Why Does it Matter if God Became Human or Not?

Merry Christmas!  I pray you and your loved ones had a most blessed celebration.  But what, exactly, did we just celebrate?  What is the reason for the Season?  Whatever our personal reasons for celebrating the holiday might be, historically speaking the reason for the season is the Christian claim that, two thousand years ago, God became human.  But why does it matter whether God became human or not?

The answer, which can be found in many a Christmas carol, is that God had to come to earth to save us from our sins.  The eternal Son of God came to die on the Cross in order to save us from eternal death, the eternal separation from God our sin causes.  God had to assume human flesh in Jesus in order to reconcile us to Himself and to one another.  If God didn’t become human, we couldn’t be saved from sin and death. 

For many, however, this answer doesn’t cut it.  It’s too abstract to be compelling.  So, while I think this answer is absolutely true, let me try to personalize it in a way that hits closer to home and can therefore help make sense of what is happening at the cosmic level when God became human.  
Several weeks ago, I went into a local Starbucks, as I often do, to get a coffee.  In this particular Starbucks, there is a message board next to where you pick up your order.  Each day, the staff writes a different message on the board, everything from recommending one of their favorite coffee drinks to sharing a quotable quote they’ve come across.  This year, they had a special message from the staff they were leaving up throughout the holiday season.  It went something like this: “For most, the holidays are the happiest time of year.  But for some they are the saddest time of year.  So go easy on yourself and go easy on others.  And remember, you matter and your feelings are valid.” 

Remember, you matter. 

As I stood there waiting for my coffee, my heart broke realizing that some of the people who would read that message feel like they don’t matter.  To anyone.  And as I read this beautiful message the staff was expressing to them, I wanted to shout “Amen!” in heartfelt affirmation.  But as I continued to stand there waiting for my coffee, I started to wonder: “How do they know?  How do they know the person reading this message does matter?  To whom?  To whom do they matter?”  
Sadly, there are people in this world who don’t matter to anybody.  Years ago, I spent many years as a volunteer working at a homeless shelter.  I met a number of men there who would tell you that, through a complicated confluence of circumstances, some of it they’d admit their fault, they no longer have anyone in their lives who gives them a second thought.  They would tell you—and be right—that they don’t matter to a single soul. 

Then I thought, maybe what the Starbucks staff meant was that the person they had in mind matters to them.  Which is a beautiful sentiment.  But utterly meaningless.  For one thing, the staff doesn’t even know them.  For another, I’m quite sure no one on the staff expressing this sentiment meant they would be willing to set aside their plans and spend their Christmas with a complete stranger.  The person they have in mind doesn’t matter enough to the staff for them to spend their precious time with them.  
From the lyrics of pop songs to the rhetoric of politicians, this beautiful sentiment that says you matter, you’re special, you’re loved, is all pervasive in our culture.  We find it everywhere.  Yet, it’s completely falling on deaf ears.  Many mental health professionals say that we are in an “Epidemic of Loneliness”.  An epidemic of people feeling like they don’t matter.  While the COVID pandemic certainly exacerbated things, this epidemic began before the pandemic.  Doing a quick internet search, I found a 2018 study revealing that roughly 30 percent of Americans routinely struggle with feelings of loneliness.  And in a study done within the last year, after the pandemic, 42 percent of 18-34 year olds report “always” feeling “left out.”  That only went down to 16 percent for those 55 and older. 

Why is this beautiful sentiment falling on deaf ears?  Because, as human beings, to feel like we matter to someone else, they have be willing to get to know us.  To want to truly understand us.  To “get us”, from the inside out.  And once knowing us inside and out, to still love us.  Warts and all.  Moreover, to know we matter to someone else, they have to be willing to show that we matter to them, primarily by spending their precious time with us.  Without all of this, just telling someone they matter, they are special, they are loved, might be a beautiful sentiment.  But it has no power to impact the person who needs to hear it. 

