Posted by: gcarkner | December 13, 2016

Incarnation: a Comet in the Flesh

The Imago Dei, God’s Icon

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The wonder of the incarnation presents humanity with the possibility of full, but finite, personal embodiment of logos, the will and wisdom of the divine. As a fleshly, personal wisdom, it sets out an alternative paradigm from self-mastery, self-invention and self-promotion. Jesus is the image (icon) of God that we long for in our honest moments, the most excellent representative of God on earth. He is fully God and fully human. In this way, he provides an exemplar of life lived in the presence of God, offering us an archetype of human goodness that is inspired by heaven. Stephen Long (2001) appeals to the moral normativity of the life of Jesus, revealing that we are hard wired for such a transcendent relationship.

In Christian theology, Jesus reveals to us not only who God is but also what it means to be truly human. This true humanity is not something we achieve on our own; it comes to us as a gift … The reception of this gift contains an ineliminable element of mystery that will always require faith. Jesus in his life, teaching, death and resurrection and ongoing presence in the church and through the Holy Spirit … orders us towards God. He directs our passions and desires towards that which can finally fulfill them and bring us happiness. (D.S. Long, 2001, 106-7)

Transcendent goodness is made present and accessible in the human sphere through the incarnation. It offers us a transcendent turn to a new kind of humanism centered in agape love. Transcendence of the strong variety (C. Schrag, 1997, 110-48) does not mean aloofness or indifference. It is not a burdensome, or unreachable, abstract standard of perfectionism. Rather, it is a creative, palpable engagement with the world, including individuals, society and public institutions. Jesus shows that this goodness can be lived out in the human theatre. The final litmus test of a good moral philosophy is its applicability, its praxis.

Jesus provides such an interpretive lens for the human imagination. Although this claim is challenging to grasp, Paul in Colossians 1: 15-20 speaks of Jesus as the source and ‘glue’ of creation and the purpose or end (telos) of creation, both its creative alpha and omega, beginning and trajectory. He is above all things in creation and at the same time the creative basis, the very ground of being. He is that without which nothing would exist, without which this very text would be meaningless. All the fullness of God dwells in him. He is God incarnate, in the flesh, fully God and fully man, as the Athanasian tradition states. In him, God’s eternity connects with creation’s temporality. Paul writes it large: “Jesus is the Yes and Amen to it all” (II Corinthians 1: 18-21). He affirms the human condition while transforming it and setting out new vision for moral capacity in both individual and societal identity.

In his thoughtful book on the subject, J. Richard Middleton (The Liberating Image, 2005) claims that Jesus accomplishes all that was anticipated in humans to become a proper regent of God on earth. He faithfully fulfilled this vocation as that strategic representative. Jesus is the complete human, a fullness of humanity, the true icon of God. He is the presence of God in the world, the nexus of the eternal and the temporal. It is an inbreaking of heaven into our time-space continuum. He is a powerful exemplar of divine goodness, to direct our passions and show us the way to live robustly, honestly, humbly and justly. He came to take us higher, out of the murky shadows of our lies, lust for power, addictions and deceptions, and into the light. In the popular television program Scandal, Olivia Pope the fixer, is hired to save people’s reputation in the halls of power in Washington, D.C. She sees so much darkness that at times, she longs to leave it all, quit her job, and step out into the light. Jesus is the reason for this human longing for a noble character and true virtue, for doing the right thing even if it not the easy thing, a longing to remain faithful to one’s highest convictions.  

He is the fulfillment of all the promises made to the ancient Hebrew patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Israel) and the prophetic utterances and longings of the Old Testament, the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the promise of redemption, renewal, and justice for the poor. Humans have spent much time anticipating someone who could show a better way to do politics, to save us from our own destructive narcissism, violence and vengeance, while teaching us the higher wisdom of God.  His life is a unique story, a powerful human narrative of restoration and renewal. The Christ story is the apex of God’s compassionate, redemptive interest in humanity.

~an excerpt from The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity.


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