Divinity versus Humanity.

 2007-03-04 19:44:51 +0000 theology personal

On a recent plane trip, I was reading a very abridged version of (the ten thousand page long!) Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth, and I found something totally beautiful.

Believing God to be entirely “transcendent in contrast to all immanence” and “divine in contrast to everything human,” and reading (e.g., in Philippians 2:7) that Jesus is God having emptied himself, having made himself nothing, I concluded that God somehow hid his divinity in order that he might become human and, in that form, redeem humanity.

This is wrong. Karl Barth writes:

As God was in Christ, far from being against Him, or at disunity with Himself, He has put into effect the freedom of His divine love… He has therefore done and revealed that which corresponds to His divine nature…

His particular, and highly particularised, presence in grace, in which the eternal Word descended to the lowest parts of the earth and tabernacled in the man Jesus, dwelling in this one man in the fulness of His Godhead, is itself the demonstration and exercise of His omnipresence… His omnipotence is that of a divine plenitude of power in the fact that (as opposed to any abstract omnipotence) it can assume the form of weakness and impotence and do so as omnipotence, triumphing in this form…

From this we learn that the forma Dei [Philippians 2:6] consists in the grace in which God Himself assumes and makes His own the forma servi [Philippians 2:7].

Church Dogmatics, Volume IV, Part 1, page 185 and following.

My cutting hardly does justice to the original text, so I’ll paraphrase.

Jesus shows that God is everywhere, because God is fully in him; this doesn’t undermine omnipresence, instead, it strengthens it: the abstract “God is everywhere” is emphasized by a particular “And look, God is there–it’s Jesus.” Similarly, Jesus shows that God is all-powerful, because God triumphed in him in spite of weakness.

I had been thinking that Jesus was God with a veil over his divinity, when in fact, Jesus is God proving just how totally divine he is. For a God who is Love, the incarnation isn’t a denial of himself, but an affirmation of who he had been all along. It is often said that Jesus proved his divinity by rising from the dead; it ought to be remembered that he proved his divinity by being able to be obedient to death in the first place.

This is a beautiful perspective from which to understand the hypostatic union; the monophysites believed that Jesus’ humanity undermined his divinity, while as Barth explains, Jesus’ two natures are not only compatible, but necessary. This is another example of the sort of paradoxical argument I usually find unreasonably compelling (e.g., Chesterton’s Orthodoxy or Kierkegaard (fear and trembling appears in Philippians 2:12–a coincidence?) or Hume’s compatibilist explanation of free will).

Like most things viewed with hindsight, this perspective isn’t radical, but I (and probably a lot of people) view the divine and human natures of Christ as, essentially, in conflict when, ironically, Jesus came to reconcile those two natures, and did so first in himself.