there’s nothing more like God…

As I laboured over my essay on the trinitarian theology of Gregory of Nazianzus this past week, I was struck by the way the early fathers tend to speak of the incarnation in terms of God clothing himself in human flesh.

Of course there’s real truth here. When John 1 tells us that the Word became flesh this is a dramatic and decisive new thing. But the danger is that it suggests that God and humanity are intrinsically opposed — not just as a result of sin.

I’m much happier with this snippet from Soren Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments (at the climax of a parable he’s spun about a king who goes ‘undercover’ to win the love of a peasant woman):

[T]his servant-form is no mere outer garment, like the king’s beggar-cloak, which therefore flutters loosely about him and betrays the king; it is not like the filmy summer-cloak of Socrates, which though woven of nothing yet both conceals and reveals. It is his true form and figure. For this is the unfathomable nature of love, that it desires equality with the beloved, not in jest merely, but in earnest and truth. And it is the omnipotence of the love which is so resolved that it is able to accomplish its purpose…

Dare we even say there’s nothing more like God than to become human — that it’s thoroughly right for God the Son to enter into our situation fully, taking our plight upon Himself and triumphantly exhausting it in His substitutionary death?

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4 comments

  1. You know Chris, I’m very sympathetic to what your saying; but I wonder if we need to hold onto the unlikeliness of the incarnation at the same time as affirming its fittingness. Is there a sense in which Jesus Christ, both because he was in the form of God and also although he was in the form of God, became man? That is, the self-humbling of the incarnation is entirely consistent with God’s character; but is also remarkably at odds with his divine being.

    1. You’re right — there is a crucial ambiguity with the relevant participle in Phil 2…

      But can I push back a little? What is so strange about the divine being of this God — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who bears with his people in their weakness — emptying himself in humility and service of others? How is that not entirely fitting and appropriate to what God is (as we see in the economy of the saving relations he establishes with Israel and supremely in Christ)?

      Not to rule out the possibility of there actually being a good, Christological answer to this question, but … where do we learn that the incarnation is at odds with God’s divine being?

  2. I might be wading in beyond my depth here, but what about distinguishing “human form” from “a servant”…

    Because he was in very nature the God of Grace, Jesus took on the nature of a servant

    and therefore…

    Although he was in very nature creator, Jesus took on the likeness of a creature

    ?

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