“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh.“
1 Timothy 3:16
Probably no other doctrine in the entire Word of God carries in it greater difficulties than the doctrine of the incarnation. Paul called it the “mystery of godliness,” and later writers either passed over its difficulties without trying to explain them or else involved the whole thing in a maze of explanations that offered little real help to an understanding of it. And we can easily see why this is so.
The incarnation brings to us the essential mystery of being. It touches almost every phase of human thought and makes demands upon philosophy and metaphysics, as well as upon theology. The great doctors have felt this deep mystery whenever they have come to the consideration of the subject and have tiptoed along the borders of it with deepest reverence. That is proper and right; such an attitude well becomes us who are but dust and ashes.
“Somewhere within man’s nature, twisted and deformed as it may be, there is godlikeness.”
At the risk of being charged with inexcusable boldness, we venture the assertion that while the incarnation is mysterious, it is not illogical or contrary to reason. We would not presume to settle with a pen stroke those profound and awful mysteries that have stilled the voices of the ages and brought men and angels to their knees in worship; but we would dare to say that in our opinion the act of becoming man was altogether reasonable from God’s standpoint. It placed no strain upon the divine nature and admitted into the scheme of God nothing unnatural or inconsistent. The reasons for so believing are these:
Man was originally made in the image of God. “God created man; in the likeness of God made he him.” This is a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. It is not necessary to understand all that is included in this doctrine, for even here we run into some real theological problems. But faith can soar where reason can never climb, and it is only necessary that we believe the truth. Its power over us depends upon our believing it, not upon our understanding it. The fact is all that matters: man was made in the image of God.
Now, if man was made in the image of God, then God must certainly carry something of the image of man. (That sin has marred the image and introduced a foreign and destructive element into human nature does not detract from the force of the argument.) If a boy looks like his father, it must surely follow that the father must look like the boy. Somewhere within man’s nature, twisted and deformed as it may be, there is godlikeness. This will not be seriously questioned by anyone who knows his Bible. No student of Christian theology would deny this as a fact, though he might reject the conclusions we draw from the fact.
If in the infinite condescension of God, mankind was made with a nature somewhat like its Creator, then is it not reasonable that God could clothe Himself with human nature in the mystery of incarnation, and all within the framework of easy possibility without the embarrassment of uniting things unlike each other?
When the ancient Word stood up in human flesh, He felt at home. He was not out of His element, for had He not heard the Father say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”? There was no jar, no wrench caused by the forced union of dissimilar natures.
It is our humble opinion that the “exile” element in the earthly experience of our Lord has been greatly overplayed. That He was sad and lonely and far from home, a stranger in a strange land, is an idea that has grown up around the beautiful and simple fact, but it is not necessarily a part of the fact. So far as we can recall there is nothing in the record to give the impression that His presence in human flesh was an unnatural or painful experience. He happily called Himself “the Son of Man,” not an exile among men.
All this is not to attempt to take away from the valid mystery that surrounds the incarnation or to lessen the awe with which we contemplate the wonder of the Word becoming flesh to dwell among us. It is rather to clear away unauthorized notions and give the beauty of the incarnation a chance to make its own impression upon us. That impression will be deep enough without our adding anything to it.
by A. W. Tozer
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