Every year during Advent we let our confirmation students loose through the church building to take an informal poll.
The question we give the confirmands is the same every year:
Why did Jesus come to earth?
In other words, why Christmas?
Every year the questions are the same:
More than 3/4 answer:
that Jesus comes
in order to die.
And the problem with that answer is…it’s wrong.
As the 12 Day Season of Christmas comes to a close so does this series of posts:
#1 Reason Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross:
Because God is like John Irving
I’m a rereader. I’ve been that way since I was a boy. One of the novels to which I return nearly every year is John Irving’s best, The World According to Garp.
The novel’s final scene depicts the writer, wrestling-coach and father, TS Garp, calmly dying an assassin’s gunshot as a helicopter carries away the man who as a boy had dreamed that his absent father was a pilot.
The novel’s last line:
“But in the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.”
It’s much the same in all of Irving’s books. Before ever committing one word of his story to paper, John Irving already knows what will be the last line of his story, and that last line always makes it way into his story’s title.
He knows the story’s ending before he’s ever conceived of the beginning, much less the plot that will get the story there.
Maybe by the end of chapter 1, Irving the author knows that before his creations get to that already-established end, they’ll have to suffer the loss of a child, betrayal and reconciliation.
But, for Irving, that last line and closing image are first in the author’s intentions.
Irving, I believe, is no different than most a/Authors.
While some Christians insist that the incarnation of Christ presupposes Sin, that God would not have come in the flesh had human flesh never fallen, other Christians read the narrative arc of scripture and reflect on the mystery of the Trinity such that they come to a different conclusion.
For instance, the way John Irving conceives of his stories is analogous to how the Franciscan tradition has conceived the divine Story.
The Franciscan Duns Scotus puts it this way:
“Everyone who wills in an orderly manner, wills first the end, then more immediately those things which are closer to the end; but God wills in a most orderly manner; therefore, that is the way He wills.”
- Opus Parisiense
Another way Scotus puts this:
‘That which is last in act is first in intention.’
In other words, the End God desires is the first thing God determines.
According to scripture, what is the End God desires and towards which God is driving history?
It’s not saved souls leaving Earth to go up to Heaven; it’s Heaven coming down to Earth.
It’s God remaking the Earth.
It’s a restoration of what was intended but it’s also a realizing of something else so as to be called New: no more pain, no more tears. no more Death.
But it’s not all new things; it’s all things new.
It’s Heaven (the presence of the Creator) coming down to dwell with his creation.
It’s the community of Father, Son and Spirit joining the community of creatures.
- Revelation 21 & 22
This is the End which God desires and thus, according to Scotus, is the First God determines.
But how can God dwell with creatures when a creature, something created, is the one thing God absolutely cannot be?
For God to reside with us God must reside in us.
The End desired, which is first in God’s determination, already presupposes an incarnation.
According to Scotus, to deny this and insist on thinking the other way ‘round requires us to believe God foresaw and predestined the fall of Adam prior to the predestining and begatting of Christ:
“If man had not sinned, there would have been no need for our redemption. But that God predestined this soul [of Christ] to so great a glory does not seem to be only on account of that [redemption], since the redemption or the glory of the soul to be redeemed is not comparable to the glory of Christ’s soul.
Neither is it likely that the highest good in creation is something that was merely occasioned only because of some lesser good; nor is it likely that He predestined Adam to such good before He predestined Christ; and yet this would follow [were the Incarnation occasioned by Adam’s sin].
In fact, if the predestination of Christ’s soul was for the sole purpose of redeeming others, something even more absurd would follow, namely, that in predestining Adam to glory, He would have foreseen him as having fallen into sin before He predestined Christ to glory.
“It can be said, therefore, that with a priority of nature God chose for His heavenly court all the angels and men He wished to have with their various degrees of perfection before He foresaw either sin or the punishment for sinners; and no one has been predestined only because somebody else’s sin was foreseen, lest anyone have reason to rejoice over the fall of another.”
- Opus Oxoniense
I’m no NT Wright but let me resort to a less literary illustration:
Imagine I wanted to meet my friends for a great party.
With this end in mind, I set out to drive the way there.
Failing to trust the instructions I’ve been given and insisting on finding my own way, I very quickly get off the intended path; in fact, I eventually happen upon a rupture in the road, too large to travel around or traverse down. I’m now so far off the path I was meant to travel I can’t return to the starting point but neither can I ever hope to fix the separation in the road on my own. I can’t get back from whence I came and I can’t get to where I’m meant to go. I’m lost and need someone to rescue me. And only such rescuing will ever deliver me to my original destination.
And let’s say one of the friends who’d promised to meet me at that great party, who was already there and waiting for me, left it to come and help me.
It’s true I’d gotten myself good and lost. It’s true that what separated me from my destination was too great to repair on my own. It’s true that I’d be without hope had my friend not come to save me.
However the getting lost, the rupture in the road, the friend coming to deliver me to the destination are not the point of the journey.
They are necessary and instrumental parts of the journey, but they are not the reason for the journey.
The destination is the point of the journey.
Had I not needed that friend to save me as I was lost, I still would’ve met that friend at the party because the End in action was always the First in intention.
Likewise, Revelation 21 comes before Genesis 1.
“Look the home of God is among mortals” precedes “And God said: Let there be light…”
Indeed incarnation, God taking up residence with us, is the reason God turned on the lights in the first place.
And that’s the good news, the reason for which Jesus is the reason for this season: that God wants not simply forgiven creatures; God wants friends.