#progGOD: Why an incarnation?

Tony Jones has introduced another round of his progressive God-blogger challenge. His topic this time: Why an incarnation?

That’s a terrific topic, and I want to write something new in response. But first let me re-post a piece from almost two years ago. This was originally published just before Epiphany in 2011, and it’s my best attempt at directly addressing Tony’s question.

“Why an incarnation?” Here, I think, is why:

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

For an illustration of what we Christians celebrate on Epiphany, think of the movie Freaky Friday. Either one will do — the original with Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris or the remake with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis. Neither is really a great movie, but they’re both memorable and entertaining. The story is one we seem to like a lot, since we retell it with slight variations every couple of years in movie after movie. In Freaky Friday, a mother and daughter switch places — switch bodies, actually. How this happens isn’t really the point. The story isn’t about the dynamics of body-switching, it’s about the empathy and understanding that come from inhabiting another person’s life. That understanding is a kind of epiphany, but it doesn’t come instantaneously. Barbara Harris’ first thought is not “Ah, so now at last I understand my teenage daughter,” but rather, “Good grief, what am I doing here?”

Gradually, though, that understanding is revealed. It takes time to unfold, just as the Epiphany we Christians celebrate around January 6 took time to fully reveal itself, not just in a single night but over the course of 33 years or so. The incomprehensible was made into something we could grasp, something like us that we could understand.

That’s what’s going on in the Christmas story, in all those creches and mangers on the mantle. It’s a response, a resolution, to the impasse at the end of the book of Job.

If you’ve ever read Job, you’re familiar with the frustrating ending of that story. Not the tacked-on happy ending spelled out by the Greek-chorus narrator in the epilogue, but the actual ending to the story’s central argument.

“Life seems pretty unfair and bewildering to us humans,” Job says.

“Well,” God replies, “you’re just going to have to trust me.”

“But you don’t understand what it’s like to be us,” Job says. “You don’t understand how all this looks from our point of view.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t understand how it looks from my point of view, either,” God says. “One of us loosed the cords of Orion and laid the foundation of the earth and the last time I checked, it wasn’t you. So just trust me, OK? I’ve got this.”

And that’s the end of the conversation. Nobody wins the argument and nobody loses. It just kind of stops. An impasse.

Epiphany breaks through that impasse. The mutual incomprehension gets resolved through incarnation. In the words of the Hooters, “What if God was one of us?”

God’s point back in Job is well-taken. The creator of ostriches and sea monsters and the horsehead nebula is simply beyond us, beyond our ability to grasp or apprehend. But a person — a human being just like us — that we can understand and relate to and comprehend. Maybe we’ll never be able to understand everything there is to know about God, but maybe we could be shown everything we need to know.

But also — and here’s a wonderful part of the story we too often forget — the epiphany that unfolds from this freaky incarnation works both ways. If the person and the life of Jesus Christ taught us humans everything we need to know about God, that life also taught God what it is like to be one of us.

Some Christians balk at this notion of God learning. An almighty and omniscient being, they say, doesn’t need to learn. But this is part of the story. The story tells us this happened too.

“Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house,” the messenger tells Job. “And suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”

When Job learned that his children had died, he wept. But God did not weep.

Jesus wept.

That’s famously the shortest verse in the Bible, but there’s an awful lot packed into those two words. Jesus loved to visit his dear friends Mary and Martha in the house of the poor, where he’d play with their kid brother, delighting him by doing something Jesus almost never did. As a rule, Jesus didn’t give names to the characters in his stories. His parables told of “a certain shepherd,” or “a Samaritan,” or “two brothers,” but they didn’t have names. Yet in one story, Jesus decided to give one character — the hero of the story — a name.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man,” Jesus said, beginning another story for another huge crowd. Then he looked over at the kid brother with a twinkle in his eye, “And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus.”

How cool would that be for a kid?

But then Lazarus got sick and then, like Job’s children, Lazarus died. And when Jesus saw Lazarus’ sisters weeping, “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” And then God Almighty — God who laid the foundation of the earth, who determined its measurements when the morning stars sang together, God who commands the morning and causes the dawn to know its place, God who bound the chains of the Pleiades and loosed the cords of Orion — wept.

