Sunday, April 7, 2024

#98 / Incarnation 101

The jolly looking guy pictured above is G. K. Chesterton, known as a "Christian apologist." Born in 1874, Chesterton died in 1936, when he was sixty-two years old. 

While Chesterton is no longer with us, he has not been forgotten - at least not by The Wall Street Journal, which published a commentary referencing Chesterton in its January 4, 2024 issue. The commentary was written by Bishop Robert Barron and was titled, "The Incarnation Changes Even Nonbelievers." Barron, by the way, is apparently known, informally, as the "Bishop of the Internet." Among other things, Bishop Barron said the following:

G.K. Chesterton once observed that even those who don’t believe in the doctrine of the Incarnation are different for having heard it. Christians celebrate this transformative revelation from Dec. 25, Christmas Day, through Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany. There is something so counterintuitive about the claim that God became human that the minds of those who but entertain the notion change willy-nilly. If you have taken in the story of the baby who is God, you simply aren’t the same person you were before. 
First, your understanding of God will be revolutionized. The God who can become a creature without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the creature he becomes stands in a fundamentally noncompetitive relationship with the world. In most non-Christian theologies and religious philosophies, God is typically understood as set over and against the universe: a supreme being in sharp contrast with the finite beings of the created order. But the God capable of the Incarnation, though certainly distinct from the world, is noncontrastively other. He isn’t competing with creatures for dominance on the same playing field. To shift the metaphor, he isn’t so much the most impressive character in the novel as he is the author, responsible for every character in the story, yet never jostling for position among them.

Christians do believe, of course, that God "became flesh and dwelt among us." God's "Incarnation" is a major focus of Christian thinking and belief. 

It struck me, though, reading The Journal's discussion, that there is another way we could think about the idea of the "Incarnation." Leaving out of the picture the "counterintuitive" idea that Jesus was both God and human at the same time, isn't it true that we should be amazed and made worshipful by something we actually tend to take for granted: "life," itself. 

Those scientists who study the origins of the universe speak in the language of physics and mathematics. A fairly recent article, in The New York Times, for instance, was titled, "The Early Universe May Have Gone Bananas." The discussion was aimed at dealing with the unexpectedly pickle-like and banana-like shape of new galaxies, as they were just coming into being - now disclosed by the most recent investigations of images from the James Webb Space Telescope.

In fact, while it is extremely interesting to learn more about the processes governing how the physical stuff of the Universe came into being, and was then, ultimately, transformed into galaxies, solar systems, suns, and planets, that whole story is really just about "rocks" - gasses congealing into rocks, and rocks disappearing into Black Holes, from which no light, or other information can escape. Physics is pretty impressive, but is focused on physical and material realities. Isn't "life" a lot more wondrous?

What is it that brought "life" into existence? There isn't any physical explanation of which I am aware. "Life" denotes some "spirit," some ability of whatever is "alive" to recreate itself, and to change itself, and to evolve, and to become a different form of "life." How did that "spirit," that "life-thing," ever penetrate the physical world made out of atoms - "rocks" in their most elemental form, at least as we first understood them, before we started understanding that "energy" and "rocks," have certain equivalencies. 

I think I might be able to go Bishop Barron one better, and say that anyone who has really thought about the fact of "life" itself - the fact that it exists, and that we exemplify it - will be changed, and transformed. Once we get a grasp on what a miracle it must have been - and is - that there is something more than rocks, and gasses, and galaxies, and all the other physical realities we know about, and that we, ourselves, are a mystery and a miracle; we are, like Chesterton said, "different for having heard it." 

The incarnation of God into Human form is a miracle and a mystery. And so is "life" itself. That is what I'd call "Incarnation 101," Christian belief on "training wheels." 

Once we truly perceive the immense miracle of "life" itself, we are, as Chesterton said, "different." 

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