Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How Two of the Hardest Things to Comprehend Reflect the Two Things We (Ought To) Enjoy the Most

It occurred to me a day or so ago that the two Christian doctrines we have the most trouble understanding and explaining -- the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Incarnation -- are perhaps the two most vital in the Christian's knowledge of God. Lots of so-called "Christian" churches and movements have done their darndest to jettison these theological truths, perhaps out of frustration over their irrationality, and plenty of have tried to augment them, reshape them, redefine them, or dillute them with lame illustrations and metaphors. We should go easy on such people, because honestly, anyone who claims to really understand how Three Persons can simultaneously and coherently exist as One God, or how one Person can be simultaneously and coherently both the God of the Universe and a flesh-and-blood man, is lying. These are lofty truths -- big stuff about a big God -- and it's only natural that finite minds can't wrap themselves around them.

But we need them. The Trinity and The Incarnation are the theological foundations of who we are and what we must do. Here's why:

It is all about connections. We were made to be reconciled to God and to be reconciled to each other. God designed us for fellowship with Him and community with each other. From the beginning to the end, and all points in between. Man cannot live without God, and it is not good for man to be alone.

The Trinity, for instance, gives us a great God-picture of relationships. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share a unity of will and holy love that demonstrate to us that even in who God is, relationships matter. There are three Persons in the Godhead, and each is equally and eternally God, but they each represent different roles and serve in different functions. Reminds me a bit of how the church is called the Body of Christ. All believers make up one Body, and even though we each have different gifts and serve in different capacities and with different levels of strength, we are equally and eternally the Body of Christ.

The scholar Miroslav Volf has written a book called After Our Likeness that surveys the ecclesiology (views of church) of several important leaders across the spectrum of modern Christianity (the then-future pope, Joseph Ratzinger is one of them), and the recurring theme Volf distills these disparate views into is how the diversity in unity of the Church universal mirrors the triune God who instituted it.

The Incarnation is a redemptive truth we cannot do without, lest we endanger salvation. In emptying Himself out to assume manhood, Jesus came to live the sinless life and die the atoning death that only man should have done, but only God could have done. (I'll talk more about how the Incarnation relates to "getting saved" in an upcoming post.) In the Incarnation, we see not only "God with us," but "God for us."

I just read a story online about a pastor who took his youth group to a ministry to the homeless called Church in the Park. He wrote about meeting a homeless man who couldn't speak due to some disability; the man wrote down everything he wanted to communicate. One of those messages included these words: "'Jesus wept' is the only verse I know."
But what a verse to know, eh? I imagine this man may have clung to those two words in some of his darkest hours. The glory and beauty of the Incarnation are in the fact that God redeems our pain and suffering by sharing in it. We are low, stooping people, and we have a God who made came low and stooped to save us.

And this stuff is there from the beginning. Right at the start, God created Adam to be in fellowship with him. Adam was made for God. ("Adam" means mankind, don't you know, so the real truth there is that God made mankind for Himself.) And the Incarnation gets foreshadowed in the very creation of Adam: God formed man out of the dust of the ground and blew His breath into him. Adam was alive with the breath of God. And once we fast-forward to the New Testament, we see that Christ is called the New Adam. He even underwent a three-fold temptation by the devil as Adam did, and redeemed that mess.
Then God gave Adam a girl, because he knows dudes dig chicks. And because we were not made to be alone. We were made to be with God and to be with others. And then if you really wanna complicate the thing, you can see the man-woman romance reflected back onto our relationship with God. Notice how the Bible talks about Jesus being the bridegroom and the Church being His Bride. And how God commands husbands to love wives like Christ loves the Church.

It's there in the Ten Commandments too. The first table represents our relationship to God and the second table represents our relationship with our fellow man.
And then Jesus echoes the Ten Commandments and the relationships commanded in them when He gives the Great Commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus puts the bottom line of Love on the Law, and is there anything more crucial to relationships than love?

We echo these important truths when we gather for worship. We become a living picture of our reconciliation with each other, and as we collectively glorify God in worship and the preaching of the Word, we participate in our reconciliation with Him.

The Trinity and the Incarnation: these are the weighty, complex, irrational truths that shape and inform our relationships with God and with each other. They are the theological foundations of who we are and what we are to do. And like human relationships, they often don't seem to make sense and it can be tempting sometimes to think them unnecessary. But I find a thrilling beauty in the idea that the stuff that makes us feel most connected and most whole -- knowing God and loving other people -- comes directly from some infinite place of unfathomable intelligence. And our love for God and our love for others comes from the ineffable God and the love He has for Himself and for us.

For in Him we live and move and have our being.
-- Acts 17:28a

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God . . . We love because He first loved us.
-- 1 John 4:7,19


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