Do you know what the religion of American is?  What the majority of Americans actually believe?  Several years ago, Christopher Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, did extensive research to find out.  What he discovered is that, regardless of religious affiliation, a majority of Americans believe in what he has termed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”.  It’s Moralistic because the majority of Americans believe that what God primarily wants from us is to be good people and if we are good we will be rewarded, especially in the afterlife.  Therapeutic, because the majority of Americans see the main role God plays as making us feel better about ourselves—affirming us, like a good therapist would.  Deist, because the majority of Americans think of God as Bet Midler described in her famous song, “Watching from a distance”.  Indeed, the majority of Americans prefer to have a God who watches from a distance.  That way, God doesn’t meddle or interfere too much in our lives but only gets involved when we call upon Him.   

It's no accident that as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has become the dominant belief system in America this Epidemic of Loneliness has exploded.  I’m not suggesting that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is responsible for this epidemic or even a reason for it.  There are many other, complex reasons, a convergence of powerful factors that has created greater isolation and social fragility than ever before. 

In the past, however, when the majority of Americans accepted, assumed, or simply absorbed the central tenets of Christian faith, Christianity provided a tremendous resource in combating loneliness.  Its belief system provided a powerful antidote to feeling like you don’t matter.  Incidentally, it still does.  Sociological research consistently reveals that Christians experience significantly greater psychological health and a much greater sense of well-being, suffering far less—i.e., statistically significant lower rates—from a host of mental health issues often related to loneliness.  If you’re interested in a quick overview, see Rodney Stark’s, America’s Blessing. 

The vast majority of Americans, including those who adhere to the beliefs that fall under Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, say they believe in a God of love.  But the kind of generic God of love most Americans claim to believe in, the kind found in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, is too removed, too distant and detached, to make us feel like we really matter.  Like the Starbuck message board, saying that there is a God of love out there and that you matter to Him is a nice sentiment.  But it’s essentially meaningless.  Such a far off, hands-off God is totally impotent in combating our epidemic of loneliness.  Because, one of the most fundamental truths about us as human beings is that, for us to feel like we matter to God, we need to know that He wants to get to know us.  That He does understand us.  That He truly “gets us”, from the inside out.  And God can only know us this way, can only understand what it’s like to be us, to be human from the inside out, if He experiences the human condition for Himself.  If He becomes human.  Only after He knows us to this degree—warts and all—can we be sure we matter to Him.  Moreover, it is only when it costs Him, when His love reaches the point of personal self-giving, when He is gladly willing to give up what is precious to Him, that we know we really matter to Him.  In fact, from God’s side of it, we can only really matter to God if He is willing to make such a sacrifice for us. 

As human beings, this is the way we have been designed—by God.  For us to be able to feel like we truly matter to God, for us to know He loves us—and then, in turn, respond in kind, which is the entire point of Him creating us—God must do exactly what He does by taking flesh in Jesus.  Based on how we are designed, this is exactly the way we’d expect a God of love, which the majority of Americans claim to believe in, to behave.  This has to say something about the Truth of Christianity.

There is a powerful reason, though, that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is so popular.  Another part of us, a very large part of us, doesn’t want God to be this up close and personal.  We don’t want the kind of God that is this thoroughly committed to us because we dread having to be just as committed to Him in return.  In the deepest part of us, we want to be the captain of our own souls. 

Of course, being the captain of our own souls, we inevitably shipwreck our lives.  I don’t mean that we all eventually hit rock bottom or completely ruin our lives.  Obviously, the vast majority of us don’t.  Most of us look pretty well put together—at least on the outside.  What I mean is that, without exception, all of us do, or say, or just think things we deeply regret, things we would never want exposed, things we would never want anyone else to know.  Things we are deeply ashamed about. 

