Monday, July 5, 2010

Why the Incarnation Matters: God's Original Plan

Christians of all stripes hold the Incarnation (at least formally) to be something of Supreme Importance.  Yet if you ask someone why, very rarely does one get a real concrete answer.  Sure, you will hear "So He could save us", but what does this mean?  What are the implications of this simple statement?  The implications are indeed profound, and have the potential to impact every facet of our Christian faith.

Yet in order to see this, I believe we must first start "from the beginning" as to why the Incarnation is so important.  When we outline God's initial plan for the human race, we outline it only to show how much sin has distorted that plan in our lives.

Why was man created?  Was God lonely?  What was our original purpose?  These kinds of questions are asked by every man, indeed even those who deny God.  The Scriptures give us the answer of the purpose for our creation in St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians:

As he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity.  Who has predestined us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will... (Ephesians 1:4-5)
 Sometimes we may wonder if we sinned, if we still would have needed Christ.  When looked at from the perspective of Christ coming for the simple salvation from our sins, this might indeed be a question.  Yet we see here that before the world was even founded, we were chosen for union with Christ.  The eternal bliss of union with Christ was chosen for us before Adam and Eve even existed.  This was the very reason for our existence.  We were created to be with Christ.  As we will see later, sin may effect us, but it does not change our calling.  We are called to be with Christ in a perfect and eternal union.

Because of this, God created the heavens and the Earth.  He created an earthly paradise in Eden.  The beauty of Eden was meant to call to our minds even then our true eternal goal, of a union in the true paradise of union with Christ.

Destined to be the eternal Bride of Christ, we shared in his authority in Eden.  Everything was made in Eden for man and only man.  The garden, the beasts, all creation was subjected to us in Christ.  Since we were called to union with Christ, we were also called to share in the rule of Christ, the true King of the universe.  These may seem like simple platitudes now for the moment, but we must remember them, as they become highly important when we reach the moment of man's sin.

Even with all of this authority, there were still some limits placed upon us.  We were created beings, not the Creator.    We shared in the rule of Christ through our called union to Him, not because of any claim we make of our own right.  I believe God establishes this when He tells Adam and Eve:

And the Lord God brought forth of the ground all manner of trees, fair to behold, and pleasant to eat of: the tree of life also in the midst of paradise: and the tree of knowledge  of good and evil..... And he commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise you shall eat: 17 But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat. For in what day soever you shall eat of it, you shall die the death.  (Genesis 2:9, 16-17)
There are some who wonder if this account is literal or allegorical, though that need not concern us here.  If literal, this also highlighted to something even deeper, and that is the focus of our discussion.  I find it interesting that two trees are named specifically:  The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I, following the footsteps of men far more advanced than myself, would say the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil ultimately represented the moral law.  The moral law is indeed something beautiful to behold.  When we live in accordance with that law, we understand things as they really are.

Yet why can we not eat of it?  Let us think of what would occur if one were to eat from that tree.  They would have to approach the tree, and take something from it, making it their own.  This implies authority over the object.  If I go to a garden I have planted and take the vegetables from it, it is my garden, nobody can fault me.  I have the rights over that garden to do with it as I please.  Yet to take from the moral law implies that we have authority over the moral law.  Yet we know from Scripture that we are created beings who live in the universe.  We did not will ourselves into existence in Eden and create the rules of the universe.    We can only follow them.  That I believe is the reason why God placed the prohibition on eating of that tree.  To do so, we would be denying our very nature.

What of the tree of life then?  This was something created as well, so why are we allowed to eat of it?  The tree of life could be likened to the ultimate marriage present.  Since we were called to be united with Christ eternally, that tree served as a symbol and the way by which we could achieve that union.  What husband would want his spouse to not live forever with him?  God had the power to make that wish of ours a reality.  Not only were we given authority over that tree, we were called to eat of it liberally.  Eat of the riches of God, for they sustained us towards that eternal union.  Without partaking of those gifts, we would certainly die.

Therefore in this I believe we see the fullness of God's original plan.  Both trees were created by Him.  Both ultimately served as signs of our created nature, even before the fall.  One was meant as nourishment of the body for eternal life, the other as a symbol of our dependence on Him.

As we will see in our next column, this original plan and design of God was almost destroyed by the simplest of acts.

1 comment:

  1. I have a few comments:

    (1) Eph 5:31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."[Gen 2:24] 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

    Notice that this ultimately pertains to "Christ and the Church," yet this 'prophecy' came in Gen 2:24, which was before the Fall. From this, many have speculated Christ would have become Incarnate even without sin.

    (2) The way "predestined" is used in Eph 1 is better taken in terms of Adoption and not so much future focused in the sense of "predestined to Heaven." Given this, and the principle that 'scripture interprets scripture', I've begun to think this is a more fitting way to interpret Romans 8:29f ("predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son") and consider "glorified" to refer to the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit of Adoption (especially since it's speaking in the past tense).

    (3) CCC#618 says, "in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man." So by the Incarnation, Christ assumed human nature as a whole species, and not just an individual instance. This means Christ transformed human nature, "raising" it without changing it's essence.


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