Tuesday, 10 June 2008

What Would Be Left?


If the Word were removed from Jesus, what would be left? If your answer is 'his flesh/body', please read on. The right answer is 'nothing would be left'. This is because it is the Word who becomes flesh. (John 1:14) The Word doesn't just take on an outer suit of flesh, or is the soul bit in Jesus. God became human.

Say it to yourself: God became human. Is it plausible? How can God become flesh and still be God? The trendy answer is that God can't be human and God. (But that is really only the case if humanity and divinity are in competition.) And this trendy answer ends up in one of two places: a kenoticism whereby God is divested of divinity in becoming human; or making God's true identity dependent on us (E.g. Moltmann). But God can be utterly human and utterly God. This speaks to us of a "compatibility" (I think I read this from Rowan Williams, but he means this without in any way denying the complete otherness of God) between God and humanity. But it also tells us something of the true transcendence of God: God is utterly transcendent, which is to say not that God is utterly remote (that is the false interpretation given to transcendence by those wanting a straw figure to blow down), but that in God the usual rules of intimacy and identity (a tension between them) don't apply to God. God can so unite Godself with flesh and still remain fully God, and in this union bring this flesh into existence. And this without in any way compromising the integrity of the flesh. Or, to put it crassly, God can 'make' that which is not God precisely by uniting Godself with it. (Only God is so surpassingly free to be able to do this, and this is what true transcendence is about, and the significance of God being somehow else.) This flesh is then God's own flesh. And so, to return to the original question, if the Word were removed from Jesus, nothing would be left.

This is all about unity in distinction, which God is very good at. Think of the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit, each with their own identity precisely in their complete unity, and in complete unity precisely because of their distinct identity. This is the point of the eternal Fatherhood of God: 'Father' is a distinct identity, but implies a relationship to be 'Father' in the first place

Or should I just say that God is love, and we know this because of Jesus Christ? Love is about union and distinction at once, and both to their fullest degree. This is the point of the doctrine of the Incarnation, and tells us our ultimate end in God (Christian hope does not dissolve our identity into some more basic lava of 'being' called God, but hopes in a union of personal love), the God who is Love.

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