Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas

Blogging will probably be light over the next week because of the Christmas holiday. Let me wish all of you a merry Christmas. Next to Easter and Good Friday, Christmas is one of the most wonderful celebrations associated with Christianity. Although the day of Christ’s birth is not specified in the Bible, and although there is no mandate for us celebrating it on any particular day, I still love the celebration of Christmas and the entire Christmas season. I think it is really delightful that millions of people in any way celebrate or recognize the Incarnation of God in human form in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. I appreciate that people give each other gifts as a way of celebrating God’s gift to us. I appreciate that everything is decorated and that the Christmas season has a special glory that is associated with its celebration. I appreciate the Christmas carols that even secular people sing. Many of them contain good theology about Christ and the Gospel. While Christmas is at some times commercial, materialistic or overwhelming, I think it is still a wonderful and delightful time and presents an extraordinary opportunity for people to hear the Gospel if they will just listen to the words of some of the better Christmas carols. How often do you get a chance to hear a summary of the Gospel in a department store or mall?

I think it is also good that Christmas is a time that emphasizes family and friends. Christmas is also noteworthy for the traditional emphasis of giving to the poor at Christmastime. While we should give all year round, it’s nice that many people who don’t think much about giving still give at Christmas. I think the messages involved in some Christmas movies and stories like A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life while not perhaps theologically pure, are nevertheless worthwhile and happy media events rather than the reverse. While whatever criticisms people may have, I’m glad for Christmas and nearly everything associated with it.

The Incarnation is of course extremely important. The fact that God became man not only allowed Jesus to atone for our sins and live a righteous life that could be judicially ascribed to us by God, but also is a part of the answer to the whole problem of pain and evil. God did not create a universe in which He Himself knew and experienced no pain while His creatures did. Instead, we serve and know a God who became one of us and suffered for us, with us, and as one of us. Christ knew all of the temptations that we are subjected to and yet was without sin. He suffered the pains and travails of human life. He knew what it was like to be tired and cold and hungry, to be disliked and abused, to not be recognized for who you truly are, and be despised and hated for precisely who you truly are, and ultimately to suffer human injustice, torture and death. Christ knew what it was to submit to God’s plan, even though that plan was painful for Him personally. He knew what it is to have to look to the long run and endure pain and suffering in order to achieve a higher goal. In short, to paraphrase the book of Hebrews, we don’t have an intercessor who doesn’t know anything about what our life is like but rather someone who’s experienced the same pain and suffering that we experience. So when people complain about the evil and pain in life, Christ can say, “I know, I’ve experienced it.” When people complain that God allows pain and suffering in life for higher purposes, Jesus can say there that He too has experienced pain, suffering and death for those higher purposes. God is beyond criticism not only because of who He is, but because He Himself has partaken in the difficulties of the world that He created. He experienced these difficulties on our behalf not because He was in any way required to do so or in any way worthy of pain and suffering, but rather He suffered and endured pain for us. This makes Christianity different from every other religion. As Stephen Lawhead has pointed out, none of the other deities of many human religions suffered with and for human beings. None of them know our pain and our troubles the way Jesus does. The Incarnation is also the ultimate elevation of humanity. Not only because Christ has reconciled us to God, but because as a being who is both fully human and fully God it is now truly the case that a human being is sitting on the throne of the universe. Christ’s incarnation also shows that it is in fact possible for God and man to communicate. Many modern skeptics have doubted that human beings can in any way communicate with or understand the divine. But Jesus not only shows that it is possible for God to communicate to man, He is that communication and He embodies God’s communication to human beings in Himself.


C Stevenson said...

One counter-argument against the importance of God becoming man says that since God is omniscient, He doesn’t have to actually experience being a Human Being to know what it is like.

My answer to that is that knowledge of something is not the same as experiencing it. Not even for God.

For example, we have all at some point slammed a door on our fingers. You KNOW what that is like. (You happen to know it because of said prior experience, but my point is that currently, in the comfort of your easy chair, right now, you know what slamming your finger in a door is like.) So do I. I remember the throbbing. I remember the split skin, losing the nail. One might say that the memory is painful. But it’s not, compared to experiencing the thing itself.

Guess which I would rather do:
(a) think about slamming a door on my finger;
(b) slam a door on my fingers again tonight?

A more cheery example. Would I rather:
(a) think about eating another See’s vanilla buttercream with dark chocolate coating;
(b) eat said candy again tonight?

My knowledge of these things happens to come from my own prior experience. Because of God’s omniscience let’s stipulate that He knows these same things without experiencing them. Yet for me and even for God, knowledge of them is not the same as experiencing them.

God the Son, Jesus Christ, with full knowledge of what it is like to be a human being, agreed to come down and experience it. I sit here and wonder if life is worth living. He, with complete knowledge, said Yes! and did it.

That’s not all there is to the Incarnation, but that helps answer the problem of pain for me.

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