Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Incarnation: God's Self-Revelation in Jesus

Seeing as it is Christmas and all, and since we probably could stand (albeit barely) one more attempt to speak of what Christmas is actually about, I'll conclude my mini-series of reflections from Alister McGrath's bio of T.F. Torrance with these quotes from Torrance on the Incarnation as God's Self-Revelation in Jesus.

The first is actually Torrance discussing Jesus' divinity, first citing the professor who left a huge impact on him, H.R. Mackintosh, who said:

"When I look into the Face of Jesus, and see there the very face of God, I know that I have not seen that face elsewhere and cannot see that face elsehow. And secretly, in the hour of meditation, when we try to look into God's face, still it is the face of Christ that comes up before us. What Jesus was on earth God is forever" (31). Torrance later reflects: "There is no hidden God, no Deus Absconditus, no God behind the back of the Lord Jesus, but only the one Lord God who became incarnate in him. . . . What have we been doing in our preaching and teaching in the church, to damage in the faith of our people the relation between their faith in Jesus Christ and God?" (74) .

To further the thought, here is more. This time it is McGrath talking about TF Torrance talking about Athanasius talking about Jesus. That's a real cloud of witnesses isn't it?

"Appealing to the fundamental Athanasian principle that only God can reveal God, Torrance insists that 'nothing else will suffice for a revelation of God than God Himself'. There is a fundamental gulf between God and humanity, which can only be bridged from God's side by God. If the living God is to be known, then it must be through an act of God.

'We cannot know God except through His acts, except by His acts, except in His acts.'

Yet creatoin can be regarded as an act of God. Does this therefore legitimate a natural theology? Developing this point further, Torrance argues that revelation consists of an act 'in which God reveals Himself to us'.

'We must, therefore, hold these two points together in a single thought: namely, that we must know God through His acts, and yet we must know the Personal Being of God, for nothing else will convey Him. No! not even an act of creation, for creation is as such an act in which something distinct from God is brought into existence. That means therefore that we can only know God in an ACT in which HIS ACT AND PERSON are IDENTICAL, in which God's presence, personal presence, is present in His act, in which the act is the Person and the Person is the Act.' . . .

In other words, the Word of God to come across to men must come down to their level and become human, for it would be by becoming human that it could take upon itself all the ideas and language of men in which they converse and think. This is the great doctrine of the Incarnation -- of the Word becoming flesh, of the Word who was in the beginning with God and who was God and through whom all things were created becoming flesh and tabernacling among men -- in Jesus Christ our Lord" (148-149) .

Every year at this time I am amazed at just how drab and drivel and cliche Christmas can be and yet despite it all how refreshing and exciting the incarnation continues to be. I could certainly go without all the trappings of the season, but as far as I'm concerned every day could be Incarnation Day. So I pay special attention to those festivities which make even passing mention of it, because in even the most tired carol or passing comment, mention of the incarnation makes my heart skip a beat.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the timely quotes from Torrance, Jon. You will probably have heard me quote and paraphrase that one line from him more than a few times: "There is no hidden God, no Deus Absconditus, no God behind the back of the Lord Jesus, but only the one Lord God who became incarnate in him."

Yet, here I'm not sure Torrance and Barth would quite agree (esp. in the interpretation of Barth from McCormack). For in God's veiling of himself in the flesh, there is an unveiling of himself; yet in the unveiling of himself as God in Jesus, there is yet a veiling of himself as God. Or to put it in a more Lutheran key, in the Deus Absconditus, there is a Deus Revelatus, but in the Deus Revelatus, there is a Deus Absconditus.

On this point, I think Barth retained a bit more of Luther than did Torrance.

jon said...

yup i felt like i'd heard that line several times before!

interesting insight/counterbalance from barth there. i do think torrance is overstating it somewhat. or, more accurately, perhaps the context of torrance's statement is important. when we're speaking of God's self-revelation then we need look no further than the incarnation. that was his point, methinks, rather than trying to say that God=Jesus with nothing else to be said.

you might get a kick out of this: the last few days my five year old son has been asking me about the Trinity. (not using that word quite yet of course). we have a nativity calendar which tells a little bit of the story of Jesus' birth each day, and almost without exception every time it talks about them praying to God about Jesus, my son says, but Jesus is God! Its confusing.

I've basically said that God is three persons in one, and that none of us can quite imagine it, its amazing, but that's what we've learned about him. And Jesus is one of those persons who became a man. So when they pray to God about Jesus the other two persons are in heaven hearing it. Its pretty wild watching his mind chew on it. Its challenging to try to put it into perspective too. I love it.

Elena Claire said...

Hi Jon,

Nice blog, you have fantastic taste in movies and music, Joel Plaskett, Amelie, Little Miss Sunshine... you have my confidence!

I just came across this stained glass window nativity scene image on your blog, and I think it would make a gorgeous Christmas card for our fundraiser this year. Do you have a source for it?

Thanks so much,