On The Incarnation: (1:1) Re-booting Creation

AthanasiusDuring the season of Advent, I am going to be live-blogging (sort of) through Athanasius’ “On The Incarnation,” probably the first serious work on the doctrine of the Incarnation. I try to read this book once a year. He talks about a lot of things we don’t really talk about anymore. For more info on Athanasius, click here. He had a large part in the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity and the acknowledgment that Jesus was fully God. Today I cover Chapter 1, section 1.

In our former book, (i.e. the Contra Gentes.) we dealt fully enough with a few of the chief points about the heathen worship of idols, and how those false fears originally arose. We also, by God’s grace, briefly indicated that the Word of the Father is Himself divine, that all things that are owe their being to His will and power, and that it is through Him that the Father gives order to creation, by Him that all things are moved, and through Him that they receive their being.

John 1:3
All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

Acts 17:28
for “In him we live and move and have our being”

Colossians 1:17
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Creation itself is an overflowing act of love from the Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit created the universe, not out of loneliness or out of desire to control and manipulate, but to SHARE.

In Genesis 1, God creates by speaking. This is the divine Word, through Whom all things were created and continue to hold together. In Genesis 1, there is also mention of the Spirit “hovering over the surface of the deep.” In the very first paragraph of the Bible, we have the Father, the Word and the Spirit, each caught up in creativity.

It’s important to remember that before we are told anything about God, we are told He is wildly creative. God is an artist. For all the list-makers who would map out His attributes, this primal attribute always seems to escape them. It’s all well to speak of omniscience, omnipotence, etc. but looking at the world around us tells us volumes about this crucial first attribute of God: creativity.

God loves His creation. He calls it “good” over and over as He creates, so we get the sense of His delight with the work of His hands. He has created us out of love and has given us a unique capability for love. Yet, as the psalmist says, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps 139) Fearfully because of the “spine-tingling freedom” that has been entrusted to us. We cannot be capable of love unless we are free not to love, since love can’t be coerced. This is the fearful part of our creation; we are free to self-destruct and choose against that which gives us life. We are wonderfully made because we are made in His image. We need to start with our creation in the image of God because it gives us a glimpse of humanity’s original glory: we are the Image-Bearers. We are created to reflect the divine image to the rest of creation. We were created for relationship with the relational (triune) God.

In Ecclesiates 3, Solomon writes that God has put eternity in the heart of man. There is something deep within us which yearns for our original relationship with God to be restored. We may not know that this is what it is and we try to fill it with anything else we can; sex, drink, food, consumerism, even religion. Yet it remains empty until we are put back in right-relatedness with the God who created us.

What we have lost in our time is an appreciation for Beautiful Theology. We map, we graph, we make lists, we draw doodles on napkins, we make pamphlets but we miss the depth that Christians gave to their study of God in the formative years of the Church. John of Damascus gives us a wonderful and beautiful picture of the Triune God:

“The subsistences [i.e., the three Persons] dwell and are established firmly in one another. For they are inseparable and cannot part from one another, but keep to their separate courses within one another, without coalescing or mingling, but cleaving to each other. For the Son is in the Father and the Spirit: and the Spirit in the Father and the Son: and the Father in the Son and the Spirit, but there is no coalescence or commingling or confusion. And there is one and the same motion: for there is one impulse and one motion of the three subsistences, which is not to be observed in any created nature” (The Orthodox Faith, 1.14).

Gregory of Nazianzus (as well as Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great) used the term “perichoresis” in regards to the Trinity; a term that means “dance.” We can see in it the root for the word “choreography.” The Doctrine of the Trinity began to be called “The Great Dance.” This inseparable God of Three Persons is a God who does not mingle or coalesce but cleave to each other while keeping to their separate courses within one another. That paradoxical description is like an M.C. Escher drawing in words. The best way many of the early Christians had to describe it was “The Great Dance of the Triune God.” A joyful, exuberant dance; and creation came out of that dance.

C.S. Lewis, who articulated this ancient Christian concept of the Great Dance, wrote: “God is not a static thing—not even a person— but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance … The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made. Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?” (“Mere Christianity”, pp. 175-176)

Tim Keller, following Lewis’ lead, went into the subject of Perichoresis in “The Reason for God.”