That’s an epiphany.

  • Tricksterson

    Except that, thanks to the prologue, we know why.  It’s all just a bet between Yahweh and his minion and since Yahweh is supposedly all-knowing it all amounts to a cruel prank.

  • Seiber

    I can’t say I’m immensely comforted by the idea that until very recently the universe was run by something with no emotional comprehension of humanity and its suffering.

    Or the fact that after this lesson absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of human misery seems to have changed. There’s no point to a lesson if nothing’s done about the learning.

  • vsm

    If you want to pick that hermeneutic, sure.

  • Magic_Cracker

    There’s a scene in James McClure’s “The Song Dog” where D.S. Zondi rides in a helicopter for the first time. After he gets out, he comments to Lt. Kramer that it makes him worry about God because “man is such a small thing from up there.”

  • Twig

    It’s not God’s fault if I keep trying to go for the electrified cupcake.

  • EllieMurasaki

    …now I’m wondering about the religious leanings of Vathara on fanfiction.net. Vathara’s Avatar: the Last Airbender epic Embers has a bit in which a character points out that the Avatar Spirit is the spirit of the whole world and the Avatar cycle is that spirit’s ongoing attempt to understand the world’s people. (Also the Avatar Spirit is life and the Face-Stealer spirit is death, and the latter is effectively the former’s kid.)

  • Wingedwyrm

    I’ve heard this notion before and I find it, on moral terms (and, admittedly, by my own subjective measure) incomplete.  Sure, God gains some empathy for the struggles of just being alive, but he does not gain empathy with the struggle, with or without a divine judge thereof, with guilt.

    Throughout the story of Jesus, the rest of mankind isn’t released from guilt or sin, but mired deeper into it.  Now, no longer is it a sin to kill a man, but it is just as much a sin to have a moment of hatred for a man, regardless of what motivates that moment of hatred.  Now, no longer is it infidelity to engage in sexual congress outside your marriage bed, but it’s infidelity even to have a momentary fantasy.

    Meanwhile, cursing all mankind, and cursing all women a second time over, out of anger for the actions of two?  Still good.  Arbitrarily favoring the one who went off and made his own rules over the one who did exactly what you wanted?  Still good.  Killing Job’s children, destroying his livelihood, taking his health, all in breech of a contract to which you knowingly and willingly agreed?  Still good.  But, me, thinking that this kind of deity would not, if he actually existed, have the moral standing to be my lord?  Unforgiveable sin.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marchantshapiro Andrew Abrams Marchant-Shapiro

    I sometimes wonder what life would be like if we could trade places with mosquitoes.  Not that we created them, but we certainly find them annoying enough.  What if God were one of us, indeed?  Ever watch Joan of Arcadia?

    Related to this, and to your broader topic, I recently realized something interesting.  When somebody asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, he doesn’t just say what *it* is, but he also says, “and the second is like unto it” (depending on the translation) and then gives it.  And we all know what they are.  He’s equating, in a radical fashion, god and man. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    But surely it’s God’s fault that the cupcake is electrified to begin with.

  • Michele Cox

    The bet bit and then “and God gave him a new family even better than the old one!” are both, iirc, parts of the framing story that was added on to Job to make the whole thing make more sense; I find the central story much more interesting and useful.

    And if you have the idea of the Godhead existing outside of time, then the experience of being fully human would be present to the Godhead at all times, even though it took place at one particular time.

    (But then, my own personal take is that God is present immediately in all creation, and therefore necessarily experiencing it all directly in any case.  Nobody accuses me of being precisely orthodox… ;) )

  • VMink

    “The cosmos is also within us, we’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan

  • Magic_Cracker

    Electric Cupcake is my new Strawberry Alarm Clock cover band’s name.

  • Ross Thompson

    It’s not God’s fault if I keep trying to go for the electrified cupcake.

    Trust me, “It’s not my fault they ate the poison pie I baked and served to them” doesn’t work in a court of law, and I don’t see why it should work in a court of theology either.

  • Fusina

     Being a fairly sarcastic person, I occasionally find myself wondering if Jesus was being sarcastic when he said this.

