When God became human.

INCARNATE 'ɪn.kɑrn.eɪt verb. Put an immaterial thing (i.e. an abstract concept or idea) into a concrete form.
2. Put a deity or spirit into a human form, i.e. Hindu gods.
3. ɪn'kɑr.nət adjective. Embodied in flesh, or concrete form.
[Incarnation ɪn.kɑr'neɪ.ʃən noun, reincarnation 're.ɪn.kɑr.neɪ.ʃən noun.]

Most of our Christian theology lingo tends to come from Greek and Latin. This one too. Why? Because they sound much more formal and sanctimonious than plain English. When you literally translate ’em from Greek and Latin, they make people flinch. Incarnate is one of those words: In-carnátio is Latin for “put into meat.”

Yep, put into meat. Nope, it’s not a mistranslation. It’s an accurate description of what happened to Jesus. The word of God—meaning God—became flesh. Meat.

John 1.14 KWL
The word was made flesh. He encamped with us. We got a good look at his significance—
the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.

Not temporarily; not for just the few decades Jesus walked the earth. When he got resurrected, he went back into a flesh-’n-bone body. When he got raptured up to heaven, he still had, and has, his flesh-’n-bone body; he didn’t shuck it like a costume. God is now meat. Flesh, blood, spit, mucus, cartilage, hair, teeth, bile, tears. MEAT.

Not just look human. Not take over an existing human, scoop out the spirit, and replace it with his Holy Spirit. These are some of the dozens of weird theories people coined about how Jesus isn’t really or entirely human. Mainly they were invented by people who can’t have God be human.

To such people, humanity makes God no longer God. It undoes his divinity. He’d have to be limited instead of unlimited. And they define God by his power. It’s what they really admire, really covet, about God: His raw, unlimited, sovereign might. Not his character, not his goodness, not his love and kindness and compassion. F--- that; God has to be mighty, and they can’t respect a God who doesn’t respect power the way they do.

So that, they insist, is who Jesus really is. Beneath a millimeter of skin, Jesus was divinity incognito. He only pretended to limit himself, for the sake of fearful masses who’d scream out in terror if they ever encountered an undisguised God. He feigned humanity. But underneath that humanity, really omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omni-everything.

To such people incarnation soils God. It dirties him. Meat is icky. Humanity, mortality, the realness of our everyday existence, is too nasty for God to submit himself to. Sweating. Aching. Pains and sickness. Peeing and pooping. Suffering from acne and bug bites and rashes. Belching and farting. Sometimes the trots from bad shawarma the night before. Waking up with a morning erection.

Have I outraged you yet? You’re hardly the first. But this, as we can all attest, is humanity. Not even sinful humanity; I haven’t touched upon that at all. Just regular, natural, physical humanity. If God became human, he became that. And people can’t abide it.

Yet it’s true. And God did it intentionally. He wanted us to be with him. So he made the first move, and became one of us.

Avatar?

Christianity isn’t the only religion which believes in incarnation. So do Hindus.

You know what an avatar is, even if you haven’t seen the movie. Avatar is the Hindi word for incarnation, and they mean precisely what we do: God, a non-physical spirit, became human. In Hinduism, he did so a bunch of times. Arguably still does. Every once in a while, an extra-special, extra-holy Hindu becomes well-known, and Hindus immediately leap to the conclusion God became human yet again—and that guy is God. Seriously.

Because it happens all the time in their scriptures. Whenever God needs to spread righteousness, defend good, and destroy evil, he becomes human. Gita 4.7-8 Westerners have heard of Krishna; he’s considered the eighth incarnation of God, dates back to the 14th century BC, and Hindus consider him God in a very similar way to how we consider Jesus to be God.

Of course various Christians insist it’s not the same. Mostly ’cause western and Hindu ideas about God are so very different. Partly ’cause of how in English, avatar doesn’t mean an incarnation but a puppet: Your video-game avatar isn‘t you, but represents you, and you totally control it—remotely. We don’t believe Jesus is God’s puppet; he’s God. But in this we actually agree with Hindus: They don’t believe avatars are God’s puppets either. They’re God.

Where we and Hindus particularly disagree is, obviously, how many incarnations God’s made. Hindus claim God became many humans, like Rama, Krishna, and Matsya. He was born, walked around, did important stuff, taught important stuff, and died. And did it again and again. But to Christians, God became only one avatar, Jesus of Nazareth. Born, walked around, did important stuff, taught important stuff, died… and unlike the people in the Hindu stories, didn’t stay dead. He resurrected. He’s still alive. He remains the same avatar forever.

So no, the idea of incarnation isn’t a new one. It’s been taught before. But in Jesus, it’s fulfilled.

God’s word, made human.

Pharisees preferred to think of God as transcendent, above it all, not dirtying himself with icky humans and the material world. Problem is, the scriptures regularly describe God as regularly and willingly interacting with us. He’s holy, but why should his uniqueness and greatness keep him from us? (I know; certain Christians claim it does. They need to read a bible sometime.) God loves us too much to stay apart from us.