When people—believers and unbelievers alike—find out I’m a pastor, they often feel comfortable sharing their deepest secrets with me.  I don’t know if it’s because it’s cathartic for them, but I am deeply humbled by the honor.  Whatever the motivation, I have been struck by the fact that one of the things which I know to be all-too-painfully-true about myself seems to be true for all of us—believer and unbeliever alike.  There are things about us, things we’ve done—or failed to do—or said, or simply thought that we are profoundly embarrassed by because they are so ugly.  Repulsive.  Hideous.  Ghastly.  And we dread being found out.  Because one of our deepest fears in life is that if others ever knew these things about us, they wouldn’t love us.  They couldn’t.  If the world found out who we really are, we would be completely unlovable. 

And for all our talk about God being a God of love who accepts us as just we are; for all our bravado boasting about how we are basically good people; for all our presumption that God would never judge, condemn, or reject us—especially eternally—we dread coming before God with our true selves. 

Let’s get real: One of the deepest fears we carry around with us, right next to the fear of death itself—and closely related to it—is that God, who knows everything about us, surely sees how unlovable we are.  And, knowing how ugly, repulsive, hideous, and ghastly we are forces us to wonder how He could still love us.  He might be a God of love.  A God who loves everyone else.  But, we fear, not me.  Not after the things I’ve done, said, or thought.  

R. C. Sproul is a well-known preacher, teacher, and scholar.  The founder of Ligonier Ministries, he has hosted his own radio show for many years.  The Christian radio station in the part of the State I previously lived played his programs.  I was a regular listener.  About ten years ago, Sproul told a story about one of his dogs that I will never forget. 

When he was starting Ligonier Ministries, his family received two German shepherd puppies as a gift.  They named them Halleluiah and Hosanna—Hallie and Hosie for short.  Hallie and Hosie were especially magnificent dogs, bred, Sproul explained, of champion stock.  When Hosie was only about two months old, he stumbled in one day through the doggie door that had been cut into the back entrance to the house.  His head was swollen to almost twice the size, and he was staggering and disoriented.  Sproul assumed Hosie had gotten into a bees’ nest and had suffered multiple stings.  So he immediately scooped Hosie up and rushed him to the Vet.

When the Vet examined Hosie, he found three deep puncture wounds.  They turned out to be fang wounds.  Hosie had been badly bitten by a poisonous snake.  The Vet told Sproul it was the worst snake bite he had ever seen and didn’t think Hosie would make it.  He easily had enough venom in him to kill him.  The Vet told Sproul he would do what he could, but the prognosis wasn’t good.  He sent Sproul home and told him he’d be in touch when he had an update.  Remarkably, Hosie survived and after keeping him for two weeks of observation and further treatment, the Vet called Sproul and told him he could come and take Hosie home.  But, the Vet warned Sproul, he needed Sproul to be prepared for what he would see.  The Vet explained that the poison had killed a lot of Hosie’s facial tissue causing it to rot and literally fall from the dog’s face.  
Sproul tried to prepare himself but confessed that when he got to the Vets and saw Hosie he looked far more ghastly than he could have ever imagined.  Hosie’s face was hideous, horribly and permanently disfigured.  Making things even worse, it gave off the noxious odor of rotting flesh.  Before letting Sproul take Hosie, the Vet handed Sproul a large jar of ointment and instructed him to apply it to Hosie’s face twice a day for the next few weeks to aid in the healing process.  He then handed Sproul a pair of special gloves so he didn’t have to touch Hosie’s face with his bare hands. 

When Sproul got Hosie home, he couldn’t bring him into the house.  The odor was too foul.  He had to put Hosie in the garage.  Sproul admitted that he felt a deep, uncontrollable, visceral revulsion around Hosie.  Hosie sensed his apprehension.  He cowered in embarrassment, averting his head and eyes to the ground every time Sproul came in the garage.  Hosie, Sproul said, was well aware that he was no longer the proud German Shepherd of champion stock.  He knew he was no longer a magnificent and beloved puppy, but rather a most pitiable and repulsive specimen.  Sproul wondered if it would have been better for Hosie if he hadn’t had lived. 

