Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What Happened At Bethelehem?

Here at seminary there has been the odd murmuring of an idea that is quite old, but fairly new to me. Its this idea that if there hadn't been a Fall there would still have been an Incarnation. In other words, if sin had not entered the world the plan still would have been for there to be a Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man. I was reading a book today that made this point again. It said,
Jesus Christ did not come only to save us from our sins, but supremely to bring to fulfillment the trinitarian purposes of grace in creation.... Retrospectively, Christ came to save us from our past sin, from guilt, from judgment, from hell. But prospectively he came to bring us to sonship, to communion with God in the kingdom of God... Western theology has too often limited salvation to the retrospective aspect, seeing Christ as saviour of our humanity only in the context of the Fall. But in the New Testament the two are never separated: 'When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son ... so that we might receive adoption as children' (Gal 4:4-6 NRSV). It is that prospective vision we so need to recover today.
Now, this is not to say that we need to scrap everything we know about the cross and resurrection, but is to say that we aren't doing ourselves any favours in just seeing the incarnation as a "patch-up job" for a plan gone awry. God has always wanted to be in communion with us through his Son Jesus and, well, at Christmas especially that is something worth remembering and celebrating and looking forward to! This guy I was reading (James Torrance) goes on,
According to the New Testament, that life of communion [of the Son] with the Father did not begin at Bethlehem. He who was the eternal Son of God by nature, enjoying eternal communion with the Father, became the Son of Man that we 'sons and daughters of men' might become 'sons and daughters of God' by grace and be drawn into the Son's communion with Father, that throught the Spirit we too might call God 'Father.'
I wouldn't go so far as to suggest we celebrate Christmas and not think at all about the cross. But I would suggest we see Bethlehem as the site of an amazing event: God With Us in the Incarnation - a move toward humanity eternal in its scope and beautiful in its love.


Tony Tanti said...

Would this line of thinking imply that something was missing in the relationship between God and humanity even before the Fall?

Anonymous said...

Hey! I was thinking about this as well in the last few weeks. I got onto it from reading Perelandra by CS Lewis. Embarrassingly, I don't remember if that book specifically suggests it, but it caused the thought in me at least. I would imagine that the incarnation in this case (without a fall) would mean that something is really stepped up a full notch in the relationship with humanity. I would think that Christ would have stayed too and the world would be like what we still look forward to in the Parousia. Like for us; we lost A, but then we got B, and A is (being) repaired, and we expect to have A and B fully in the future together. But in the scenario we talk about; we never lose A, so when B comes, there was no more wait to fully have A and B in the world. Hmm, sad that I refuse to explain what I mean any better than that. (or perhaps a relief)

Coutts said...

i think i get what you are saying bcmatt. tanti raises a good question. some in my Barth reading group were sharing the idea that before the fall there may have been some sort of bodily presence of God in the world. (Someone, maybe the second member of the trintity, walking in the garden in the cool of the day). So the reasoning goes that the incarnation is God taking on sinful humanity to redeem it.

but then i'm not sure that helps my original thought much, nor am i sure it answers tanti's question. something to think about.

I would be interested to pursue this idea further which is one reason i threw it out there. the other is that it seems we don't think much about how significant it is that GOd would choose this reality from before Creation: to create people in order to dwell with them.