Advent[ures] in #Incarnation [2] | ‘The Mysteries of the Humans are Mysteries to the Humans Themselves’

The first window on the calendar opens. The scene begins…

Nativity - Albrecht Altdorfer

As I wrote in the previous post, one of the fascinating things about the Incarnation is that it stands as an actual interruption, a marked moment of time with a before and after. Nothing was the same before, and nothing will be the same again.

It’s been out of thinking on this rupturing of our timeline that I have been pondering a sort of theological thought experiment. I’ve blogged about it before, but it seems timely to mention again.

We imagine God, in the moments before the Incarnation. The hours, becoming minutes… leading to those last few seconds before, in the traditional sense, Mary is ruptured. What is God thinking? As God prepared this great empathetic act with ‘the others’ that he had created, what were the hopes and fears that played on his mind?

In my series on empathy I outlined two positions – represented by Levinas and Zizek – of where the fear of engaging the other lies. For Levinas, the fear is located in the enigma of the other: we are not sure if we understand the other, they are an enigma to us.

For Zizek, the fear is located in the enigma in the other: we are not sure if the other even understands themselves, and this is frightening. This is connected to Hegel’s maxim that ‘the enigma’s of the Ancient Egyptians were enigmas to the Ancient Egyptians themselves.’

In our theological thought experiment, I wonder if God meditated similarly on these profoundly free beings he had released:

were the mysteries of the humans mysteries to the humans themselves?

This is the real and genuine risk attached to the Incarnation event if we are to hold true to our own freedom: God did not know in advance if it would work. From Levinas’ perspective this is because God is not sure if God has understood the human condition adequately. From Zizek’s perspective this is because God is not sure if humanity has understood it’s own condition adequately, and thus will not understand what he is about to do.

Either way, our second Advent[ure] in Incarnation brings us to understand that all incarnational work has to be based on genuine risk. If we claim to know in advance, then we have collapsed the mystery of ‘the other’ we are going to serve.


4 responses to “Advent[ures] in #Incarnation [2] | ‘The Mysteries of the Humans are Mysteries to the Humans Themselves’”

  1. I love this idea that we don’t fully understand our own condition. I feel more and more, we haven’t quite “gotten” the whole incarnation of Christ. I’ve never thought about God taking a risk in the incarnation, but it would have to be a risk… wouldn’t it? Do you think we have failed at understanding it altogether? If so, what does that mean for our relationship with God or our understanding of God, if for two thousand years, we’ve misunderstood the incarnation? How do we unpack all of that if we could not be there to witness the incarnation for ourselves and are utterly dependent on the (possibly misunderstood) testimony of our forefathers?

  2. of course, there’s every chance God tried before and it didn’t work…

  3. That is a very interesting thought Cheryl. One might choose to interpret Jesus’ parable of the tenants as a suggestion that there was only one ‘son’ to send, but I’m not sure that it excludes the possibility that another attempt had been made. Fascinating.

    Corinne – one of the next few posts will actually be dealing with some of what you’re thinking on here, so check back in in the next day or so.

  4. i wrote about God trying before once, in a poem called ‘still born’. the title and idea were great, the execution of the poem pretty ordinary. it’s here