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The Humanity of the Divine
Stanley Hauerwas

 Christ, the Lord of creation,
Reconciler of the world to the Father,
Redeemer of sinful humanity,
Victor over death
   through his crucifixion and resurrection
,
Foretaste and Herald of the Kingdom of God,
Incarnation of God, very God and very man.

Even though such affirmations about Jesus have been the center of the churchs preaching from its beginning, such Christological commitments to him have not had a prominent place in much modern preaching.

This has been true in the middle class church because it requires its preaching in the form of easily palatable moralisms about how to get through life without being disturbed by it or him. This has also been true for the contemporary college chapel because such language about Jesus is awkward to the ears of those who pride them­selves on being secular men. These are those who be­lieve their virtue depends upon being different from crude believers and some sort of virtue attaches to what secular men are able to disbelieve.

A great deal of preaching in the college chapel at­tempts to meet this situation by engaging in very clever apologetics to transform our unbelief into belief. But too often such preaching ends up declaring that our doubts are faith and that our little concerns are as good as believing in Jesus. In such a setting we are told to cherish our uncertainties because they are surely signs that we are among the blessed.

In choosing to talk directly about Jesus Christ, as very God and very man, I am quite consciously rejecting this style of preaching. I do this, first, because I find calling unbelief belief intellectually unintelligible and some­thing of a bore. The shallowness of modern unbelief is exceeded only by the shallowness of modern belief. By giving us such petty unbelievers as critics, God is judg­ing the pettiness of our own belief.

The feeble force of modern unbelief is not to be found in a profound rejection of God crucified on a cross. Rather it is embodied in the shrug of the shoulders that says it simply does not make a whit of difference whether one believes or not. As Christians we have no response to this because we have reduced the significance and depth of Christian belief not only for ourselves but also for the unbeliever.

Secondly, I reject this form of preaching, this glori­fication of unbelief, because it is but a form of pietism as spiritually vacuous as the pietism of belief. Both pietisms are preoccupied with the self and its little doubts or its little conversions. What a lost people we must be to think that God really gives a damn whether we be­lieve in him or not! The pietism of unbelief and belief are both attempts to reduce God to our criterion of sig­nificance. In the light of Gods action in Christ, this preoccupation with self is insignificant; in theological terms, it is but an attempt to have the atonement with­out incarnation and crucifixion.

But, you may respond by saying that even if we do turn our attention from our selves and our doubts and toward the reality of Christ, we still are not sure what to think. A phrase like very God and very man stirs our imagination to think of an entity composed in some strange way of man substance and God substance. Or, if we are not given to metaphysical flights of fancy, we tend to enter into psychological speculation. Which faculty or function of Jesus is God and which is man? Or, if our imagination does not lead us into metaphysics or psychology, we tend to think of very God and very man in terms of a kind of fairy tale.

According to Kierkegaard, the fairy tale goes some­thing like this. A young prince was riding through his estate one day and saw a peasant girl working in his fields. He, of course, falls in love with her and desires to make her his queen. However, being not only a prince, but a noble person, he wishes to win this maiden not by his position but by himself. So, he covers his kingly pur­ple with the rough clothes of the peasant and goes into the fields and works alongside the maiden. Everything goes as it should in fairy tales, and since the young prince is handsome and noble, the maiden soon falls in love with him.

What is interesting about this tale is that our interest is not held wondering if the prince will get the maiden, for we know he will from the start. Rather, our interest is held by wondering when the prince will rip off the rough peasant clothes and reveal the purple. Will he do it at the wedding? Or perhaps he will be revealed in trying to save the maiden from distress when in con­flict the rough is torn away to reveal the purple.

That such a story has a close parallel to how we think of the incarnation is apparent. God, creator of all, find­ing men condemned to the drudgery of peasants in his kingdom, resolves to love and help them. He comes to help them, disguising the purple with the flesh of men, and frees them from bondage in his fields.

The problem with such a comparison, however, is that unlike the fairy tale, the picture of Christ given in the gospel does not sustain our interest in the same way. At no time does Jesus ever rip back the veil of flesh and reveal the purple of the deity.

