Yesterday we evaluated the incarnation through the lens of Anselem and his “satisfaction” view of the atonement: that Christ came to earth because only in this manner could a man offer an infinite sacrifice to assuage God’s wrath.
But today it is worth discussing the incarnation as an act of God’s love.
FORTUITOUS OR NECESSARY?
Yesterday we argued that the incarnation was a necessary act of God – His anger could not be dealt with apart from the act of sending the Son into the world.
But a German theologian by the name of Jurgen Moltmann argues instead for what he refers to as the fortuitous incarnation. This view says that the incarnation was not a necessary act of God, but was motivated by love. For Moltmann, the incarnation is the “foundation of the new creation” (Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, p. 114-15). Moltmann critiques the necessary view by saying that once the wrath of God is eliminated and humanity and God are reconciled, there is little place left for the Savior.
DICHOTOMY…TRUE OR FALSE?
I’ll argue here that Moltmann is correct. The incarnation is an act of love on the part of God. The best known verse in the Bible is – all together now – John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he sent his unique Son so that anyone who believes in Him will not die but have eternal life.” Here the word so is properly understood as showing the means by which God shows His love – through the act of sending the Son.
But Moltmann’s argument should not eliminate the necessary component of the incarnation. Moltmann himself suggests that “…the fact that…the incarnate Son has to take upon Him the form of a servant…is determined by sin and death, which pervert God’s world and enslave men and women” (The Trinity…, 116).
God’s love deals realistically with sin. Theologian Miroslav Volf puts it well: “God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.” (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, p. 139) God’s love demands Holiness and perfection, if for no other reason than the fact that these are elements of His character and to ignore them would be duplicitous.
But because of this love, God – though the offended party – moves into creation to satisfy this wrath. This is why John would write we know that “God is love…not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:8, 10). “Propitiation” is a word that refers to the satisfaction of God’s wrath. Thus, we see that yesterday’s discussion is of great importance in understanding the self-giving nature of God.
The atonement was necessary in the sense that without it sin could not have been dealt with. But it is also fortuitous in the sense that God chose to take on human form as an act of self-giving love.
A MATTER OF LOVE AND DEATH
C. S. Lewis writes so poignantly in his work, The Four Loves:
“The doctrine that God was under no necessity to create is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation. It is essential. Without it we can hardly avoid the conception of what I can only call a “managerial” God; a Being whose function or nature is to “run” the universe, who stands to it as a head-master to a school…But to be soverign of the universe is no great matter to God. In Himself, at home in “the land of the Trinity,” He is sovereign of a far greater realm….God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing or should we say “seeing”? There are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 126-7)
God’s self-giving love began with creation, and at man’s fall this same love took shape into a plan for redeeming all humanity, a plan articulated through the law and prophets, and a plan incarnated in the manger of Bethlehem, and a plan that will ultimately be consummated in the coming eschatological age.
Tomorrow we shall look at this self-giving nature in an examination of divine kenosis from Philippians 2.