The day that God suffered and died

Crucifixion_GrunewaldA powerful Good Friday devotion would be to read Article VIII of the Formula of Concord: “The Person of Christ.”  It will help you to appreciate even more the magnitude of what happened on the Cross.

Luther’s dispute with Zwingli went beyond their disagreement over Holy Communion and whether “this is my body” is a fact or a figure of speech.  They had different understandings of Christ.

This question arose:  Can we say that on the Cross “God suffered” or “God died”?  No, said Zwingli.  God is “impassible.”  He cannot suffer or die.  Christ has both a divine and a human nature.  So on the Cross only His human nature suffered.  Zwingli dismissed scriptural language to the contrary as, again, a figure of speech.

Luther said that while it is true that God, in Himself, does not suffer or die, in Christ something else is going on.  In taking on human nature, God the Son could experience what human beings experience.  By virtue of the incarnation, the unity of the Trinity, the communication of the attributes, and the personal union of Christ’s two natures, we can say that God suffered and died.

Later, Chemnitz would explain it using this analogy (and it is only an imperfect analogy, since the Son of God was not simply a deity in a human body, but rather took on a human soul as well):  A human being has a spiritual and a physical nature.  If you cut your finger, it isn’t just your body that suffers.  You suffer because your two natures come together in your person.

After the jump, read how this is treated in one of the key confessional documents of Lutheran theology.  I know I trot this out every few years around this time, but it bears repeating.

For one thing, to believe that God suffered and God died helps us to understand the atonement more deeply.  It isn’t God punishing his kid for what other people did, as mockers and some liberals are saying today.  In the atonement, the Second Person of the Trinity sacrificed Himself for sinful human beings.  And in doing so, He took into Himself, by His omnipotence, the world’s evil and the world’s suffering, our “iniquities” and “transgressions” and our “griefs” and “sorrows” (Isaiah 53, a major passage of Scripture to read for today).  And this has a bearing on the problem of evil and the problem of pain, since we know that, far from looking down on the evils and sufferings of the world and doing nothing, God took them into Himself in His redemption of the world.

Illustration:  The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.  Originally at the Hospital of St. Anthony, where plague victims could contemplate Christ, depicted as bearing their disease.

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“The darkness didn’t comprehend it”

2125915359_911d1354bd_zI do not agree with N. T. Wright on “the new perspective on Paul,” but he has a published a fascinating reflection on John 1.  He particularly focuses on this theme:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness didn’t comprehend it; the world was made through him and the world didn’t know him; he came to his own, and his own didn’t receive him.” (John 1:5, 10-11)

God gives His Word, but the world doesn’t understand it.  The Creator comes to the world that He made, but the world doesn’t recognize Him.  God comes to His people, but they reject Him.

In addition to reflecting on the paradoxes of unbelief, Wright gives some provocative thoughts about the Incarnation, culminating in an affirmation of the Lord’s Supper.

But notice his critique of liberal theology, relativism, and recent theological fads.  Notice too his shot against transgenderism!

After the jump, I get you started, but you have to follow the link to read it all, which is very much worth doing. [Read more…]

This incarnate and human God

When we think of God, we often think of Him as a transcendent being, far above and beyond this world.  This would be the case whether we were mystics, Deists, or philosophers.  Or, we might think of Him as a being who dwells within us.  Or as a being who is both transcendent and indwelling.

Certainly, Christianity teaches both the transcendence and the immanence of God.  But this, while true, is not enough, and what Christianity teaches about God goes further:  God is incarnate.

Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, God made tangible, God as a human being, God revealing Himself to us in the only way we can truly understand, God for us.

In one of his most striking passages, Luther warns about trying to contemplate God as an abstraction or in His glory apart from Christ.  If we try to think of God apart from Christ, Luther writes, He will be “intolerable.”  Rather, particularly when we think of our salvation, “We must look at no other God than this incarnate and human God.”

Read what Luther says about this after the jump. [Read more…]

Christianity is not spiritual, it’s physical

In an interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber, the ELCA “pastrix,” when asked about those who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious,” turns the terms around, saying that Christianity–what with the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Sacraments–is not so much spiritual as physical. [Read more…]

God from above vs. God from below

I’ve started working through the Christian Year of Grace by Johann Spangenberg, a contemporary of Luther who, as a pastor and educator, wanted to provide laypeople a guide to help with the devotional reading of the newly-available Scriptures.  He took the appointed Scripture readings for each Sunday, then–as a classical educator trained in dialectic–offered questions and answers that take the reader deeply into the riches of these texts.

After the jump, I’ll give you an excerpt from his treatment of Romans 11:33-36, the Epistle reading for Trinity Sunday:  “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God:  how incomprehensible are His judgments, how unsearchable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord?” [Read more…]

Mary, Did You Know?

As I’ve said before, the great challenge for an artist–whether an author, musician, painter, or whatever–in depicting Jesus Christ is how to portray Him as both God and Man.  In Christmas art, some work portrays Him in His humanness as a cute little baby.  Other work, such as the classic icons, show the Child as transcendent God.  Both are fine, conveying profound truths about who Christ is.  But the very best art about Christ somehow evokes BOTH His divinity and His humanity.

I have a candidate, a contemporary Christmas song, that pulls this off:  Mary, Did You Know? by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene.  Here are the lyrics.  After the jump, a video of my favorite performance of the song, the haunting version by Kathy Mattea. [Read more…]