On The Incarnation (1:4) The Never-Ending Night Terror

You may be wondering why we are discussing the origin of men when we set out to talk about the Word’s becoming Man. The former subject is relevant to the latter for this reason: it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body. For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion.

One thing I find myself doing quite a bit as a minister is returning to Genesis 1-3. Why? Because the beginning of the story is crucial to understanding the rest of it. Also, because in our day and age, much is glossed over that appears in the first three chapters of the Bible. God’s boundless creativity as the Great Artist is virtually ignored and the artists that are called into our churches are overlooked and undervalued. The place of eye-pleasing delight God placed the first humans is hardly remarked upon, yet it is an important point in Genesis 2 and reflects His generous nature. The crucial concept of being created in God’s Image is downplayed and sometimes outright ignored so that our original dignity as God’s Image-Bearers is abandoned in favor of merely being created “without sin.” That phrase, “without sin” is found nowhere in Genesis 1-3, and yet being created in God’s very Image is an idea that is made very clear. The serpent tempts Eve by calling into question the heart of God. Is God merely a strict authoritarian who arbitrarily makes rules to assert dominance? The serpents says so. The fact that God gave His command for their good is what the passage implies but the serpent obscures.

Athanasius has a wonderful way of putting this: it is “our transgression that called out His love for us.” Not just His wrath or punishment or condemnation; His love. “For the Son of Man did not come to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17) So He said Himself. It is also interesting to me how Athanasius words this Fall from paradise: turning from the “contemplation of God” to “evil of their own devising.” They were not simply given a few propositions about God and asked to memorize them. They were “contemplating God” in their un-fallen state. They were actively beholding and reflecting this God; not merely learning how to repeat densely-worded sentences about Him.

The way this story had been presented to me early in my journey with Christ, I imagined Adam and Eve “without sin” standing around looking bored. Probably because I was bored as a Christian who was looking forward to going to Heaven someday and trying not to mess things up in the meantime. All I had heard about Christianity up until then seemed to be communicated with negative descriptors. I knew the people I wasn’t supposed to like, the things I wasn’t supposed to do and the things I wasn’t supposed to think. But I had a longing and thirst to “contemplate God.” Thankfully this led me straight to the Bible where I found a God worth contemplating. We need to carefully preserve what Genesis 1-3 tells us about this Great Generous Artist and Lover of Humanity. We need to spend more time in the presence of this Dangerous, Fierce and Fatherly God in contemplation and wonder, and less time thinking up things we’re not allowed to do. Our Shepherd is more than capable of leading us past dead-ends and pitfalls if we focus on Him.

For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing; but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt. So is it affirmed in Wisdom: “The keeping of His laws is the assurance of incorruption.” (Wisdom vi. 18) And being incorrupt, he would be henceforth as God, as Holy Scripture says, “I have said, Ye are gods and sons of the Highest all of you: but ye die as men and fall as one of the princes.” (Psalm lxxxii. 6 f.)

Here is the heart of the matter: it’s not just that Adam and Eve “broke a rule” and needed to be punished, as if the mere keeping of rules was what they were created for. They willingly turned back according to their nature. Athanasius gives the potent image of Adam and Eve returning to non-existence; the same non-existence they had originally appeared from. They were fading and becoming wraiths. When they lost their knowledge (and the word “knowledge” in this context is relational knowing) of God, they lost the very source of their being. They became less real. They became trapped in a never-ending night terror.

My youngest daughter Kyrie used to have “night terrors.” These were like nightmares, only it was impossible to wake her and my comforting voice seemed to cause her more distress. The best we could do was put her somewhere she wouldn’t get hurt and wait for it to pass. This analogy fits perfectly with Athanasius’ description. Adam and Eve became trapped in a frightening non-reality in which they hid from God and each other. The very God who loved them into existence was now the one they couldn’t bear to face. The garden of abundance and delight became a fearful place. The God they had once walked with in the cool of the day now seemed like a distant monster to them, because of the serpent’s lie. And the thing about night terrors is, you can’t be woken up from them. Kyrie’s eventually passed, but humanity’s night terror is still ongoing. God, however, possesses the ability to ENTER our ongoing night-terror and give us the truth about Himself and us.

Even though the night-terror isn’t real and we are deceived, we can do real damage to ourselves and others when we believe it. It may be a delusion, but the effects are real. Two people who have bought the serpent’s lie of self-centered survival at all costs have good reason to hide from each other. So we continue to hide from each other, behind locked doors, gated communities, national borders and nuclear bombs. And we continue to hide from God by either open rebellion or self-righteous religion. God will mercifully destroy all of our barriers between us and Him. He did this by becoming one of us; entering into the darkness so that our darkness would be overcome. If we recognize Him as Jesus and follow Him, He will lead us back into reality (i.e. “the light”). It will be a painful process at times but our lives will be real and meaningful. If we hide in the darkness and cling to the nightmare, reorienting ourselves to pretend the delusion is reality, there will eventually be a point of no return. We will literally be incapable of ever being able to handle the slightest bit of reality. This is what Christ called “the outer darkness.” These are the highest stakes there are, which is why God went to the lengths He did to rescue us.

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~ by shardsofeternity on December 7, 2011.

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