If Adam and Eve had not sinned, would Christ still have needed to come?
Most people reply ‘No’: Adam and Eve in Eden were plan A, and sin messed it up. Christ was the rescue plan to undo the sin. But most people also sense that this leads them where they do not want to go. Christ as plan B? They wriggle out of the impending theological problem by saying it is a theoretical question because God always knew that Adam and Eve would sin, and therefore Christ was not really plan B.
It doesn’t quite work. Hypothetical or not, Christ remains plan B. And that is not the Christian faith, as I understand it. It is just not Christocentric enough, and restricts Christ’s efficacy to sin alone. But for me Christ is much more than the antidote to sin. He is that antidote, but he is much more. Christ would have come even if we had not sinned. The fact that we have sinned just means that Christ’s coming deals with the sin as well. (That is, the salvation of Christ is conditioned by the needs of sinners in addition to the original purpose of creation and its crowning in Christ.) Christ was always going to come because we are made needing the Incarnation and the giving of the Spirit. We are made that way irrespective of sin. That is to say, we are created hollow, an emptiness made to be filled by God. That filling by God is achieved in the Incarnation of Christ and the giving of the Spirit. It is a pure act of grace – unmerited love. That is to say, unmerited in the sense that moral categories don’t apply.
Now, our sin is also dealt with in the Incarnation. The Scriptures focus on sin as the cause of the Incarnation because the Incarnation becomes the point where our natural emptiness is displayed, and where we can see the need for grace. But the grace we are given is the original grace always intended for us.
The majority tradition has perhaps missed this, and made creation and the coming of Christ more ‘plan A mucked up, now for plan B.’ But running from the scriptures through the Church Fathers and the theology of theosis on to modern exponents like Karl Rahner, is the understanding of the original need for the coming of Christ, despite sin.
And this need (because of our original emptiness) is a sign of the great dignity of being human. Humanity is made to be filled by God. Not filled in such a way that we are overwhelmed and dissolved into the great chain of being, but rather, filled by the God who is love, and in this love utterly united with God, yet in this union becoming who we were always meant to be, secure in our own identity as human persons. Our hollowness, our weakness, our emptiness, is our great dignity; it is in this weakness that we find the great dignity as creatures who can 'become God'. Because we are made lacking, God can fill us. And this is shown perfectly in the Incarnation. God can become human – fully human – and remain God. One person, two natures. Theologically, the hypostatic union.
This is paradoxical. Our very weakness is our strength, the point of our greatest dignity. If it were not so, Christ could not have come, and we would not be saved. We would either be divine already, or we would be damned. This is typically Christian and paradoxical. Strength and dignity in weakness and emptiness; just like life in death, power made perfect in weakness. This is the point of all the controversy of the first centuries around the nature of Jesus, and the point of the hypostatic union.
Sin remains sin, but it is the distorted result of our natural weakness and hollowness: unhappy in the dignity of being an openness to God, we try to be God by filling up the hollowness with things, people, ideas etc. and so we maniacally desire these and squabble, compete and kill to acquire and retain them. (Think here of Genesis 3 and the murder of Abel in Genesis 4.)
We think of our weakness and emptiness as a problem. When manifested in sin our weakness and emptiness is a problem, but it is also the pinnacle of creation. Indeed, the ultimate point of the hypostatic union in Jesus Christ is not only our personal union with God, but also the union of all creation with God. What we see in Jesus is not only our destiny, but also the destiny, through Christ and the Spirit, of all creation. We normally think of the dignity of humankind in terms of fullness and perfection, competence and completeness. This is not the original dignity of the human condition: the original dignity of the human condition is emptiness and weakness, an emptiness to be filled by God.
1. Can you touch your weakness and emptiness? Can you also sense the great dignity of your humanity at that point of weakness?
2. Name one of your sins. Can you also see how this might be, or become, a point of sensing the great dignity of your humanity?
3. How might this change your attitude to yourself and others?
4. When and where do you feel God filling your emptiness?