    As in… oh for the love of me… ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.”
    But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. And to go completely overboard with this analogy, here is what you should do about this… If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it
    is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body
    to be thrown into hell.
    And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away;
    it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole
    body to go into hell.

    So if you are lusting after someone, which part should you cut off…  Or how about this. We are all guilty of fucking up our lives, instead of wallowing in our guilt, how about we cut our guilty feelings right off and start over again fresh?

    Course, I am one who believes that while there is a hell of sorts, all that it takes to get out is to stop being ashamed of ourselves. We are. We mess up. Then God says, “No one condemns you now, so go and sin no more.” Repeat ad infinitum.

    Yes, I do believe in God, but I think I may have taken a turn into Unitarianism somewhere along the way. Also, probably, Universalism. But that was from a dream I had–which you can take for whatever value dreams may have.

  • Michael Albright

    Learn that the hard way, did ya? ;)

  • Magic_Cracker

    Gandhi famously said, “‘An eye for an eye’ only ends up making the whole world blind.”

    I say, “‘If your hand offend thee, cut it off,’ makes for a world of teen-aged amputees.”

  • Mark Z.

    This “electrified cupcake” metaphor is stupid. Our ability to do serious harm to ourselves and each other is an inherent feature of our existence, not some elaborate contrivance that’s been put in our cage to mess with us.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I have a much easier time believing that when talking about a universe with no deities or with multiple deities that have conflicting goals or with one deity that’s limited somehow. Usually when the deity under discussion is named ‘God’, we’re supposed to assume that the universe under discussion contains precisely one deity which is all-knowing and all-powerful and all-benevolent and interventionist. Which means knowing how to ensure that nobody suffers needlessly, capable of ensuring that nobody suffers needlessly, and wanting to ensure that nobody suffers needlessly–and yet people suffer needlessly.

  • SisterCoyote

    There was a video game, way back in the ur-days of the Playstation, called… Mosquito Run, I think? Vastly entertaining game in which you played a mosquito trapped in a house with a small family, and preyed on all of them by the end of the game. Interesting for perspective, at any rate.

  • Anton_Mates

    Our ability to do serious harm to ourselves and each other is an inherent feature of our existence, not some elaborate contrivance that’s been put in our cage to mess with us.

    It’s only an inherent feature of our existence because we can’t do anything about it–and we’re still very grateful to anyone who manages to reduce it slightly, whether by law, education or development of safer technologies.

    Assuming the existence of an omni-god who could have made us all invulnerable, depression-proof teleporters if they felt like it, it certainly is a contrivance that’s been put in our cage.  (Whether or not you feel that it’s a morally justified contrivance.)

  • MaryKaye

    Is there anything in the Bible that actually requires its God to be all-knowing or all-powerful?  More knowing and more powerful than us, yes.  But actually all-knowing?  It seems to me that he doesn’t behave that way in a lot of the stories.  He loses arguments with created things.  He changes his mind.  These aren’t in character for an omniscient, omnipotent God.  I’m inclined to think philosophers added that aspect later on–they wanted their God to be perfect.

    Pagans, generally speaking, don’t think their gods are perfect.  A lot of logical problems go away if you don’t.  Also there’s the excitement of thinking you possibly might win an argument with a god, as several Old Testament figures did–something modern Christianity doesn’t seem to leave any room for.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m pretty sure it’s a philosophers’ invention, yes. I could ask my brother, he’s getting his degree in this shit, but I think Church-is-always-right Catholics are morally obligated to say the philosophers got it all from the Bible regardless of whether that’s true.

  • Leum

    I’ve always disliked the idea that we can or should reject the parts of the Bible that are either interpolations or additions. From a scholarly perspective it makes sense to want to break the book down into its sources and theologies, but as a reader, I’m not sure it’s an appropriate hermeneutic.

    Sure, it can be interesting to speculate that Isaac was killed in the earliest versions of the Binding of Isaac, but it’s even more interesting to say, “Okay, but then why was that changed?” Likewise with Job, we can read the poetic narrative as separate from the prose narrative, but I also want to look at the prose portions and ask “Why were they added?”

