Whenever we engage ‘the other’ we have to overcome our fear of doing so. Engagement that holds no such fear is not engagement with an ‘other’; it is easy to love what is lovely – we are called to overcome our fear and love that which is not.
As we consider the grounds of the divine empathy that gave rise to the Incarnation, I’ve suggested that we need to consider what God’s fears about engaging ‘the other’ of humanity might have been. In an earlier Advent[ure] I put the case that it was the fact that the ‘mystery of humanity is a mystery to humanity itself‘ that would have been God’s concern. Would we even understand what God was doing?
If this is right, then God needed to reflect on what God might look like from our perspective. This is the root of all proper empathy. Not that we see the other clearly, but that we get close enough to the other to see what they see of us.
As Zizek notes in The Monstrosity of Christ:
For Hegel the Incarnation is not a move by means of which God makes himself accessible/visible to humans, but a move by means of which God looks at himself from the (distorting) human perspective.
This is a truly stunning insight into the why the incarnation is so vital to our faith. It is only through becoming human that God could actually reflect on what God looked like from this distorting human perspective. It is not that God became man simply in order to know what it was to be human, to know our human failings. God became man in order that God would be able to look back on Godself and see just why humanity had rejected and distorted the nature of God. As Zizek continues:
Christ had to emerge to reveal God not only to humanity, but to God himself.
This is the epicentre of the earthquake that is the incarnation event. And this then should be our central concern of any incarnational practice: we engage the other not because we believe that we need to help them become whole, but because we believe that we need them to help us become whole too.