Topic: “incarnation”

The Great and Humble God

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

He Saw Yahweh

In Genesis 18, Abraham has just finished following God’s instructions about circumcision. At 100 years old, he circumcised himself, along with his 13-year-old son and all his servants and the other members of his household, to obey this God who had called him from his homeland to a place where he would always be a sojourner, looking forward with hope to the homeland God had promised but which he himself would not inherit. (There is real obedience for you: embrace circumcision so that someone else will get the reward God promises…)

Then, sitting in the shade one hot afternoon, Abraham looks and sees Yahweh,1 standing there as a man he recognizes. At that point, this 100-year-old man (who, granted, lived to be 160 and therefore was probably like a man in his mid to late 50s physically) got up and ran to prepare a feast for his God. There are many interesting things in this passage, but most notable to me tonight was the way Yahweh came to Abraham and interacted with him throughout the passage. That is: he came as a man2 and ate with Abraham and spoke with him. Of course, he spoke prophetically about impossibilities that he was going to bring about; this condescension was not his ceasing to be God but his taking on a form so that Abraham could know him.

So here we have at once two concrete realities that continue to shape the reader’s expectations for what God will do in the future: the promise of a miraculous son born to bring about his promise, and Yahweh himself coming as a man to relate to his people.

Over the Waters

Coming after a series of prayerful Psalms, the 29th is a complete change in tone. Each of the Psalms preceding it are prayers for deliverance from evildoers and from Yahweh’s judgment on one’s own wickedness. Here, though, we have David calling on the heavenly host to ascribe to Yahweh all the glory he is due, and a crescendo of declarations of the power of Yahweh’s voice. This God of glory3 is over all, his voice thundering and shaking even the greatest things on this earth. He is worthy for the heavenly host to ascribe him glory and strength, to be worshipped in the splendor of holiness. He is enthroned in his temple; he sits as king forever.

And this is the God who walked with Abraham, who let Abraham challenge him and his judgments. The Judge of all the earth, whose powerful and majestic voice can cause an earthquake or strip the forest bare, has become one of us.

  1. This passage highlights one more reason why I prefer simply to use God’s self-revealed name: early on, Abraham calls him “lord,” but not “Lord,” which is simply confusing if you’re not paying close attention. 
  2. Apparently pre-incarnate Christ, semi- or pseudo-incarnate, which is curious, but not the point of the passage. 
  3. This relatively innocuous phrase, right in the middle of verse 3, has been one of the most important in my life. Five years ago, reading through the Psalms much as I am right now, the phrase leapt out at me, because I had no idea what it meant to describe Yahweh as the “God of glory.” A month later, my whole theological framework had been turned on its head, from the anthropocentric view that unfortunately characterizes too much evangelical theology, to a radically God-centered view that accords with the Scriptural picture of a God who is working all things for his own sake, and not because of us at all—though how greatly we benefit! 

When the first Maker became made

I am starting a new discipline: for the next six weeks, I am seeking to follow a specific, simple reading plan I’ve devised for working through the Scriptures, along with some other personal goals. One of the goals is to write some “devotional” reflections every day. As such, I’ll be sharing thoughts from my morning reading late each day – after it has had time to marinate and stew all day, and when I have strong incentives to keep the word count (and thus, the amount of time I spend on it) to a minimum. You can expect to see roughly 500 words a day; if I occasionally go long or short you’ll simply have to forgive me.

This morning’s reading included Genesis 1 and Matthew 1. I was struck, reading through Matthew 1 immediately after Genesis 1, how incredible the story is. The God who made everything – who spoke the universe into being, who imagined light and darkness, who fashioned the earth with its peaks and its valleys and its vast seas, who filled the land with ferns and flowers and towering trees, who spun the stars through the vast empty span of the heavens, who shaped cetaceans and made mastodons, who capped his creation with feeble, magnificent humanity – this God stepped into the womb of a woman.

I too rarely feel the force of that: God became a man. The one who made us in his image took on everything that it means to be a human. The ancient divines summed it up magnificently: Jesus partakes of everything that it is to be human, and he is at the same time everything that it is to be God. In magnificent, marvelous mystery, he was both a rapidly splitting mass of cells in the body of a young Jewish woman in Palestine, and still upholding the universe by the word of his power.

This is too great a thing for our minds to grasp. That God who made all things has dwelt among us? This is myth, or the greatest of all possible jests. And indeed, it is both: myth come true (and every heart should leap to hear just one of the fairy-story endings come true), and a cause for laughter in the same vein as (but so much grander than) a platypus. There is nothing to top it – save perhaps the doctrine of the Trinity. There is one to make your head spin and your heart leap and set the world on its ear.

The God who made Adam is now also the son of David, the son of Abraham. (As Luke adds: the son of Adam.) Preposterous? Yes. Wonderful? Yes. Too good to be true? No: it is the one of the only things good enough to be true.

God made all things, then became one of the things he made and did not stop being god. Hallelujah.

And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death He gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father— doing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone (inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord’s body, and had no longer holding-ground against men, his peers), and that, secondly, whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from the fire.

—Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God

He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery— lest the creature should perish, and His Father’s handiwork in men be spent for naught— He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours.

—Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God

An Aspen in a Forest of Pines

In an interesting piece in The Atlantic last week (“Life Without Sex: The Third Phase of the Asexuality Movement”), Rachel Hill highlighted David Jay and his organization, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network:

But what all asexual people have in common — and what defines asexuality as an orientation — is that, while they may have a desire to connect with other people, asexuals have no desire to connect with them sexually. Asexual people are not the same as celibate people: it’s not that they are purposefully or unintentionally abstaining from sex they would otherwise like to have, but rather that they have no interest in it.

The article is fascinating on several levels: its examination of asexuality as a “sexual orientation,” its exploration of the idea that for some people, sex just isn’t that important (however odd that may seem in our society), and its recognition that a sex-defined culture is perhaps not always beneficial. Read on, intrepid explorer →