    In the case of Job, I don’t think the epilogue is all that important, it’s a thematic break from the rest of the story, and its purpose is fairly obvious.

    But the prologue is different, the prologue does several important things. First, it establishes what Job is complaining of, second it establishes Job’s blamelessness (I hate hate hate people who try to escape that), and it establishes that God is not acting in accordance with justice. This last is important because it returns in God’s speech at the end of Job, where he essentially states “I do what I do because I can.” That is, I don’t think it’s different in substance from the poetic narrative.

    The God of Job is not a positive figure, not a good figure, not a just figure. He’s not supposed to be. Job is a challenge to the idea of a distant, removed, inscrutable, ineffable god. Which is why Job rejects him. This article by Curtis is behind a paywall, unfortunately, but Curtis says that Job’s final words should not be translated as “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes,” but as “Therefore I reject you, O God, and weep for frail man.” My OT professor preferred “Therefore I despise you because I am only human.”

  • Mark Z.

    Which means knowing how to ensure that nobody suffers needlessly, capable of ensuring that nobody suffers needlessly, and wanting to ensure that nobody suffers needlessly–and yet people suffer needlessly.

    And the most certain way to ensure that nobody suffers needlessly, for omni-everything strawman god, is to not create people in the first place. Yet here we are. So the god that knows everything and can do anything and whose highest priority is to prevent human suffering clearly doesn’t exist. Are we done with this?

    This post is about the incarnation of Christ, so I thought it would be clear that we’re not talking about Generic Philosophical God, but apparently not.

  • Ben English

    Have you ever listened to someone, a grandmother or preacher, talk of heaven and bsically make it sound like the dullest gathering of sticks-in-the-mud ever? I’m not going to pretend I know what God, if God exists, was thinking: The world you describe certainly sounds quantifiable  better than this one. At the same time, though, a world like that wouldn’t be populated by humans as we know them.  Physically, emotionally, psychologically: everything would be different. From here, that sounds like eternal childhood for the entire human race.

    I can’t answer whether or not it’s a morally justified ‘contrivance’, but it doesn’t hold much weight as an argument for or against the existence of God. Nor do I see it a mark for or against the idea of God being ‘good’, because the reasons that God may or may not have done things differently are above and beyond us by definition.

    The universe itself doesn’t discriminate in human affairs, anymore than it does in the affairs of animals and plants. Most suffering in the world today is caused by the actions of other humans, and to blame God for the actions of other people would to blame God for not taking away our moral agency.

  • EllieMurasaki

    This post is about the incarnation of Christ, so I thought it would be clear that we’re not talking about Generic Philosophical God, but apparently not.
    ‘Generic Philosophical God’, as you put it, is invariably Christian.

  • Wingedwyrm

    Can we honestly make a ratio of human-caused suffering to not-human-caused-suffering?  Because, disease, natural disasters (to the extent that they are not impacted by climate change), age, and sometimes just plain bad luck all play in.

    Every time we say that all human suffering, or even the majority thereof, is human caused, when in the context of discussing theology, we’re handwaving away people starving because of an actual famine, people being trapped under rocks or under rubble, real, actual suffering.  So, I’m going to call BS on that and say “No, if you’re going to assume that God exists for the sake of the discussion, and assume that it has anything near the power, knowledge, and scope that the deity described in the bible does, the excuses do not hold water.”

  • vsm

    I think you’re being inconsistent there. If you’ve decided to accept later interpolations, shouldn’t you also consider the epilogue, which makes no sense if you read Job’s last words as a rejection of God*?

    The reason I dislike the prologue and think it’s inconsistent with the poem is that it gives God a motive for allowing Job to suffer, and thus makes Him smaller. I much prefer the idea of an unknowable God beyond humanity, one who will not explain Himself to mere mortals. “Why do the righteous suffer?” the poem asks, and does not answer. The prologue suggests it might be because Satan is really good at goading God. What’s the fun in that?

    *As delightful as it would be to read the epilogue as God nodding happily when Job calls Him a rank bastard and then threatening to kick his friends’ asses for trying to argue for His righteousness, I don’t think the references to Job being His servant and obeying Him about the offering allow that.

