Deep Incarnation, Deep Resurrection  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Many Christians seem to think that the physical world we inhabit, indeed, our very bodies, are props that will be discarded when we die and "go to heaven".  The physicality of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, the cornerstone of traditional Christian belief, all too easily falls off the radar of even doctrinally orthodox believers.  The inability of many to connect emotionally with the earth and the physical cosmos is a contributing factor to the present crisis of environmental degradation.

A corrective to this viewpoint is found in the work of Danish Lutheran theologian Niels Henrik Gregersen.  In Incarnation: on the scope and depth of Christology (Fortress 2015), a collection of symposium papers which he edited, he presents the concept of  "deep Incarnation".  Taking into account the fact that the human body contains about 25 of the 118 elements in the periodic table; that these elements were created by billions of years of cosmological evolution; that all lifeforms today are descended from one unicellular organism that existed over 2 billion years ago; Gregersen asserts that when the Divine Logos became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, what was assumed was not merely the flesh of a first-century Galilean Jew, but the 13.7 billion years of cosmological and biological evolution encapsulated in that Jew.  The Incarnation is God uniting in love with the whole of God's creation.  Likewise, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus is a foreshadowing not only of the resurrection of all human beings, but of the restoration of the cosmos itself, so eloquently proclaimed by Paul in Romans 8: 19-22.

Some of the implications of deep incarnation and deep resurrection are discussed by theologian Elizabeth A Johnson in "Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology", found on pp 133-156 of the Gregersen book.

For theology, the incarnation entails something that is not at all self-evident for monotheistic belief.  Here the transcendent Creator God who brings the world into being and sustains it at every moment chooses to join that world in the flesh so that it becomes a part of God's own divine history.  "The statement of God's Incarnation--of his becoming material--is the most basic statement of Christology", observes Karl Rahner...By becoming incarnate Holy Mystery acquires a genuine time, a life story, a death, and does so as a participant in the history of the cosmos...Becoming part of the material world allows the living God to be graciously present in a profound way that is not otherwise possible.

"Deep resurrection" pushes interpretation beyond its human scope to include a blessed future for the whole natural world...If this person Jesus of Nazareth--composed of star stuff and earth stuff, whose life was a genuine part of the historical and biological community of Earth, whose body existed in a network of relationships extending to the whole physical universe--if such "a piece of this world, real to the core" [Karl Rahner] at death surrendered his life in love to the living God and is now forever with God in glory, then this signals the coming redemption not just of other human beings, but of all flesh, the whole creation. The whole natural world, all of  matter in its endless permutations, will not be left behind or rejected but will likewise be transfigured by the resurrecting action of the Creator Spirit.

This entry was posted on Friday, September 30, 2016 at Friday, September 30, 2016 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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