Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Which God did Jesus Incarnate?

I hope that the title/question got your attention and got you thinking? 

Advent is quickly fading into Christmas.  This Sunday I'll be preaching from Matthew 1, Matthews version of the announcement of Jesus' birth, and we'll sing more Christmas than Advent hymns.  But as we prepare ourselves for the Feast of Christmas, a day on which we not only exchange presents and enjoy a hearty meal, but consider that God has become present to and with us in Jesus Christ, what we call incarnation, enfleshment, what is the nature of this God?

This is a significant question raised by John Dominic Crossan in his recent book on the Lord's Prayer that is entitled The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of The Lord's Prayer (personal note, my book on the Lords' Prayer that is just coming available tracks in similar directions as Crossan regarding the prayer).   Near the close of the book, Crossan notes that the biblical story portrays God in both violent and non-violent ways, and quite correctly he notes that this isn't an OT/NT divide.  Because there are these two very stark differences in portrayals of God in both Testaments, we have to make a choice.  As we look at Jesus, what kind of God does he incarnate?  

Crossan writes:  

Confronted, as we are, by tandem visions of both a nonviolent and a nonviolent God throughout our Bible, we simply ask ourselves another question.  Is Christ the incarnation and revelation of a nonviolent or a violent God?  Since Jesus the Christ was clearly nonviolent (thank you at least for that correct judgment, Pilate), we Christians are called to believe in a nonviolent God.  (The Greatest Prayer, p. 187).
As we get ready to celebrate the feast of the Incarnation, we're posed with a serious question, and the way we answer that question will likely have important implications as to how we live out our faith. 


Glenn said...

Of course if one accepts that Jesus was the incarnation of a non-violent God, then the obvious question is what should be made of the biblical claims of God-sanctioned acts of violence? In light of Jesus' all too clear teachings, shouldn't those acts be recognized as nothing more than human attempts to justify self serving aggression by attributing them to the fulfillment of God's will?

Brian said...

We pick and choose the texts we elevate. I know that I do. The gospels present Jesus as being (mostly) a voice for non-violence, but let us not forget that Revelation presents him as a cosmic John Wayne.

I believe it is OK, in fact proper, to speak the truth clearly. We all create God/Jesus in an image of our own choosing. We support it with scripture of course, but ultimately, we interpret the God experience in a way that works for us.

Probably the most interesting depiction of God is found in 1 & 2 Samuel. Here God is not a "good guy" at all! It is great story telling.

What god will people see incarnated in us today?

John said...

It's complicated. God is neither and both, not mushy, but to sophistocated to say that in all circumstances God is just this way and only this way. To say with certainty is to put God in a box of our own choosing.

The incarnation points to what God wills for us, but that too is complicated, not only by our specific needs and desires, but by circumstances over which we have no control and there simply is no easy answer.

God does not let us off the moral hook by saying 'in all circumstances this or that is what your must do'.

Life is too blessedly complicated for simple answers.


Brian said...

Blessedly complicated indeed! The paradox that thinking these matters through is beyond complex while at the same time, even a little child can fall deeply in love with Jesus is part of what touches me so in Christianity. A life dedicated to Christianity can be as deep and abstract as you can ever wish to go. It can also be as simple and pure as sunshine. It can be both of these at the very same time!

Speaking of Crosson: If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, please do it. If you are at all interested in what he has to say, it is so much more fun to sit in a room as he speaks in his soft Irish voice. He was generous with his time after the talk. He treated me as if I were his peer. What a kind and welcoming man he was for me that night in Chicago.

Ditto goes for Spong, minus the soft Irish voice.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...


Crossan notes that Revelation is the most violent book of the Bible, and does so in order to remind us that there isn't this dichotomy between the OT and NT God, ala Marcion.