  • vsm

    I think Church-is-always-right Catholics are morally obligated to say
    the philosophers got it all from the Bible regardless of whether that’s
    true.

    Nope, sola scriptura is strictly a Protestant thing. Here’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church on “The Relationship Between Tradition and Sacred Scripture”:

    [T]he Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of
    Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed
    truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be
    accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and
    reverence.”

    It continues:

    The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they
    received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy
    Spirit. the first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New
    Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living
    Tradition.

    Sorry for the double post, and here’s hoping I didn’t muck up the HTML.

  • Anton_Mates

     

    Is there anything in the Bible that actually requires its God to be all-knowing or all-powerful?

    There are various passages indicating this, yeah.  Re: Omnipotence, Jesus says that “with God all things are possible,” and Job tells God that “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”  Re: Omniscience, there are passages about how nothing is hidden from God, and for instance Psalm 139:

    O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
    2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
    3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
    4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
    5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
    6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it…..

    As you say, this is inconsistent with various Biblical stories wherein God displays weakness or ignorance.  Apparently the various contributors to the Bible did not sit down and hammer out a unified theological approach before they spent 2600-odd years writing and translating the thing, a fact which is obvious to everyone except literalists.

  • We Must Dissent

    Just like the first time Fred posted the article, the very first sentence seems to indicate that if you don’t celebrate Epiphany (which was never mentioned in the traditions I was raised in), you must not be a Christian. That’s odd, as I was raised in a northern Baptist denomination, which I believe is what Fred is.

    But then Fred has freaked out about what sort of furniture different churches have in them.

  • Ross Thompson

     

    This “electrified cupcake” metaphor is stupid. Our ability to do serious
    harm to ourselves and each other is an inherent feature of our
    existence, not some elaborate contrivance that’s been put in our cage to
    mess with us.

    Our existence that was created by God, in God’s image? And therefore God has no responsibility for our inherent features?

  • Amaryllis

    From the link:
    Of course poetry is an entirely appropriate way to express the theological truth of God’s incarnation in Christ.

    Well, with that encouragement:

    “The Coming”

    And God held in his hand
    A small globe.  Look, he said.
    The son looked.  Far off,
    As through water, he saw
    A scorched land of fierce
    Colour.  The light burned
    There; crusted buildings
    Cast their shadows: a bright
    Serpent, a river
    Uncoiled itself, radiant
    With slime.
                 
    On a bare
    Hill a bare tree saddened
    The sky.  Many people
    Held out their thin arms
    To it, as though waiting
    For a vanished April
    To return to its crossed
    Boughs.  The son watched
    Them.  Let me go there, he said.

    -R. S. Thomas (who turns out to be the Poet of the Month for November, I guess.)

    ETA: I truly hate Disqus sometimes.

  • Anton_Mates

    And the most certain way to ensure that nobody suffers needlessly, for omni-everything strawman god, is to not create people in the first place.

    Bzzzzt, no, if god is omnipotent, then they don’t have to care about “most certain” ways.  They can create people, protect them from needless suffering however they wish–tiny angels swooping in to capture AIDS viruses and relocate them to a giant blood reservoir in Dimension Z!–and their method will always be absolutely certain.

    Talk about strawmen.  The problem is not that the world is suboptimal under some atheist philosopher’s abstruse anti-human value system; the problem is that the world is suboptimal under pretty much every ethical system ever.

  • Leum

     I don’t consider the epilogue because I think it’s inconsistent with the rest of the narrative. I don’t find the prologue inconsistent as I think God does explain why he torments Job, and that his answer is “because I can.”

  • Anton_Mates

    Have you ever listened to someone, a grandmother or preacher, talk of heaven and bsically make it sound like the dullest gathering of sticks-in-the-mud ever?

    Yep.  (I’ve also listened to people like Grant Morrison and C.S. Lewis who make it sound pretty cool.)  But most Christians who believe in heaven don’t think it’s going to be incredibly dull, so if it sounds that way, the fault is with the storyteller or the listener, not the concept.  The problem remains: if there is no suffering in heaven, and heaven is a good thing, then why is it good for there to be suffering on earth?

