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A View from the Altar / A childhood Christmas story that was all wrong
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A childhood Christmas story that was all wrong

A version of the incarnation story goes something like this: A kid got interested in ants and bought one of those glass ant farms where he could see them burrowing.  He studied the ants and learned what he could by observing them.  Eventually he exclaimed, “I could never know all about ants unless I became one and lived among them.”  And this was presented as an insight into the advent when God became flesh and dwelled among men.

The story is wrong and three levels, each of which tells us something critical about God.  First, God is omniscient and therefore cannot learn.  It sounds odd to us as humans to think of God being unable to learn something, but “learning” is a creature thing.  The Creator’s inability to learn derives from an entirely different circumstance, namely, that he already knows it all.  He know every detail of his creation right down to the coordinates of every last quark and gluon.   He possesses all knowledge of all things, all deeds whether humanly considered actual or potential, and the Bible describes his understanding as “infinite.”  (Psa 147:5)  So God didn’t need to become a man in order to know everything about men.

Second, the ant story is wrong because it misdirects who’s supposed to be doing the learning.  John says Christ came into the world, in part, as God’s declaring of himself.  (Jn 1:18)  Christ was, and is, the divine Logos, the fullest expression of the Father revealed to men.  God gave us not merely a Book but a living Word in whom he exhaustively presents himself and reveals what he is like.  Christ came into the world, he says, so that men might know him (Jn 17:3), and knowing him is one of the high goals of the New Testament (Heb 8:11) and the ultimate end of true religion.  (Phil 3:10, Jer 9:24)  If you want to know God, get to know Jesus, because the one who has seen Christ has seen the Father.  (Jn 14:8)

Third, the ant story misunderstands the one great necessity in our Savior’s having to take on flesh.  Hebrews 2:9 says he was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death.  God might have, had he chosen, revealed himself by writing a longer book or presenting an annual miracle accompanied by a big voice from the sky.  It wouldn’t be the first time he’s done something like that.  But the salvation of man required the shedding of blood because “without the shedding of blood there is no remission” of sins.  (Heb 9:22)  What made it necessary for the Lord Jesus to enter the world was certainly not a lack of knowledge on his part or an incapacity to explain himself better to men.  It was rather that our salvation required him to give his life, the just for the unjust (1 Pe 3:18), reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:18) through the offering of his own physical life.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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