Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Couple of Analogies for the Trinity and the Incarnation, Part II

Continued from Part I.


Here is the Westminster Confession on the Incarnation of Christ (Chapter VIII, Section II):

The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

Our analogy here will be a little more straightforward, because here we are discussing the relationship between "Godhood" and "creatureliness," and we happen to have a very useful analogy for this in general on hand.  That analogy is the author-novel analogy.

When an author writes a novel, he creates a world, complete with a distinct time and space, characters, and a whole history of events.  He functions in many ways analogously to God in his relationship to the world of his novel.  He brings it into being; he ordains all that comes to pass in it; he is imminent with it, present in every part, and yet exists outside of its time and space; etc.  Of course, like any analogy, this one breaks down at some point, such as in the fact that a human author is not a Supreme Being and does not exist absolutely outside of time and space, or in the fact that a human author can forget what he has written in the past, or in the fact that the world of a novel does not have a solid reality, etc., but it does go a long way and is thus very useful at elucidating a number of truths about the nature of God's relationship with the world.  One area where it is useful is in illuminating the doctrine of the Incarnation.

When Christ became man, he took upon himself a human nature while retaining his divine nature, so that from that point on he has been and always will be one person in two distinct but inseparable natures.  But how can one person have two distinct natures, particularly when the natures possess contradictory characteristics?  The divine nature has the property of being infinite; human nature is finite.  The divine nature possesses omniscience and omnipotence; the human nature is limited in knowledge and power.  The divine nature cannot suffer (because blessedness is one of its essential characteristics); the human nature can certainly suffer.  And many other contrasts could be made as well.  How can one person have contradictory characteristics?  A kangaroo and a snake have contradictory characteristics:  A kangaroo is a warm-blooded mammal with a pouch which gives birth to its young.  A snake is a cold-blooded reptile with no pouch and which lays eggs.  This means that there can never be a single entity that is both completely a kangaroo and a snake.  It might be some strange chimeric mix, but it can never possess both a kangaroo nature and a snake nature at the same time "without conversion, composition, or confusion."  So how can we resolve this apparent contradiction at the heart of this central Christian doctrine?

Here is where our author-novel analogy can provide some illumination.  Imagine that you are an author, and you are writing a novel.  You decide to write yourself into your novel.  So you create a character in your novel, narrated just like all the other characters, but which you identify with yourself.  You decide to have your character who is you have a conversation with another of your characters, Bob.  Perhaps the narration might go something like this:

I walked into the coffee shop where Bob was sitting and said hello to him.  Bob gave me a vague greeting, then continued to sip his coffee. 
"Do you know who I am?" I asked casually. 
"No, I don't think so," replied Bob.  "Should I?" 
"No, you've never met me before.  But I know you very well.  I'm the author." 
"You're who?" 
"The author." 
"The author of what?" 
"The author of the universe.  Yours, at least." 
At this point, Bob began to look a little concerned and confused, so I said, "I can prove it.  Watch this."  I made Bob's cup of coffee disappear.  Bob looked shocked.  I made his coffee reappear.  Bob looked a bit relieved but still shocked.  I disappeared myself.  At that Bob looked quite alarmed. 
"Where are you?" he asked. 
"I'm still here, but I've made my form disappear."  I reappeared.  Bob started at my sudden reappearance. 
"You are the author!" 
"I know." 
"But how can you be the author?  I mean, the author is outside of our space and time.  But you are here within space and time.  The author has no physical body within this universe.  But you clearly do." 
"I've assumed a character-nature, Bob." 
"So you're not the author anymore?" 
"No, I'm still the author, but now I'm also a character as well." 
"But isn't that a contradiction?  Don't author-nature and character-nature have contradictory characteristics, such as the ones I've just mentioned?" 
"It works like this, Bob.  My original nature is, of course, an author-nature.  But I created a new character, and I associated my personal identity with that new character.  I didn't morph my author-nature into a character-nature, or create some impossible hybrid by fusing the two.  I simply chose to unite my personal identity with a character-nature, and now my one person expresses itself through an intrinsic, original author-nature as well as through this character-nature that you see in front of you.  So there's no contradiction.  For example:  In my author-nature, I am all-powerful.  But in my character-nature, I'm not.  Try pushing me down." 
"Try pushing me down."  Bob pushed me down, and I promptly fell on the floor.  Bob looked startled. 
"How did I do that?" he asked. 
"Well, of course, as the author, I could have infused my character-nature with extra-ordinary strength, but I chose not to at this time.  I gave it only the strength it naturally possesses.  Your push therefore knocked me down.  You can push pretty hard, Bob." 
"So in your author-nature, you are outside our space and time and continue to exist in that way, but in your character-nature, you are in space and time with me?" 
"Precisely. And that goes for all the other differences between the author-nature and the character-nature as well." 
"I'm still not sure I fully get it." 
"Perhaps an analogy will help, Bob.  Imagine that you are an author, and that you are writing a novel . . ."

Analogous in many ways to this scenario, Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, became man by taking to himself a human nature.  He did not relinquish his divine nature, nor did he merge his divine nature with a human nature to make some kind of hybrid.  Rather, he created a human body and a reasonable soul--a human nature, with all that that involves--and associated this new nature with his divine person, so that his personal identity would be expressed through it.  Thus Jesus was and is fully and completely human, not just in appearance but in true reality, and yet in his personal identity he was and is the divine Second Person of the Trinity.  His person is capable of different things and is expressed by means of different characteristics in each nature.  In his divine nature, he is intrinsically omniscient and omnipotent, but not in his human nature.  In his divine nature, he is intrinsically and necessarily outside of space and time, but not in his human nature.  In his divine nature, he is absolutely blessed and incapable of suffering, but his human nature is fully capable of suffering.  The union of the divine and human natures in one person is what made salvation possible.  For example, the atonement could only happen because Christ's sacrifice for our sins was infinite in value and efficacy due to its being the sacrifice of a divine person, and yet the sacrifice (which included Christ's suffering and death) could only occur because that divine person was able to suffer and die in his human nature.

Our analogy, hopefully, sheds some light on what it means for a single divine person to keep his divine nature while taking on a human nature "without conversion, composition, or confusion" between the natures.  Of course, the analogy cannot fully exhibit this reality which, in its fullness, is beyond our comprehension; but perhaps it can help us to grasp the meaning of it a little more clearly and to be able to defend it against certain objections.

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