When it came time to apply the ointment for the first time, Sproul carefully put on the special gloves the Vet had given him, grabbed the jar of ointment, and headed for the garage.  Before opening the door, he held his breath and braced himself.  As he approached, Hosie looked down in shame.  He was too embarrassed to look up.  But, in the way dogs do when they know they’re being scolded, he kept glancing up every few seconds to check the look in Sproul’s eyes.  Each time Hosie glanced up for a split second and saw no change in his look of revulsion, Hosie would immediately glance back down at the floor in shame and embarrassment.  As Sproul told this part of the story, you could just picture Hosie’s glances being filled with the deepest angst and emotion, as if looking up, you could see the question written in his eyes: “Do you still love me?”

Fighting to overcome the intense disgust he felt, Sproul began to apply the ointment to Hosie’s face.  As he began, something startling happened.  Sproul said he could see an immense wave of relief come over Hosie.  The shame and embarrassment seemed to melt away in an instant.  The way Sproul tells it, you can imagine Hosie’s puppy dog eyes springing to life again as he felt the assurance of his master’s love, as the confidence of being magnificent in his master’s eyes returned once again. 

Sproul was pleasantly surprised to find that, as he continued to apply the ointment, he began to feel a special, new bond with Hosie.  In fact, Hosie ended up living for many more years, and he and Sproul shared a bond like Sproul had with no other dog.  By the way, that was the last day Sproul used those special gloves to apply the ointment to Hosie’s face.

From that moment forward, he uses his bare hands. 

Sisters and brothers: We are Hosie.  In those moments when we imagine the way God must look at us, we cower in embarrassment over all the ugly, ghastly, hideous things we’ve done, said or just thought.  We can only look down in shame, certain that we have become utterly unlovable in His eyes.  And, hoping against hope, we wonder: “God, do you still love me?”

And God’s response?  Christmas.  The Incarnation.  Becoming human.  God with us.  Despite the hideous mess we’ve made of this world, despite our ghastly appearance, he touches us.  He touches our humanity, embracing usin the most profound way He could, by becoming human Himself.  In the most perfect way possible, He assures us that He still loves us.  God becoming human gives us the perfect assurance that we couldn’t matter to Him any more than we do.  Moreover, His touch heals us.  His humanity makes us better from the inside out.  It shows us how to be fully human, to be all He created us to be.  And above all, it creates a bond with Him like He has with no other.  It reveals how incredibly precious we are to Him. 

On the cosmic level, the reason God becomes human is to save us from our sins, reconcile us to Himself, and give us eternal life.  Without the Incarnation, our rejection of God, our desire to be the captain of our own souls—our sin, in other words—would keep us eternally separated from God. 

But closer to home, God’s becoming human reveals that He couldn’t identify with us, understand us, “get us” any more than He does.  In the most revolutionary, explosive, and thrilling gesture God could ever make toward the human race, He has made Himself One with us in the most radical, profound, and perfect way possible. 

Moreover, His willingness to give up the infinite bliss of Heaven, all the unlimited prerogatives of divinity He has enjoyed throughout eternity, in order to enter fully into this world of pain and suffering, in order to embrace us in the mess we’ve made of things, reveals just how much we matter to Him.  His infinite sacrifice proves that we couldn’t matter more.
This—and this alone—has the power to create the kind of deep, profound, and perfect bond with God we were made for.  This is why God became human. 

If this Christmas season you are wondering whether you matter, I can tell you that you absolutely do.  That isn’t just some nice sentiment.  It’s the deepest truth of the Universe.  Christmas proves that you couldn’t matter to God more.  And if you know Him, if you have entrusted your life to Christ, you are never alone.  Never, ever alone. 

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have.  You can go to the “Contact E. J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and leave any comments you have there.  I look forward to hearing from you!

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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