What happens when genetic science meets the blood of the lamb? What if we could implant Jesus’ DNA in an egg and bring the fertilized egg to birth as a form of incarnational in vitro fertilization? That’s the premise of Christian Piatt’s page turner, Blood Doctrine. Moreover, will the birth of a child possessing Jesus’ genetic code usher in the second coming and the end times that some Christians still yearn for?
In this first of what promises to be a series, Christian Piatt presents the story of a young man, who unbeknownst to him apparently possesses Jesus’ complete genetic code. Could something like this happen? Could a specimen of Jesus’ blood, perhaps from the cross be preserved over centuries, then nurtured in a petri dish, and placed in a surrogate mother and then grow into a contemporary Christ? What would happen to the child? Would he or she simply have Jesus’ DNA, and reflect Jesus’ body type and physical energy, or would he grow into Jesus’ full humanity/divinity in human life? Whether in the first or twenty first century, this is the mystery of the incarnation, reflected in the creeds and controversies of the Christian church?
Let’s begin with an incarnational affirmation, raised in a recent conversation with my three year old grandson, who asked me, “Is God in the rain? Is God in the fish? Is God in the whales and sharks?” My response was “Yes, God is in all things.” This is the meaning of divine omnipresence, described by the affirmation that God is present in our cells and our souls, in our bodies and minds, in the DNA and in the events that shape our lives. God is present in our aspirations, challenges, and dreams.
Omnipresence does not demand omnipotence; it suggests at the very least immanence, presence, and influence. When we move into the realm of Christology, omnipotence implies that Jesus’ uniqueness was in the quality of his relationship with God and God’s movements in his life – God can be more present by divine choice in some places rather than others – and not a metaphysical or physical otherness. The full humanity of Jesus implies that Jesus is one of us, in every way, including basic DNA. His full divinity, which can’t be encompassed by physical existence, builds on rather than denies his basic DNA and human experience, otherwise omnipresence would be meaningless. Omnipresence implies a continuity rather than discontinuity with the structures of creaturely existence.
The protagonist of Piatt’s book, Jacob, apparently the embodiment of Jesus’ DNA, is a musician, skateboarder, and sexually-active young adult. Though raised in a church-related orphanage, he is anything but religious, unlike Jesus, whose DNA he apparently carries. This raises interesting questions, grounded in the affirmation that omnipresence invites rather than compels. Does carrying Jesus’ DNA imply that you will embody Jesus’ spiritual unity with God? Was Jesus’ own unity with God a matter of nurture as well as nature? Will Jacob be anything more than a container, able to perform magical acts and not necessarily for the good, unless he receives the appropriate spiritual nurture?
We can imagine that Jesus’ youth, the lost years from twelve to thirty, involved some level of spiritual formation. He was a unique child, according to scripture, who had hints of his vocation as early as twelve years old, suggested by his passionate conversations with the Jerusalem rabbis. But, Jesus’ growth was not complete, and may never have been completed. Luke’s Gospel asserts that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and frequently throughout his three year mission, Jesus went to deserted places for prayer and meditation. Even as he faced the cross, Jesus dialogued with God in prayer, seeking to embody God’s vision for his life. Jesus’ embodiment of God’s vision involved his own decision-making and spiritual formation, perhaps in the Essene community, described by Piatt in the text.
Blood Doctrine is a provocative book. It invites us to consider the possibility that Jesus can be physically embodied in people today. It raises questions of whether we can use science and technology to enhance spirituality, and whether science is not enough to nurture spiritual growth but must be joined with good old fashioned spiritual nurture, community affirmation, personal spiritual practices, and openness to God’s vision. Further, if all of us are incarnations, to a greater or lesser degree, of God’s vision, can we grow in grace and holiness to reflect God’s vision, such that our will and God’s vision become one in spirit?