Leaving Church and Finding God: Incarnation

As we arrive at Christmas I wanted to reflect on some thoughts I’ve had recently about the Jesus narrative. And about…

As we arrive at Christmas I wanted to reflect on some thoughts I’ve had recently about the Jesus narrative. And about how our our presuppositions about God can greatly change His story. These thoughts, center around making sense of incarnation. That beautiful, confusing, controversial, incredible idea that God in some form became a man. This post presupposes the desire to believe in God. I know not everyone is there. But even if you don’t need a God in your belief system, hopefully this post will help you think about the idea of incarnation and Jesus in a different light.

The narrative that I have followed for most of my life about incarnation has gone something like this: God the Father, a being in heaven, told his son, Jesus, to go to earth and become a human because people were sinning and He was going to send them to hell. Jesus, another being, then is incarnated into a third being. A human being. This human being then is killed by God the Father to satisfy His wrath so that he doesn’t send all of us to hell.

The fact of the matter is, if I took this story out of the context of the Christian narrative, it would make my head hurt. Why does God need to kill his son to not send us to Hell? Why is it Jesus and not God the Father that is the one who gets incarnated? Along this line of thinking, I arrived at a fundamental question that has changed my perspective on incarnation.

“If God was already a being, why did he need to become another being in order to come among us?”

This line of thinking blew the lid off of one of my most basic assumptions about God. The idea that God is fundamentally a “being”.

If God is a being, incarnation seems to ring a little hollow. God becomes something like a shape shifter that transforms from one being to another being. Why couldn’t have God, after all, just come among us as God? This idea of God existing as a being somewhere else is rooted in what many have called a three tiered perspective on God. This is the idea that there are three tiers to reality. There is a a God up above (Upper Tier) looking down on us on earth (Middle Tier). And we  are in danger of being sent down to the depths of hell, shaol or whatever you want to call it (Lower Tier).

This idea permeates the way we talk about God. We say things like, “God came down and touched me” or “I’m sending up some prayers for you.” While this idea can be nice, it also muddies the water by assuming that God is a being that is mainly somewhere else. It’s also a very old idea that isn’t very congruent with what we understand about the nature of reality. When we look up at the stars today, we don’t see “heaven”, we see our galaxy. Our exploration of the universe demands that we at least consider the language we use to describe God and his location in reality.

Our understanding of God is ripe for a renewal. Along with this, our understanding of incarnation is also ripe for new life.  Consider this famous Bible passage, “God is Love.” What if we actually treated that verse as reality? What if God instead of being “a being” in our minds was instead “Love”? What does that mean for incarnation? It means that Jesus is the physical, here and now embodiment, flesh and blood example, of Love. Now that is something incredible. The idea that something as intangible and abstract as Love, incarnated itself as a man, is truly a powerful idea. It also just makes a lot of sense. One being doesn’t become another being. Instead, God truly puts on flesh and bones and dwells among us as an example of the new life that is possible.

Now this may all sound like idle ponderings to those of you who are tightly tied to the Bible as a basis of understanding. I would suggest you at least hear me out as I leave you with my favorite description of incarnation.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

Word made flesh. That’s the incarnation I’m celebrating this Christmas. Merry Christmas!


 

This series of posts comes from the experiences and explorations that I am currently living. Being a long-time, church-going Christian I have recently moved beyond the confines of traditional Western Christianity and consider myself somewhat of a spiritual nomad currently. Though I am not currently in the church, I have many friends and family that find the church context extremely valuable. These posts are in no way meant as a criticism of that context. Instead, I hope to share a little bit of my journey. Some of this journey may wander outside of “Orthodoxy” and what is considered safe within the church. But I, at no turn, mean to offend or cause hurt. You can find an archive of this series here.

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December 26, 2015 @ 4:37 am Trackback URL 2 Comments on Leaving Church and Finding God: Incarnation

A Living Eucharist

In Rob Bell and Don Golden’s book “Jesus Wants to Save Christians: Learning to Read a Dangerous Book” the root…

In Rob Bell and Don Golden’s book “Jesus Wants to Save Christians: Learning to Read a Dangerous Book” the root words of “Eucharist” are identified as coming from the Greek for good and gift:

“The Greek word for thankful is from the verb eucharizomai – the Greek for eu, which means “well” or “good,” and the word charizomai, which means ‘to grant or give.’It’s from this word that we get the English word Eucharist, the ‘good gift.’ Jesus is God’s good gift to the world.”[ref]Bell, Rob, and Don Golden. Jesus wants to save Christians: a manifesto for the church in exile. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan :, 2008.[/ref]

I’m not an expert in Greek, so I cannot argue the merits of this root meaning insight, but I think the idea holds true with or without it. Jesus is indeed God’s good gift to the world. This is generally accepted among almost all Jesus followers.

Unfortunately, I think we often fail to take this line of thinking to its next logical out-working. If we are Christ’s body, Christ’s ambassadors, Christ’s spokespeople, then, we are also God’s good gift to the world. This is why Paul can say with confidence, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” ~ 2 Cor 4:10

But what does being a Eucharist to the world mean? Does it mean that we tell people that Jesus died for their sins? Does it mean that we help people develop a relationship with Jesus so that they can go to heaven?

Thinking about about Jesus being a good gift to the world, takes me back to the idea of incarnation itself:

If the incarnation does not have a profound affect on our lives now then the act of God becoming man seems to hold much less value.

If God were simply looking for a “spiritual” transformation, then a God-man coming among us is unneeded. All that is needed is God’s grace, which needs no human form to be enacted. If, however, Christ came to earth to affect his kingdom here and now, then the incarnation is a first fruits, an initial taste of God’s kingdom advancing here and now. As the recipients then, of this Eucharist, we have the honor, obligation and duty to carry this Eucharist into the world that it may have a world-changing effect now.

This means that we are not concerned as Jesus followers with spreading a religion. We are concerned with being a good gift to the world, a Eucharist, poured out for those around us. “Carrying around the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed.” We, “fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” (Col 1:24) When Jesus sent out the 12 in Luke 9 he sends them to proclaim the Kingdom of God. And what sign accompanies this proclamation? Is it an explanation of the law and gospel? Is it a passionate cry for people to turn from their sins? No. It is the simple command to heal the sick. To bring right to a wrong that sin has brought on the world.

This is how Jesus taught His disciples to advance His kingdom. When did we ever get the idea that it had more to do with mental assent to a set of theological ideas and less to do with God’s Kingdom happening now in real life? Julian, an emperor of Rome at approximately A.D. 360 observed this, “For it is disgraceful when… the impious Galileans [the name given by Julian to Christians] support our poor in addition to their own; everyone is able to see that our coreligionists are in want of aid from us.”[ref]Chinnock, Edward James. A few notes on Julian and a translation of his public letters. London: D. Nutt, 1901, 76.[/ref]May we, a Church that is a Eucharist to our world, live up to the reputation that our early brothers in the Roman Empire had. May we take our discipleship out of our heads and put it into our hands and our feet and be a “Good Gift” to our world.

Photo Credits: Untitled by digao3000d – Attribution 3.0

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January 30, 2014 @ 7:39 am Trackback URL No Comments on A Living Eucharist