The Scandal of the Incarnation (Part One)

Jesus resurrected and Mary Magdalene
Image via Wikipedia

Mick Turner

At the very heart of the Christian faith stands the scandal of the incarnation. I use the word scandal in the sense that, at its root, the word implies a stumbling block, something a person, no matter how well meaning and mindful, just might trip over. The incarnation of Jesus was certainly that and it has caused more than a few Christians, no matter how learned, wise, and erudite, to fall flat on their face.

For the Evangelicals and the Fundamentalists, the incarnation is rightly at the core of their interpretation of the faith. Where these folks run into difficulty is their overly rigid view of the reason Christ incarnated in the first place. To hear the Evangelicals and the Fundamentalists tell it, Jesus left his heavenly abode for one reason and one reason only: to offer himself up as a sacrifice for humankind’s sins and as ransom to dissuade God from unleashing his wrath on the fallen world.

The problem with this view of the incarnation is that it paints the Father into a very unflattering corner. If this aspect of the “good news” is true, then God is, on the one hand, guilty of killing his own son, and viewed from a slightly different angle, guilty of suicide. In essence, he killed his son and he killed himself. Granted, he raised himself three days later, but is beside the point. This doctrine, so closely held by so many, is totally unreasonable, difficult to swallow and no amount of “God’s ways are higher than our ways” is going to make it any more palatable.

For those of a more Liberal orientation, the Incarnation is a major stumbling block as well. The notion that the Godhead somehow manifested himself in Jesus in a unique manner – that Jesus Christ was in fact God– hurls liberal scholars into fits of apoplexy, so much so that from miles away one can hear their spittle-choked harrumphs echoing down the halls of academia. According to the majority of liberal theologians, the divinity of Jesus was a teaching added on by the early church and nothing more.

Personally, I don’t fit well into either camp. While I firmly believe in the Incarnation, that Jesus was and is a divine being, I don’t hold tightly to the substitutionary atonement as espoused by the Evangelicals and the Fundamentalists. I do firmly believe that Christ wrought something miraculous and restorative through the Incarnation, his death, resurrection, ascension, and infusion into all reality (see Ephesians 4:10). However, I think our limited understanding is incapable of fully comprehending what he accomplished, much less how he did it.

Admittedly, I am a person who likes to speculate on theological and metaphysical matters and, yes, I have spent much time pondering over the ins and outs of the Incarnation. However, that was in my younger days when time seemed to be less valuable. Nowadays, I, have learned to rein in my overly speculative tendencies and along with the psalmist I can truthfully say:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother. (Psalm 131:1-2 NRSV)

The gospel in general and the Incarnation in particular are complex, multi-faceted phenomena that are far beyond the pale of my cognitive capabilities and any insights I have arrived at are thoroughly gifts of grace. Like light shining through a prism, the gospel and the Incarnation reveal multiple perspectives, each equally valid. If we view the prism from one angle we see one color and from another angle we see yet another hue. It is the same with the Incarnation. From different angles we see different things, all equally significant.

To be continued…….

(c) L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved

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