    Physically, emotionally, psychologically: everything would be different. From here, that sounds like eternal childhood for the entire human race.

    Physically and emotionally, everything would be different if we had glorified bodies and minds less prone to suffering.  Psychologically?  That’s up to God.  There may be important aspects of our psyches which are shaped by our experience of severe suffering, but an omni-god could arrange for them to develop anyway if s/he felt like it.  (And no, free will isn’t a defense here. Hypothetical-god has already installed all sorts of limitations, drives, preferences and learning mechanisms in our heads without asking us for permission first.  We didn’t choose to love our mothers, to disapprove of cheaters, to enjoy the taste of sugar or to be baffled by category theory.)

    As for “eternal childhood…”  oh man, I wish.  Actual children are forced to suffer just as much as the rest of us.  And we generally consider it morally necessary to spare them as much suffering as possible.  When people develop bike helmets, vitamins and polio vaccines, we say “yay, thank you,” not “oh no, children will stay irresponsible infants forever in this new and Nerf-coated world!!”  It’s only when God‘s conduct is under scrutiny that people start to talk about how Suffering Makes Us Fully Human.

    To put it more simply, my life is pretty good.  I’ve never had cancer, never been raped, never starved, never seen my parents butchered in front of me, never been depressed to the point that I chose suicide.  And yet I’m pretty sure I’ve ended up fully adult and fully human, despite being deprived of these lovely experiences.   So it seems unlikely that Currently-Aflame Colombian Toddler #68,347 needed to experience all that horrible suffering so that they or humanity could achieve mental maturity.

    I can’t answer whether or not it’s a morally justified ‘contrivance’, but it doesn’t hold much weight as an argument for or against the existence of God.

    Sure, but moral justification was the question posed earlier in this thread.  Not “could there be a God who makes electrified cupcakes,” but “if there was, would they be a dick?”

    Nor do I see it a mark for or against the idea of God being ‘good’, because the reasons that God may or may not have done things differently are above and beyond us by definition.

    Which is to say, God might be “good,” for some value of “good” which is totally incomprehensible to mortal minds.  That’s the Cthulhu Defense.

    Most suffering in the world today is caused by the actions of other humans

    Oh, hardly.  Even when other humans are indirectly involved, there’s a whole chain of causal mechanisms en route to suffering that they neither control nor approve.  Humans usually hurt each other to get something that they want, but they’d be perfectly happy to get it without the hurt.  I might shoot someone in the face so I can steal his wallet and buy videogames, but if God sees fit to shield him from pain and resurrect him unhurt five minutes later, that’s fine with me.  I just want the videogames.

    If there is no god, then yeah, the buck stops at humans, because there’s nobody else who can improve the world through their actions.  But if there’s a god, they can change everything.

  • Tricksterson

    No but it’s his fault for setting up the cruel and pointless experiment in the first place.

  • Anton_Mates

    As delightful as it would be to read the epilogue as God nodding happily when Job calls Him a rank bastard and then threatening to kick his friends’ asses for trying to argue for His righteousness, I don’t think the references to Job being His servant and obeying Him about the offering allow that.

    I think they do.  Job remains God’s servant because, well, God is all-powerful and the creator of everything and the author of all blessings, when He feels like handing them out.  There’s nothing else to be but His servant; it’s the only game in town.  But Job is still free to judge that God was wrong to treat him as He did, and in the epilogue Job’s friends agree that God did bring evil upon him, and God makes restitution to Job as if He was in fact guilty of everything Job accused him of.

  • Tricksterson

    We’re not the ones who decided to use Job as an example.

  • Don Gisselbeck

    What if God is radically, incomprehensably (for humans) not a control freak? What if God’s reaction to suffering is not to fix it but share in it? For me, only then does the Incarnation make sense.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The problem with that is, my reaction to suffering is ‘that sucks, how can I help?’

    I am not omnibenevolent. I find it very difficult to believe that I am a better person than an omnibenevolent being is.