This mystery causes us to speculate endlessly about where the purple might be—is it in the birth story? or the miracles? or in the perfect moral life? or the resurrection? But, the Gospel makes clear that there was no purple revealed by these events because many saw all that happened and did not believe. The picture of the God-man presented in the Gospels disappoints us for it leaves ambiguous where the deity is firmly in evidence. And, this raises the hard question of how one can stake ones eternal destiny on an ambiguous figure. To do so surely seems to make one a complete fool.

We are not unique, by the way, in having this prob­lem, for it was also clearly the problem in the scripture. When Jesus asked where men thought the purple re­sided, they answered by giving the current Messianic theories of the day. But, while Jesus does not deny that his ministry was the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel, he dissociates himself from such interpretations. Rather, he accepts Peters affirmation that he is the Christ, the long expected Messiah, the one prefigured in the prom­ise of Abraham, the purpose of the Exodus, the mean­ing of the Law. He accepts all this and still the purple does not show.

It does not show because he immediately charged them to tell no one saying, The son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Now, theres the rub. What kind of redeemer is this? He was rejected by men and hung on a cross; his followers reduced to a few ignorant men who would have followed any equally good magician. One could hardly call this the showing of the purple of Israels expectations.

 

God and Man Doing Divinity Humanly

The difficulty is that we have got the problem wrong at its base. All our questions and expectations presup­pose that this is a man who is doing divine things. But, we look at him, and we find nothing that he did excep­tional that one cannot point to in the lives of other men. History is full of men doing divine things. Nor can the divinity of Christ be merely that in his life, being flaw­lessly good, there was no divergence from the divine will. Were that the complete case, Jesus might have ful­filled his function by remaining a model village carpen­ter all his days and dying a natural death at a ripe old age.

The gospels good news and mystery of the incarna­tion is not that this is the human doing the divine, but that the very human action of Jesus is divine action; it is what God does about the salvation of the world. In the common case of a good human life, humanity supplies the pattern, and God the grace. In Jesus, divine redemptive action supplies the pattern, and manhood the medium or instrument. A good man helped by grace may do human things divinely; Christ did divine things humanly.

This is the mystery of the incarnation that, unlike the prince who hid the purple under the coarse, in Christ the coarse turns out to be the purple. God is this kind of God. There is nothing to strip off to reveal God. Christ is no sham. The grace of the incarnation is in Gods choice to make man at the creation, and in his election of Israel, and in his dying on the cross to be the God of humanity. This is the real mystery of the incar­nation. It is not some puzzling union between God sub­stance and man substance. Rather, it is that God is the God who chooses to have his destiny bound up with mans even to being born of women, calling disciples, suffering persecution, and dying on the cross.

But, this is just the kind of God we do not want. We want a God who through his purple is able to remove all suffering and ambiguity from our life. We want a God who through his power insures our bliss. The God of Israel and Jesus, however, is not such a God. He wills not to have men who are contented cattle but men who are able to love God as a friend and brother. Thus, God chose to be with man through his strange act of love. He decides to suffer with man so that man can be capable of being in love with God.

The meaning of the incarnation is finally that God wills to lose himself in order that man might be born. To be born is to recognize we cannot be gods but we can be men by learning to suffer in our lives in accordance with the Cross of Christ. Thus, the ambiguity of the figure of Jesus is the necessary Christological require­ment to draw us into the very commitment that is neces­sary in order to recognize that this was surely the Christ.

Immediately after Jesus confessed his Christological being that leads to suffering and death, he says, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. This is an indi­cation that to adhere to Christ is not a matter of adher­ing to a doctrine called the incarnation. Rather, it is to be so involved with this kind of God that we will be will­ing to follow him to certain crucifixion for his sake.

I suspect the reason most of us today have trouble buying the doctrine of the incarnation is not really so much due to the intellectual problems involved. It is more likely that we are refusing to be drawn from our selves to regard the otherness of this being who asks us to become as he himself was. I do not think that such hesitation to follow Christ can be overcome by moral urgings and new layers of law. But, if we are not ready to follow Jesus, let us at least not continue to reduce Christ to the dimensions of our own spiritual life. Perhaps, if we maintain the integrity of the gospel, on the ashes of our sinful existence, some brave new generation of Christians will be born who are willing to walk such a road.

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