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Monday, August 11, 2008

Questions for Christians: The Incarnation

First, the usual disclaimer: the purpose of these posts is to pose questions to Christians who come here (or go anywhere, for that matter) with the intent of converting us to Christianity, but also with an open mind about their own faith. You may post your answers here, or answer them privately, at your discretion. My ultimate goal in asking these questions is to have you deconvert from Christianity. If you are not open to at least the possibility of that happening, then I suggest you not respond to these questions, as that will be a waste of your time (and possibly our bandwidth). At the same time, I am open to the possibility of learning a thing or two about Christianity along the way -- but if you answer these questions publicly, with the intention of being a teacher instead of a learner, then please don't bother doing so here. These questions are for your educational benefit.

This is one in a series of "Questions..." posts that deal with the Bible, the scriptural compilation that constitutes the conceptual framework of the Christian faith. If you were ever a Christian, chances are you've read some of the Bible. If you are still a Christian today, chances are you haven't read all of it.

These questions deal with the Incarnation, God's assumption of human form in the person of Jesus. Various Christian creeds affirm that Jesus is both the Son of God and God himself -- the Athanasian Creed, for instance, states that Jesus is God (and so is God himself, and so is the Holy Spirit, and by there way, there's only one God, not three).

1. If Jesus was God, why didn't he act as an omnipotent and omniscient being in the gospels?

In fact, he didn't even seem to be aware of the fact that he, himself, was God. How can God be God and not know it?

2. If it was impossible for Jesus to sin, then how could he be tempted, as the gospels say he was?

Some apologists have responded to the above two points by saying that God had two separate minds during the Incarnation -- God in heaven, and Jesus on Earth -- and that the Jesus mind wasn't omnipotent or omniscient, and although it was impossible for him to sin, Jesus didn't know it at the time. In the first place, however, one person cannot have two minds -- he would then be two persons. Second, if you don't have the attributes that God has, then you're not God, even if that condition is temporary. Thus, even if Jesus was only temporarily not God, he was not God. This is incompatible with Christian doctrine. So how could Jesus be God and be subject to limitations that would make him, by definition, not God?

3. If Jesus was God, how could he be a created being?

All humans are, by definition, fully created. God is, by definition, fully uncreated. Jesus could not, therefore, have been both human and God.

The common response here is that it was only the flesh that was created; the spirit was and is eternal. But which was the "essential" part of Jesus, the part without which Jesus would be neither Jesus nor God? If only the spirit was essential, then the essential Jesus was uncreated, and therefore not created, and therefore, by definition, not human. If only the flesh was essential, then the essential Jesus was created, and therefore not uncreated, and therefore, by definition, not God. If both spirit and flesh were essential, then part of the essence of Jesus was uncreated and part was created -- Jesus would then be neither fully created nor fully uncreated, and therefore neither human nor God! So how could Jesus be both God and a created being?

4. Why was the Incarnation even necessary?

There is nothing which the purported Incarnation achieved which an omnipotent God could not have achieved through more direct and efficient means. For example, some Christians state that the Incarnation made it possible for God and humans could relate better to one another. However, it is impossible for an omnipotent God to have difficulties in that regard, or for him to allow humans to have difficulties in that regard, provided he was sufficiently determined to facilitate such relations -- which one supposes God is. The New Testament, not to mention contemporary life, makes it clear that widespread difficulty in that area still exists in human life. (This cannot be explained by appealing to free will, for it is not a loss of freedom to gain information -- if anything, more information means more options, and thus more free will!) So what advantages did the Incarnation have that were unobtainable by other means?

5. Why did the Incarnation only happen once?

A question often asked of Christians is why Jesus chose the particular place and time he did to appear in human form. The common answer is that it was the ideal place and time to enable Jesus' message to reach the maximum number of people. One of several assumptions made by this answer, however, is that the Incarnation was a one-shot deal. After all, a God who has the power to appear once presumably has the power to appear again (and indeed, according to Christian doctrine, will appear again in the Second Coming, a topic I'll address in a future post). Why not multiple times?

When Constantine spread Christianity all throughout the Roman Empire, why didn't Jesus himself lead the horde of evangelists? When the Spanish came to the New World, why wasn't Jesus waiting for them on the shore? Today, in the Information Age, the news of an important happening -- say, Jesus appearing on the Capitol steps to give a sermon -- can reach hundreds of millions of televisions and computers within a matter of minutes. I haven’t seen live footage of Jesus on CNN, have you?

Can you honestly say that this makes sense?

6. How do we know that there was anything at all Godlike about Jesus?

In other words, how do we know the (first) Incarnation even happened? Christians will usually cite four lines of evidence to support that Jesus was God. First is the Nativity, the miraculous circumstances surrounding his birth; second is the ethics that Jesus taught during his ministry -- the difficulties with these, however, were explained in previous posts in this series. Third is the Resurrection and subsequent events; this will be dealt with in the very near future. Fourth and finally is the miracles which Jesus purportedly performed during his life.

We see no miracles taking place today, nor at any point in recorded history subsequent to the development of the scientific method. Did the Age of Miracles just happen to end at the same time humans developed the capacity to verify or falsify the existence of miracles? It is more likely that miracles simply did not happen. Moreover, the only historical evidence that Jesus performed any miracles is the gospels themselves, and these, as I stated earlier, were written by people we know for a fact were evangelicals, trying to convince people of the truth of their religion. One need only look at someone like Ray Comfort to know that evangelicals have few qualms about being flexible with the truth when it serves their purpose.

When it comes to the miracle accounts, there are at least four possibilities: (1) Jesus did perform those miracles, and was able to because of his divine powers, (2) Jesus did perform these miracles, but he did so by entirely natural means which science cannot explain at present but will be able to in the future, (3) Jesus did not perform these miracles, but the gospel writers honestly believed that he did, and (4) Jesus did not perform these miracles, the gospel writers knew this (or suspected it), and simply lied about it. Can you give any reason for us to believe that 1 is more likely than 2, 3 and 4? Can you even convince yourself of that?

1 comment:

  1. Here's another question. Is Jesus trapped in his resurrected body? Did he return to his original spirit condition to be with God and if so what happened to the post Easter body? And what would God do with a body?!!! I don't get it.


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