Deep incarnation

Today, in his reflection on chapter 7 (“All Creation Groaning”) Barry Turner reviewed the thinking of a number of modern theologians. Here is his outline:

I. “It began with an encounter.” (Edward Schillebeeckx)

Johnson relates briefly the short story of Jesus of Nazareth, a 1st century Jewish man in Roman occupied Palestine. He called disciples to join him in an itinerant ministry that lasted just 1-3 years. He declared, “Salvation is on its way from God.” What normally would have been the end of the story turned unexpectedly into a new beginning as the community of disciples proclaimed he had risen from the dead, an act of the Spirit which anchors hope of a blessed future for all the world.

Jesus, crucified and risen, later came to be identified as in person, “God with us.” The disciples preached that Jesus embodied the ways of God’s coming reign in an intensely original way. For this startling insight they found Jewish metaphors to help them express this: Messiah, Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Wisdom, Word.

II. Interpreting Experience

A. Wisdom — It was the Wisdom metaphor that was especially fruitful because it began to identify the crucified prophet from Nazareth, “localized in time and place, with a divine figure associated in Jewish tradition with creating and governing the world and nurturing human beings on the path of truth and life.” In the light of the resurrection, the early Christian community saw Jesus as the Wisdom of God come to us.” (Denis Edwards)

B. Word — The biblical language of Wisdom (Sophia) is closely related to language about God’s Word (logos). See for example, the prologue of the Gospel of John. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn. 1:14). With artistic allusions to the creative and saving activity of Wisdom, the prologue narrates the advent of Jesus as the coming of God’s personal self-expressing Word, full of loving-kindness and faithfulness, into the world.

C. This was later interpreted as saying, the personal self-utterance of God within the Trinity expressed itself outwards in creation as the Word by which God makes the world, now pitches a tent in the midst of the world, becoming personally part of its history. Jesus dwells among us as the Wisdom of God incarnate, the Word made flesh. Henceforth, the glory of God is not to be seen alongside flesh, or through flesh as through a window, but in the flesh and nowhere else – (Bultmann.)

D. This does not mean the Word became a human being, or a man, but flesh (Sarx). The Word of God enters this mortal realm of earthly existence. (Barnabas Linders) John 1:14 would horrify the readers with a dualistic world-view of Hellenistic thought, that the Word became flesh. Taking the ancient theme of God’s dwelling among the people of Israel a step further, it affirms that in a new and saving event the Word became flesh, entered into the sphere of the material to shed light on all from within.

III. Theology of Deep Incarnation

A. Niels Gregersen signifies this radical divine reach through human flesh all the way down into the very tissue of biological existence, joined with the wider processes of evolving nature that beget and sustain life.

1. God’s closeness with the material world is in scripture from the beginning, creating matter, declaring that it is good. Humans formed from the dust of the earth and divine breath are the image of God.

2. Now incarnation enacts a radical embodiment whereby the Word/Wisdom of God joins the material world, sharing in the conditions of the flesh in order to accomplish a new level of union between Creator and creature. “What is not assumed is not redeemed.” The divine self-embodiment in Jesus Christ encompasses all that belongs to the creaturely, human condition, or else it is not saved.

3. Deep incarnation extends this view to include all flesh. The flesh assumed in Jesus Christ connects with all humanity, all biological life, all soil, the whole matrix of the material universe down to its very roots.

4. Born of a woman and in the Hebrew gene pool, the Word of God’s embodied self became a creature of Earth, a complex unity of minerals and fluids, and in the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen cycles, a moment in the biological evolution of this planet.

5. Like all human beings, Jesus carried within himself “the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth.” The incarnation is a cosmic event.

B.  Karl Rahner: “The statement of God’s Incarnation – of God’s becoming material – is the most basic statement of Christology.”

1. Rahner argues, “the climax of salvation history is not the detachment from earth of the human being as spirit in order to come to God…

2. …but the descending and irreversible entrance of God into the world, the coming of the divine logos in the flesh, the taking of matter so that it becomes a permanent reality of God.”

C. Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn to Matter:

1. Harsh, perilous, mighty, universal, impenetrable, and mortal though this material stuff be, “I acclaim you as the divine milieu, charged with creative power, as the ocean stirred by the Spirit, as the clay moulded and infused with life by the incarnate Word.”

2.   The incarnation, a densely specific expression of the love of God already poured out in creation, confers a new form of nearness to God on the whole earthly reality in its corporal and material dimensions, on all of Earth’s creatures, on plants and animals, and on the cosmos in which planet Earth dynamically exists.

D. This deep incarnation of God within the biotic community of life forges a new
kind of union, one with different emphasis from the empowering communion created by the indwelling Creator Spirit. This is a union in the flesh.

IV. Response

A. Richard Rohr writes (in Yes – and):

1.  Christians should have been the first to appreciate evolution and to recognize what God is doing — that God creates things that continue to create themselves from the inner divine Spirit. Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), .. for in him is recapitulated all things in heaven and on earth” (Col. 1:20). The Eternal Christ is the microcosm of the macrocosm or what Shakespeare would call “the play within the play.” His (Christ’s) role is to forever hold together matter and spirit, divine and human, and to say they have always been one, but you just don’t know it yet. So God is going to hold them together in front of your face – until you do. [Yes, p. 136f]

2. Full incarnation is what distinguishes us from all other religions. This is our only trump card, and, for the most part, we have not yet played it….The mystery of the Incarnation is precisely the repositioning of God in the human and material world and not just part of that world. [Yes, p. 178]

3. When God gives of God’s self, one of two things happens: either flesh is inspirited or Spirit is en-fleshed. This pattern is really very clear…God’s will is always incarnation. And against all our godly expectations, it appears that for God, matter really matters. God who is Spirit, chose to materialize! We call it the Christ mystery. [Yes, p. 179]

 B.  Denis Edwards sums up his Trinitarian theology of creation by saying the world is a sacrament of Divine Wisdom.

1. The diversity of life on Earth, interconnected and interdependent in the one biosphere of our planet, is a sacrament of divine Wisdom. It gives expression to and manifests Wisdom. It points to the divine artisan. And what it points to is really present in the manifestation. The divine artisan is not only manifested in the beauty and diversity of a tropical rain forest, but is also present to each creature of the forest as the creative power which enables it to be. Creation is a sacrament of the divine presence.  (The God of Evolution, p. 56)

2.  For a brief summary and comparison of the contributions of Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner, Jurgen Moltmann to a theology of evolution and an attempt “to integrate these elements of these views within an evolutionary  Wisdom Christology.” see Denis Edwards, The God of Evolution ( ch. 6, pp. 101- 125; 1999).

C John Haught: Evolution is a gift to theology.

V. The Christic Paradigm

A. Once God is identified as God’s own self-expressing Word in the flesh, the gospel accounts of his life acquire a profound revelatory function…If Jesus is God with us, then his story inscribes in time a revelation of the heart of God. This Spirit-blessed prophet provided a joyous foretaste of what the arrival of God’s reign would entail.

1. Jesus taught that the compassionate love of God is extravagant, transgressing all cultural and religious expectations of fairness in order to gather in every last hurt or rebellious sufferer.

2. Does the “good news” include the land and its other than human creatures? The dualism of later Christian tradition that separated the spirit from the body and saw bodiliness opposed to the divine was not operative in the ministry of Jesus. Everything was encompassed in the transformation he envisioned.

B. Sallie McFague calls this the “christic paradigm”: liberating, healing, and inclusive love is the meaning of it all. This love is the meaning encoded at the core of human life and at the heart of the universe itself. Write the signature of the christic paradigm, drawn for the gospel of mercy, across the evolving world. Jesus’ ministry reveals that plenitude of life for all, not just for one species or an elite group in that species bur for all, including poor human beings and all living creatures, is God’s original and ultimate intent.

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