My response to an Essay Question “The incarnation of the Son of God and the problems that this doctrine has given to Christian believers and thinkers.” in a Christology Classroom Exam, First Year, Degree in Theology. The links have been added for this post.
The historical fact of the birth and death of a man called Jesus Christ who entered history just over 2000 years ago – and changed its course so that the Western World counts time from his death – is not a matter of great dispute.
Neither is there any great dispute that this man was a preacher and moral teacher par excellence. Even detractors of his time granted that he worked miracles and wondrous signs and healed persons, cast out evil spirits and performed many wonders. The biggest problem was however the fact that he claimed to be the Son of God and that his followers believed him.
Jesus – a Jew – was fully aware of the Jewish belief in a monotheistic God so his claim to be the Son of God caused a dilemma in that all persons who believe in god – the transcendent, omnipotent, omnipresent God – now have before them a man who claims to be one with God.
The fact of Jesus’ divinity did not seem to pose too much of an issue for early Christians who within 20 years of his death were worshiping him and singing songs to him – per evidence external historic available as well as New Testament writings.
Explaining the scandal of Divinity on a cross did not seem to pose much of an issue to the New Testament writers * * and apostles of faith like Paul who wrote that the ways of man are foolish to God and gods ways are unfathomable to man. (Professors note : I would disagree! I think it may have been a shocking issue ! … Its incredible!)
So whilst the man of faith can accept the Divinity of a human person who walked the earth, theologians and scholars are left trying to explain the problem of the ‘incarnation of the Son of God’ – the second person of the Godhead who in taking the form and nature of man entered history to pose the question that has teased theologians through the ages.
Do we look at the man Jesus Christ or do we look at God ?
If we look too much at Jesus, the human, does Christ the Godhead or Divinity get obscured? If we look at his Divinity, do we lost sight of the reality the ‘The Word was made flesh”. This has been called the ‘Optical Problem” and likened to looking through a window. You can either focus on the frame and the world outside is a blur, or you can focus on the world outside which appears clearly through the frame.
Likewise, you can look to God, and still maintain ‘sanity’ of all your notions of the qualities of God by looking ‘through Jesus who frames God for us and has come to make Him known.”
This has of course not always been easy and theologians and Christians/thinkers have at various times ‘lost focus’ and veered from one end to the other.
Focusing on the Divinity, trying to maintain monotheistic beliefs in ONE God has resulted in Docetism, Montanism, and Adoptionism in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Then theologians went the other way with Arianism to extreme humanity.
Athanasius correct thinking with his creed that you can’t have salvation if Jesus is not God and the Council of Nicea clarified the teaching. Appolonius went in the opposite direction from Arius – again focusing on Divinity. Councils of Constantinople re-established doctrine. Nestorius veered towards humanity and was declared a heretic. (Councils of) Ephesus and Chalcedon corrected the issues though it had and it remains substantially and clearly enunciated and reiterated through subsequent Councils including VII which expressed understanding lucidly and beautifully in Verse 22 of Gaudium et Specs – Incarnation of Christ, Son of God.
However in between, before and after all the Councils issues surface like it did with Eutychus who presented the theory of fusion and in 20th century thinkers like Bultmaan, Shewetzer and others who had again taken up the ‘quest’ to unravel the mystery, the ineffable mystery of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Word made Flesh.
What can be concluded is that as Jesus himself said‘no one can know the Father unless I show Him.’
St. Paul too talks about the wisdom of God and only God through the Spirit can make Him known.
Ultimately, the transcendent God and the Incarnation of God in man, in Christ Jesus is a mystical experience and event that can only be grasped through eyes of faith.
Jesus too understood the problem cause he told his disciples who asked him about signs and parables – “seeing they do not see.” It is very easy to be a Christian and “know the faith” but not to “see” Jesus the Incarnate Son. It is the optical illusion that can only be understood when we look to Jesus.
To understand him and his mission and deeds, the Incarnation, we need to ‘stand under” him. Then, we may see more clearly; or we may still see only dimly as in a mirror but in this mirror we can at least see the perfect man; the reflection of God; the Incarnate God. Sometimes – often – the mirror may get hazy but we, with theologians need to look only with eyes of faith seeking understanding and with the knowledge that as promised by Jesus, he will show us the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Note to reader : I got full marks for my essay o am confident in sharing my learnings