On The Incarnation (2:6) The Divine Dilemma

We saw in the last chapter that, because death and corruption were gaining ever firmer hold on them, the human race was in process of destruction. Man, who was created in God’s image and in his possession of reason reflected the very Word Himself, was disappearing, and the work of God was being undone. The law of death, which followed from the Transgression, prevailed upon us, and from it there was no escape. The thing that was happening was in truth both monstrous and unfitting. It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption. It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by Him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil; and it was supremely unfitting that the work of God in mankind should disappear, either through their own negligence or through the deceit of evil spirits.

This section of “On The Incarnation” is on “The Divine Dilemma and it’s Solution in the Incarnation.” Too often we can see God’s justice as His real nature and His love and goodness as an eccentric quality in the Divine Character. Athanasius does not. He sees God’s “goodness” as equally binding as His holy justness. In this passage we see a divine Catch-22. God has created humans a certain way: we bear His image and are intended to reflect His image through loving communion with Him. As we saw in the last chapter, this is where our very existence comes from. We were not made to live apart from His life in us. Without it, we fade and eventually die, spiritually and physically (although A. seems to think physical death was a reality before the Fall, since creation is temporal).

When we distrusted God and acted on that distrust, something irrevocable reverberated through space and time. In some sense, creation itself was impoverished due to our negligence and bad stewardship. It wasn’t God’s intention for us, but God couldn’t just pretend it didn’t happen. One, because we were not created to be puppets, over-rided by His will against our own. And two, because this world has a reality in itself that God gave it, so that events in this world cannot be erased. This happened and there is no undoing it. On top of this, our ability to reason, A. says, began to fade, since it was a major part of His Image in us. The “law of death prevailed” over us. There were real consequences to mistrusting God and misrepresenting His intentions and promises toward us expressed in the act of eating forbidden fruit.

Here we see that A. considers the goodness of God as an equal counterbalance to the holy justice of God. When we wade into this territory, words are notoriously unreliable. We can’t simply speak of God’s mercy, love, goodness, holiness and justice as if they are warring factions in the divine nature. They are distinct characteristics that God has revealed, but they are in harmony with each other. And John tells us that God is Love, which is an important statement. John didn’t say God is partially Love, and nowhere in scripture is any other attribute given such a place in God’s character. It is said that God is holy, but not that God is holiness. God is merciful, but nowhere in the pages of scripture is God revealed to BE mercy. Yet in John’s epistle, we are given this golden key to unlock a deeper understanding of who God is: God is Love. So if God is holy, He is lovingly holy. If God is just, He is lovingly just. Apply “lovingly” to any of God’s attributes and you will see God accurately, if we believe in the inspiration of John’s epistle.

Athanasius gets this which is why he would see God letting humanity self-destruct as equally unthinkable as God simply sweeping the whole incident under the rug and leaving Adam and Eve in Eden. Athanasius points out a divine dilemma; He can’t do either and stay true to His character. He cannot let Adam and Eve off scot-free nor can He bear to leave them to their own devices. We will see how the Incarnation is God’s brilliant solution to this dilemma.

As, then, the creatures whom He had created reasonable, like the Word, were in fact perishing, and such noble works were on the road to ruin, what then was God, being Good, to do? Was He to let corruption and death have their way with them? In that case, what was the use of having made them in the beginning? Surely it would have been better never to have been created at all than, having been created, to be neglected and perish; and, besides that, such indifference to the ruin of His own work before His very eyes would argue not goodness in God but limitation, and that far more than if He had never created men at all. It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself.

Athanasius is making an amazing statement here: any God who would create humanity and then be indifferent as humanity destroyed itself would be no God worthy of the name. Some today would say that since God is perfectly good and we are not very good at all, we have no place to evaluate the goodness of God in any meaningful way. Many things we might call evil could very well be good and vice versa. But this is a horrible thought and denies that we have any moral knowledge whatsoever. We do, for the most part know right from wrong. It is our will that fails to act on what we know, but our knowledge of good and evil is somewhat universal. The moral component (apart from the covenantal component) of the Ten Commandments have found expression in every civilization known to humanity. There may be secluded tribes in rainforests that subvert some of them, but they would be the exception that proves the rule. To make the words “good” and “evil” be so subjective in relation to God renders both words meaningless, and that leads straight to relativism.

We know goodness when we experience it, and even we know that for God to be indifferent to the self-destruction and suffering of humans would disprove His goodness. That is not to say that we don’t deserve His absence, but since God is good, loving and merciful, He does not abandon us, because that “would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself.”


~ by shardsofeternity on December 16, 2011.

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