Why study the Incarnation? So what?
- The Incarnation is among the doctrines that makes Christianity unique among the religions of the world. While many religions have gods that manifest themselves among human beings, only in Christianity does God himself, without reservation, lives a life that is utterly and completely human, without reservation. Jesus Christ is not a “Hercules” figure.
- For Christians, the Incarnation is the condition of possibility of the fulfillment of all human desire. By placing himself in our hands, God allows us to return to his own hands. In the doctrine of the Incarnation is buried the one hope to a happiness that will not fade away.
What makes the study of the Incarnation universal?
- Even though the Incarnation makes Christianity unique, the longings and hopes embodied in this teaching can be found in every community and in every individual. This is the longing for community with the absolute, for the final intimate embrace with the eternal, for a release from suffering, death, and evil (others’ and our own).
- God becomes a single man in a particular year in a particular culture with a particular story, personality, name, family, and face. It is exactly for this reason that the promises he made are extended to the whole human race, which is as much a collective of particular individuals. It is exactly in our differences and uniqueness that we share a common human destiny.
What is the moral of the story (of the Incarnation)?
- There is a struggle. It is the struggle between our hopelessness and God’s ever-advancing, consoling outreach. God tramples down millennia of despair to crack the concrete prison we have built for ourselves, and he grabs his beloved Humanity by its bloody roots, proving again and again that our meager resistance is no match for his love. The real moral of the story is a call to surrender, to lay down the burden of fighting a battle we cannot win, a battle against our one and only ally.
- The Incarnation is a tale of the dramatic lengths God will go to return a lost and cold, tattered and broken creature to himself. It is not a story about God’s distant “compassion”, a mere “being with” so that our misery can have some company on its way to the grave; nor is it a “superhero” story in which we are passive damsels limply carried aloft by a masked being foreign and strange to us. Fundamentally it is a struggle that spans the cosmos and rages on in the human soul—the battle between meager self-servitude and meek surrender to divine life and power.
What larger concept, issue, or problem underlies the Incarnation?
- At bottom, it is a dialogue between the Infinite God and his finite creation. The problem is believing the impossible: that somehow a single part of God’s creation can contain not only the whole creation, but God’s infinite self. It is as if, breaking against the shore, a single wave contained—was—the entire ocean.
What couldn’t we do if we didn’t understand the Incarnation?
- If we misunderstand the Incarnation—if we indulge in any of the Christological heresies—we ultimately cut ourselves off from God. Or rather, we cut ourselves off from anything more than a partial, temporary, finite and thus unsatisfactory encounter with the divine.
Apart from the Incarnation (orthodoxly understood) our sufferings and trials are bereft of any lasting redemption. For example, if we are Apollinarians, then Jesus lacked a human soul and therefore did not truly live a human life. His example then becomes hollow, his sacrifice mere pageantry, and his death not a true death. The story of Jesus becomes a story of God showing us a greatness that is, in the end, beyond us; even though he points the way, it lies beyond a chasm and merely taunts us. If we are Arians, on the other hand, Jesus perhaps truly died, but he is himself a creature of God—a supreme angel perhaps, the first creature, but a creature nevertheless and therefore finite. If the Son is a finite creature than his death is doubly futile. First, like in Apollinarianism, he is not truly human; but second and more importantly, he is not truly God, and therefore has no more access or community with the Infinite than we ourselves do. The Incarnation is the only source for unlimited mediation between the finite Creation and the infinite God.
How is the Incarnation used and applied in the larger world?
- It is first of all applied sacramentally in those Christian faiths with a sacramental dimension. It is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that “God partakes of our humanity so that we might partake of his divinity”.
- It is fulfilled in the unfolding of the Kingdom of Heaven into ordinary life, where the grace of charity from the sacraments manifests in choices emulating God’s self-emptying love.
What is a real-world insight about the Incarnation?
- Love is a choice and love is a skill. Love that emulates the Incarnation does not require amorous feelings to fuel its action; it requires only God’s grace and our responding charity.
- Real-world Christian love is always a “pay it forward” movement. One cannot give unless one has received; but once one receives, the gift burns forever.
What is the value of studying the Incarnation?
- Knowing about and understanding the Incarnation gives one the understanding necessary to appreciate and respond to the gift of the Christian mysteries.It also gives one a supreme model of “kinetic” love to follow and to guide one’s life.