to a Western intellectual movement. Also, to me, the idea of enlightenment simply doesn’t jive with the feeling of redemption. It’s not the same sentiment.
I thought, “Have I ever had a non-religious experience that felt something like redemption?”
Yeah, I have. It’s called learning.
“In times of change, learners inherit the earth,” wrote the brilliant Eric Hoffer.
Many more have waxed poetic about the power of learning, and for good reason — learning is spectacularly powerful. Learning makes it possible to forgive yourself for past mistakes and failures. Proving you’ve “learned your lesson” makes it possible for others to forgive you, too.
Learning is the key to mending brokenness in your life and relationships. The ability to learn can give you the courage to face danger, risk, and the unknown. Knowing how to learn gives you resilience to rejection, criticism, and even defeat. The lifelong practice of learning unlocks an ongoing experience of meaning, direction, excitement, and hope. Most of all, true learning is intrinsically rewarding.
I believe lifelong learners understand redemption.
When they fail, when they suffer, when they’re criticized, lifelong learners can arise again with hope for the future. They can admit past mistakes (a.k.a. “sins”), make amends, and repair their lives. Personally, I think the sun never sets on a lifelong learner.
So, maybe learning is the new redemption. Maybe the first step to bridging barriers, and seeing eye to eye, is showing evidence of learning. Maybe whenever we’re divided, broken, or lost, we can look to learning for a kind of salvation, catharsis, and forgiveness all at once. Maybe learning can dissolve hostility and judgment. And maybe, just maybe, learning is something that deserves our fanaticism.
Have you ever found redemption through learning?