The God of the Great Dance is quite an antithesis to the irate, moody God who sits motionless and unmoved on an untouchable throne, making up arbitrary rules and then balking at our breaking them. The more Christian concept of the God of the Great Dance creates out of an overabundance of love, gives us “spine-tingling” freedom so that love will be possible, when we choose self-destruction, He gives us a law to reveal His goodness and holiness and our lack of it, while giving us the gift of order to stave off the chaotic abyss. Yet this God knew a bunch of words and rules would not be enough to communicate His love and intention to redeem us. He would have to become one of us to do that.

Now, Macarius, true lover of Christ, we must take a step further in the faith of our holy religion, and consider also the Word’s becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst. That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride, but we adore; and your own love and devotion to the Word also will be the greater, because in His Manhood He seems so little worth. For it is a fact that the more unbelievers pour scorn on Him, so much the more does He make His Godhead evident. The things which they, as men, rule out as impossible, He plainly shows to be possible; that which they deride as unfitting, His goodness makes most fit; and things which these wiseacres laugh at as “human” He by His inherent might declares divine. Thus by what seems His utter poverty and weakness on the cross He overturns the pomp and parade of idols, and quietly and hiddenly wins over the mockers and unbelievers to recognize Him as God.

In Jesus, God has made Himself vulnerable. For the almighty One to become an embryo and then a newborn baby speaks volumes on the nature of God. For one, God is not distant or standoffish. The lengths He will go to in order to rescue us is what the manger and the cross are both about. In the manger, God makes Himself nothing for our sakes. He is vulnerable. On the cross, He shows that it wasn’t an illusion; He was utterly human and able to be killed by our treacheries.

Because of this, He is mocked. The sign on the cross calling Him the king of the Jews was sarcastic. The soldiers mocked and beat Him mercilessly. And today He is parodied on television shows, in comedy routines and in a myriad of other media. All because He put Himself out there. He was mocked on the cross because He wasn’t fighting back. Jews mocked Him because he didn’t meet their expectations of a messiah. Greeks mocked Him because He did not seem to care about persuading people with logic and common sense.

Athanasius is saying here that Jesus did not go out of His way to meet human expectations, and so His enemies laugh at the humble way He was born and the meekness He showed when they put Him before the authorities. And yet, those things they laugh at we adore. That He would show such love for His people to endure the humility, the mockery, the taunts, the laughter and the blank stares. He came with His own agenda: to defeat sin and death. To fight and win FOR US the ultimate battle in which we were helpless.

These humble beginnings; Bethlehem, a manger, scraggly shepherds – these things show us that He wasn’t concerned with appearances. We are obsessed with how we appear and what kind of image we project to others, but He wasn’t. He was concerned with saving us, and that’s what He went about doing.
And on the cross, He makes a mockery of the impotent “power” that put Him there. The Religious authorities, scared of the crowds. Pilate, unable to find fault with Him but pressured into putting Him on the cross by the crowd. They were afraid of Him, so they killed Him. He died and rose again. Today He has millions of loving subjects, but their “power” died with them.

For the very things they mocked Him for, we adore Him. He beat the earthly powers at their own game and revealed His divinity through those events. We can say with the centurion at the cross, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

Now in dealing with these matters it is necessary first to recall what has already been said. You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to His own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men. We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.

He has been manifested in a human body for THIS reason: out of the LOVE and GOODNESS of the Father, for our salvation. He came to rescue, to redeem, to enliven and to reveal the heart of the Father. He did not come “tsk, tsk”-ing, He did not come to proclaim doom and hopelessness to our world as so many self-styled “prophets” do in His name. He came out of the love of the Father, not to condemn the world, but to save the world.

What He came to do was to “re-boot” creation. In the same way that a computer virus can wreak havoc on a computer, the virus of sin has infected every square inch of creation. So just as we re-boot a frozen computer, the One who made the world in the beginning came to RE-create it. Just as the original creation is subject to death and decay, the new creation is not. The new is here, even in the midst of the old. As the old creation dies around us, we can live out abundant lives and overflow that life into the lives of others. Those of us who are in Christ are agents of the New Creation, re-booting the old order in our relationships and spheres of influence.

When exactly did the new creation begin? In Bethlehem, 2,000 years ago. Something happened which set off a chain of events that cannot be undone. A baby was born who grew up to be a man who revealed the heart of God and gave Himself for us, bringing God’s anti-virus into His creation to make all things new. This is why Christmas is so important, and why we need to dust off the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Incarnation and see them for the spectacular revelations they are.

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~ by shardsofeternity on November 29, 2011.

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