Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The mystery of the incarnation

Ronald Nash writes in his book, Worldviews in Conflict that if ever there were a contradiction in the Christian worldview, the incarnation would be it. According to the doctrine of the incarnation, Jesus is fully God and fully man. That means he is both infinite and finite. That seems like a blaring contradiction, doesn't it?

There are four ways to handle this problem. One way is to admit it's a contradiction and reject the doctrine of the incarnation. If you take this approach, then it brings up other issues. If the incarnation is false, and if the Bible teaches the incarnation, then the Bible has errors. So now you've got to reread the Bible and see if it really does teach the doctrine of the incarnation.

A second way is to admit it's a contradiction and claim that logic doesn't apply to God, or that God is beyond logic, or something like that. The problem with this approach is that it basically makes logic null and void throughout creation. If logic doesn't apply to God, then God can do the logically impossible. If God can do the logically impossible, then we can never really be sure that any contradiction indicates error. If God created it all, then he could've created it with contradictions built in. Consequently, we can't even say that other worldviews are false. God could've made it to where they're all true, even if they contradict each other. "But the Bible says that Jesus is the only way and the only truth!" Sure, but if God can do the logically impossible then it may be the case that Jesus is the only way, and Jesus is also not the only way. "But the Bible says that other religions are false." Sure, but if God can do the logically impossible, then other religions can be true even if they are false.

A third way is to show that the incarnation is not really a contradiction. I think this is fairly easy to do, and doing it doesn't require that we are able to really understand how it all works out. The law of non-contradiction states that two propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. If Jesus was infinite in the same sense that he was finite, then that would be a contradiction. But in the incarnation, Jesus is infinite with respect to his divinity and finite with respect to his humanity. He has two natures. So he is not both infinite and finite in the same sense. Now how the two natures fit together is a mystery, not in the sense that it's a contradiction, but merely in the sense that we simply don't know how it fits together. This is a legitimate use of "mystery." We've shown there is no contradiction; we just happen to lack some information about the details.

A fourth way is to punt to "mystery," in the sense of "That's a contradiction I just can't resolve." I already said what I thought of this approach in an earlier blog.


At 5/03/2005 3:36 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

So when Jesus died, did he only die in respect to his finite sense, that is, his human sense?

At 5/03/2005 3:40 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

Did you ever solve that 'Ottis' problem (from your Riddle Me This post)? I posted this there yesterday,

Perhaps one of these ideas will help:

a) God tells Ottis what he will do, but Ottis misunderstands God and actually does exactly what God told Ottis to do, although in Ottis's mind he thinks he did the opposite thing.

b) God tells Ottis what he will do. Then, God 'gets' another two people to tell Ottis the opposite of what he will do. So this puts Ottis in a dilemma. Who should he prove wrong? (Not really a solution, but something to trip Ottis up)

At 5/03/2005 5:28 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

It's kind of hard to answer this question. Jesus is only one person, and that one person is both God and man. Nobody ceases to exist when they die; only their body dies. But it's still appropriate to say the person died, since that person underwent a bodily death. The same is true with Jesus. Jesus himself, who was both God and man, died a bodily death. This is something I'm not really well-read on, so I'm just winging it here.

No, I never solved the Ottis problem. I don't think (a) solves the problem, because that would entail that God is not able to make Ottis understand him. (b) is a possibility, because it shows that it's impossible for Ottis to be the kind of person who ALWAYS does the opposite of what he's told.

At 5/04/2005 1:30 AM , Blogger Mike - HotFudgeSunday.com said...

I read a good book by R.C. Sproul a while back that dealt with "The law of non-contradiction states that two propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense." It was called Not a Chance. He argued against Quantum Physics in it. Basically, said, if Quantum Theory is true, Christianity can't be true, or something like that. Very interesting to see a guy I think of mostly as a theologian get so deep into philosophy and science.

But he had a good section on the difference between mysteries and contraditions. His take was the same as yours. As I recall, that section alone made the book worth having in the library.

The fill-in pastor at the church I attend is a retired pastor, and he's great. But he does make this error of telling people that things are "a mystery" and "a contradiction," and it "isn't logical," but we still know it's true "by faith." It's just terrible, because someone listening who is on the upper side of the bell curve is going to recognize the fallacy of that, but possibly not know that that is not really a necessary way for Christains to evaluate such matters. You can love God with your mind. You don't have to take a stupid pill.

At 5/04/2005 1:50 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Mike, you have piqued my interest in that book. I think I'll add it to my Amazon wish list. I'm not sure I'll agree with it though. I have heard arguments against Christianity (or logic) based on quantum physics, but there are various interpretations of quantum physics, and not all of them are inconsistent with Christianity or logic.

At 9/27/2005 2:10 AM , Blogger Tony Myles said...

Trying to fully understand the incarnation is like trying to play baseball on a football field. Some of it makes sense... but it's a whole different ball game when it comes to God.

The question is whether or not you even bother to try playing.

At 1/05/2010 8:03 PM , Blogger adam said...

i like your point of not submitting the "mystery of incarnation" into a logical proposition, do you mean that it is beyond confirmability, reductionism, falsifiability and verification... if it is beyond the language of the vienna circle, do also agree that it is beyond existentialism and phenomenological approach? of postmodern thought?

At 1/06/2010 9:30 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Adam, I think that if the incarnation is logically incoherent, then it's false, and nobody should believe it. But when I say it's a mystery, all I mean is that there are some things about it we don't happen to know or understand. It has nothing to do with whether we could know it, verify it, confirm it, etc. Maybe God could explain it to us more fully if he chose to, and we'd be able to understand it more fully.


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