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The Most Amazing Idea Ever?

“The Word Became Flesh.”  In the beginning of his Gospel, John describes Jesus, the Eternal Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity, as the Word.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn 1:1)  “In the beginning” conjures up the first line of Genesis, which describes the beginning of creation.  But the beginning of creation is not what John has in mind. 

John’s vision is much larger.  He’s not merely referring to the Word being present at the beginning of creation, but rather, to His eternal existence, prior to the beginning of creation.  He’s talking about the Word’s transcendence, the fact that He exists in infinite glory beyond space and time.  Indeed, He is the One responsible for “the beginning”.  He is the One who creates space and time in the first place.  Nothing that exists, John says, exists without Him, including space and time. 

But just a few verses after John describes the matchless glory of the Word, he says what has to be, depending on how you look at it, either the most repulsive and ridiculous thing ever uttered by a human being, or the most explosive and amazing truth ever known to humankind--this transcendent, eternal, infinite Word became Flesh.  The One who exists outside of space and time, and is responsible for it, entered into space and time to become a finite, flesh and bones, vulnerable human being. 

To emphasize the explosive nature of this “incarnation”, John doesn’t use the ordinary Greek word for a human being, “anthropos”.  Instead, he uses far more realistic language--“sarx”, the Greek word for flesh.  It’s a provocative word choice, at pains to stress the stunning fact that Jesus was truly human, in every way except sin.  In other words, Jesus isn’t God pretending to be human, like an actor in a play.  He isn’t merely human in appearance, being sure to maintain His divine prerogatives, prerogatives that would shield Him from all the messiness and pain of a real, human life.  By saying He became “flesh” John insists that Jesus is a full-fledged flesh and bones human being.  Just like you and me.

No other belief system comes anywhere close to claiming anything like this.  Actually, most other belief systems are absolutely abhorred and aappalled by such a claim.  It is the height of blasphemy to claim that the transcendent God would ever stoop so low, would ever suffer the limitations of human flesh.  It is beneath God’s dignity to become so weak and fragile.  In their view, the only God worthy of worship is one who is unaffected by the vicissitudes of human life. 

For the few belief systems that do include “gods” in human form, their “incarnations” are purely docetic--i.e., the god in question is only appearing to be human.  These belief systems would be horrified at the suggestion that their god’s appearance was anything more than that god playing the part of a human being, exactly like an actor in a play.  They’d be horrified at the suggestion that the god in question actually took on flesh and became human.   

In fact, it was this claim that caused the Early Church to meet with so much hostility.  Jews found it utterly scandalous.  They couldn’t imagine anything more repulsive.  Greeks found it utterly foolish.  They couldn’t imagine anything more ridiculous.  This is why it is safe to assume that human beings would never conceive, or more accurately, never dare to conceive, of a God like this.   

In a blog a while back, I tried to make sense of how the Word could become flesh.  In that blog, I used an example from the TV show Undercover Boss, the episode that featured the CEO of Waste Management, the national trash collection corporation.  The episode began at the crack of dawn showing him getting ready for his first day “undercover” as one of his employees.  He was filmed in his mansion getting dressed in a designer suit.  Then, using one of the luxury cars he owns, his driver chauffeured him to his fancy corporate office.  But once there, he changed out of his designer suit and put on a pair of overalls and work boots.  After a makeup artist disguised his face, he went out into the field. 

That first day he rode shotgun in one of Waste Management’s garbage trucks.  Throughout the day, he emptied garbage bins into the back of the truck.  Every so often, garbage would get stuck in the compactor arms in the rear of the truck.  It was his job to remove the garbage.  And that was quite a sight: The CEO of Waste Management jumping into the back of the truck and then, standing in the middle of a pile of garbage, picking through the dirty, rotten, stinking trash. 

Now, mind you, he was still the CEO of the company.  At any moment he could have revealed who he was, returned to his fancy office and put his designer suit back on.  But he was willingly giving up his  prerogatives as CEO so he could experience all that his employees do.  And, as a result, CEO though he was, he was actually getting his hands dirty picking through the trash! 

At the end of each episode of Undercover Boss, the CEO reveals her or himself to the employees they worked with over the several days he or she was in disguise.  As a result of going undercover, those CEO’s inevitably learn about many challenges and struggles their employees face.  It was only by going undercover that these CEO’s were able to truly understand what their employees lives are like.  It is only by going undercover that these CEO’s could feel true compassion for them and, in turn, do something to help them out. 

One of the main reasons Undercover Boss is a such a popular show is because we love it when someone at the top gets their hands dirty.  We love it when “the Boss” gives up the prerogative of their position to be “in it” with their employees and understand what their lives are really like. 

However repulsive or ridiculous the idea of the Word made flesh may appear, it is the only way a Transcendent God could possibly understand the frailty of our human experience and “feel” real compassion for us. 

The Word became flesh.  God traded the eternal glory of paradise to be completely “in it” with us. 

The Word became flesh.  The CEO of the Universe emptied Himself of His divine prerogatives to stand in the messiness of our human condition. 

The Word became flesh.  Jesus traded transcendence for fragile flesh, Heaven’s bliss for a body broken on the Cross. 

The Word became flesh.  God couldn’t possibly love us any more than this.

How do you find the idea of the Word made flesh: Repulsive?  Ridiculous? Wonderful?  Amazing?  Go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and let me know what you think!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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