Thomas Ramey Watson

Why Do Christians Need to Believe in the Incarnation?

“The point of incarnation language,” the Catholic theologian Roger Haight writes, “is that Jesus is one of us, that what occurred in Jesus is the destiny of human existence itself: et homo factus est. Jesus is a statement, God’s statement, about humanity as such.” Humanity is the presence of God. The presence of God, therefore, lies in what is ordinary. Not in supernatural marvels. Not in a superman with whom we have nothing actual in common. Not in saints. Not in a once-only age of miracles long ago. Not first in doctrine, scholarship, or theology–but in life. Doctrine, scholarship, and theology are essential as modes of opening up that life and its meanings, and there is no separating the life of Jesus from interpretations of it. The interpretations must always be examined, and criticized. And we endlessly conjure interpretations of our own, as here in this book.

But the life is our object. The life of Jesus must always weigh more than his death. And, to repeat, the revelation is in the ordinariness of that life. His teaching–his permanent Jewishness, his preference for service over power, his ever-respectful attitude toward women and others on the social margin–is available to us because his followers passed the teaching along, which continues. His encounters with beloved friends, disciples, outcasts, antagonists, and Romans, all arranged in a story that is more invention than memory, are valued as occasions of his encounter with the Holy One–but they are typical encounters, not supernatural ones. Again and again he turned to God, and, as the tradition says, he turned into God–but that, too, occurred in the most ordinary of ways. Day by day. Act by act. Choice by choice. Word by word. Ultimately “lifted up,” as John says, on the cross which was the Resurrection. And the cross is central to this meaning not because God willed suffering but because, in Jesus, God joined in it. “The quality of the suffering,” in Eliot’s phrase, is changed. And that includes the extreme suffering of war.

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