The Incarnation: Some Christmas Reflections without Complaining about Materialism (yet)

The following are excerpts from a text I am working on.

On evil and hope:

One is forced to make a decision about God when confronted with the incarnation. Either God is now powerless (at least in some respects) in Christ’s humanity – a mere peasant of Nazareth, born of migrant parents among the animals, wandering with no place to lay His head – or God’s full humanity has to redefine our understandings of sovereignty and power.

To the advantage of the former understanding, the task of theodicy becomes much easier. There is suffering in the world simply because God does not have the capacity to handle evil, sin, darkness, or any of its other ever-present morbid synonyms. Unfortunately, this would entirely justify our alarmist culture. In a few years, global warming will irreversibly destroy our planet, depleted resources and political power struggles will ignite an inferno of worldwide famine, and even those who once thought greed could buy their way out of the mess will be doomed as well. Scientifically speaking, these events have already occurred and continue to multiply at terrifying rates.

To the advantage of the latter, there is still hope. Therefore, I accept the latter. Some may argue this is due to an overdose of naïveté, and I would indeed prefer to live a life of fulfilling gullibility before accepting a universe devoid of direction, purpose, meaning, or hope. However, my reasoning for embracing such a non-fatalistic view of God’s place in this world, redefining “power” and “sovereignty” rather than throwing them out entirely, is due to the many times I have witnessed human beings realizing their full humanity and enacting that “power.” Humans, in the midst of the most overwhelming oppression, have overthrown dictatorships, stopped nuclear projects, dismantled corrupt regimes, and holistically reformed their societies without a single gunshot. We undoubtedly have the capacity to perform miracles, and to perform them ordinarily.

From the introductory pages:

Is God’s power, or sovereignty, or ability to be sovereign when desired, an essential characteristic of God’s nature? Avid readers of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Qur’an, or portions of the New Testament are convinced to say, “Yes! It’s a black and white issue; just read any page.” Their cartoon culture reiterates the idea of dominance as a Godly attribute. Feel-good morning devotions assure them that “God has a plan.” For most people, God’s omnipotence and omniscience are deal-breakers. If God does not know what God is doing, or if God sometimes does not have the capacity to do, then God is non-existent. Whether it is an authentic conviction or a fear that creation lacks cohesive meaning, people want to (and do) define God by God’s supposed all-knowingness and the totality of God’s power.

The incarnation scandal, therefore, presents us with a problem. It challenges every popular understanding of God to the core. Being fully human revokes all of the privileges associated with shooting the bad guys down with lightning at the snap of one’s fingers. Moreover, it discards the opportunity of averting suffering through power. Humanness is the experience of finitude, of limitation, and it is my goal to persuade you not only that this finitude is the image of God, but also that God’s inability to act with total sovereignty is the very divine characteristic that gives you and I purpose.

Something stronger than sovereignty:

The incarnation may be the most important act a being such as God can perform. It is a declaration that total sovereignty has been renounced for the sake of something even greater. The birth of Jesus meant more than the presence of a man who would eventually die for my sins. It meant the denial of one type of power, the power to possess, destroy, and conquer, for the sake of accepting another type of power, the power to love, to enter into the mess, to set free the oppressed, to be with.



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