  • Wingedwyrm

    So, what you’re suggesting is that God doesn’t have a natural sense of empathy but, instead, a natural sense of massochism, so that he’d rather experience the suffering himself than help those already suffering?

  • Anton_Mates

     

    What if God is radically, incomprehensably (for humans) not a control freak?

    That’s certainly possible.  Of course, then we’re not talking about the sort of God who’s the creator and maintainer of all natural law, who shaped us all in the womb and signs off on the fall of every sparrow.  That job description implies a fair amount of controllingness.

    But there’s no rule saying Christians have to believe in that sort of God, and obviously a lot of them don’t.

    What if God’s reaction to suffering is not to fix it but share in it? For me, only then does the Incarnation make sense.

    Fair enough.  But as Seiber says upthread, if that’s still God’s reaction to suffering, then ze didn’t learn much from being incarnated.  Humans may be spiteful bastards a lot of the time, but if they have to choose between fixing suffering and sharing in it, they usually do pick the first option.

    (I’m not arguing against there existing a God who feels that way and did such a thing, mind.  I don’t believe in gods, but they’re not any less likely to exist if they have weird personalities.)

  • ohiolibrarian

    Jesus didn’t go for the full human experience though, did he? No sex (at least many people get upset at the thought), no marriage/romance, no children, (unless you believe Dan Brown), no aging. Kind of like leaving the movie half way through.

  • Mark Z.

    Of course, then we’re not talking about the sort of God who’s the creator and maintainer of all natural law, who shaped us all in the womb and signs off on the fall of every sparrow. That job description implies a fair amount of controllingness.
    What it doesn’t imply is taking sides. God signs off on the fall of every sparrow, but it’s not like the sparrows did anything to incur his wrath. He’s just not particularly on their side.

    This is a major theme in God’s speech in Job: the stuff in the world that threatens our survival, or that we just find ugly and savage, is, to God, kind of awesome. Leviathan is fucking metal. And God is free to think that because Leviathan’s not going to eat him. Hell, he probably appreciates the elegance of the AIDS virus.

    Now this could reasonably be called an “anti-human” value system, and the rest of Job is largely about how it can really suck to be a human in that world. But taking that section on its own, I find God’s perspective very understandable. This is what it’s like to be perfectly safe.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    This is what it’s like to be perfectly safe.

    Yes.
    More broadly, this is what it’s like to consider an issue without concern for my own survival/benefit.
    One way to achieve this is perfect safety, such that my survival is not at risk.
    It’s not the only way.

  • Mira

    Wow, I’m a little nervous to enter the comments section without a full fledged answer to theodicy. I don’t have one, so I’m not going to be able to answer “why does God allow suffering?”

    That said, in response to the original post, I don’t think “God learning” is a very helpful or compelling interpretation of the incarnation. Our physical existence limits our empathy – we can only ever truly think or feel from within our own bodies. We don’t know what not having a body is like, or what “knowing” or “feeling” could possibly mean – should we even think of God in terms of being a mind without a brain, or is that really inappropriately anthropomorphic? “God learning” is so ill-defined as to be meaningless to me.

    I agree with Don that “God participating” is a better way of thinking about it. What that means to me is that we still don’t understand why the world is the way it is, with its needless suffering, but we do understand that God chose to join us and that, through the works of Jesus, he is with us, on our side, at our level, and has shared in that suffering.

    It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t solve the problem of pain, but the important thing is that Jesus is a tangible, imaginable mystery in a way that God the Almighty is not. I couldn’t believe in that abstract God – in some ways I still don’t because I can’t imagine – but I can put my faith in the mystery of incarnation.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    So, what you’re suggesting is that God doesn’t have a natural sense of
    empathy but, instead, a natural sense of massochism, so that he’d rather
    experience the suffering himself than help those already suffering?

    Then God is pretty fucking useless.

    Seriously.

    Who wouldn’t help someone in suffering if it were within their power to share it or even better, alleviate it in a material sense rather than only being able to acknowledge the suffering?

  • Mark Z.

    Also, at times like this I miss hapax.

  • phranckeaufile

    Fred had a post not long ago about the point of suffering being to alleviate it. If that’s so, it would seem God is missing the point.


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