The Pharisees struggled to reconcile their idea of a standoffish LORD, with this interactive God in the scriptures. So they took the concept of “the word of the LORD,” which we see from time to time in the scriptures. Ge 15.1, 1Sa 15.10, 2Sa 22.31, 1Ki 18.1, Ps 33.6, Jr 1.11, Ek 1.3 They sorta made a person out of it. God himself might be far beyond our reach… but God’s word isn’t. He comes to prophets and tells ’em stuff, or heals people, or raises the dead. And of course doesn’t return void. Is 55.11

Call him LORD or “word of the LORD”: Either way, he’s still God. Jn 1.1 Not a god, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses bungle the translation. The God; there’s only one. And at the right time, God sent his word into the world, to be born as one of us.

Paul put it this way, in a passage we Christians traditionally called the carmen Christi/“Christ-hymn.” We’re not sure whether Paul wrote it himself, or was only quoting it. We only know ancient Christians sang it. I’m gonna use the ISV translation ’cause they made it rhyme.

Philippians 2.6-11 ISV
6 In God’s own form existed he,
and shared with God equality,
deemed nothing needed grasping.
7 Instead, poured out in emptiness,
a servant’s form did he possess,
a mortal man becoming.
In human form he chose to be,
8 and lived in all humility,
death on a cross obeying.
9 Now lifted up by God to heaven,
a name above all others given,
this matchless name possessing.
10 And so, when Jesus’ name is called,
the knees of everyone should fall,
wherever they’re residing.
11 Then every tongue in one accord,
will say that Jesus Christ is Lord,
while God the Father praising.

Various skeptics claim the earliest Christians didn’t really believe Jesus is God. That whole idea arose after pagan gentiles became Christians, and remember how pagans used to believe in multiple gods, demigods, and that people could achieve godhood? So the pagans started blatantly worshiping Jesus, instead of properly just revering him as the LORD’s Messiah.

It’s bunk, of course. Jesus’s own students got a really good look at him, and saw for themselves God within him. Jn 14.7-9 Somehow God radically set aside his infinity and made himself finite, and human. The source of life itself could even die—and did.

In so doing, he defeated death and sin. And now he lives forever—taking back one of his infinite traits, and offering that to the rest of humanity as well.

How’d he do it?

A lot of people nowadays like to speculate about Jesus’s biology. After all, he has no biological father. So where’d his Y chromosome come from?

Well duh; midi-chlorians.

But seriously though. (Well, semi-seriously.) Assuming Mary contributed the usual 23 chromosomes, did the Holy Spirit instantly create the other 23 when Jesus was conceived? Or did Mary contribute all 46, and the Holy Spirit turned one of her X chromosomes into a Y? We know how parthenogenesis works in invertebrates; did God do something similar? What’re the mechanics of virgin conception?

We have no idea. ’Cause when Mary asked Gabriel how this was gonna work, the angel gave an explanation which is utterly useless in the laboratory.

Luke 1.34-35 KWL
34 Mary told the angel, “How will this happen?—since I’ve not been with a man.”
35 In reply the angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.
The Most High’s power will envelop you
and the holy one produced will be called God’s son.”

Gee thanks, Gabriel. Real scientific of you.

To be fair, giving a scientific explanation might’ve made no sense to Mary. “We’re gonna take some of the deoxyribonucleic acid from your ovum…” Frankly “The Most High’s power” was probably plenty enough for her. For us, it’ll have to be too.

Thanks to biology, people assume a God-human is a paradox. How can one person be two different species? He’d have to be a hybrid: Neither fish nor fowl, neither God nor human; a demigod. Or like biracial children, part one race, part another, and they’ll claim whichever ancestry is most obvious or convenient. This, they figure, is why Jesus frequently calls himself Son of Man, and his students call him Son of God. It depends on circumstances.

But no. Being human is about biology. Being God has nothing to do with biology, for God’s a non-biological (but living) spirit. He has no genes, no genetic traits, to pass along. He doesn’t reproduce. He didn’t even create Jesus. Yeah, we theologians use the term “begotten” to describe Jesus, but we don’t mean anyone made him. In fact we’re quite clear in the creeds: “Begotten not made.”

Γεννάω/ghennáo, “begotten,” also means “comes from.” Jesus comes from God. His human body, and only his human body, was made. The rest of him always existed, is always in the beginning with God. His character and traits, other than the powers he set aside, were and are fully intact.

Nope, Jesus is no hybrid. He’s fully God and fully human. It’s best to think of “God” and “human” not as Jesus’s sides (his “God side” and his “human side,” as preachers like to call ’em), not as things you can mix together (50 percent God, 50 percent human), but attributes you either are or aren’t. Fr’instance I’m an American; I’m a citizen of the United States. I’m not 50 percent a citizen. Even if I held dual citizenship with Canada, I still wouldn’t be 50 percent of a citizen… though I may have some internal conflict if the U.S. and Canada ever have a disagreement, i.e. hockey. And at the same time I’m a man, with zero plans to have my gender reassigned. Now, am I half man, half American?—or are we talking about two wholly different traits which don’t interfere with one another?

That’s the thing about Jesus: His divinity doesn’t interfere with his humanity. Nor vice-versa. Christians like to imagine Jesus’s human frailties made it so he struggled to do his Father’s will, but that’s only because we imagine Jesus is just like us—and we struggle to do the Father’s will. But we don’t struggle with God’s will because we’re human. We struggle because we’re sinners. Jesus isn’t. As human, he was tempted same as us, so he knows what we go through. He 4.15 But unlike us other humans, who still have to grow the fruit of the Spirit, Jesus already has God’s character. He’s not gonna behave in any way other than loving, patient, kind, self-controlled, and seizing as much joy as he can from our bleak fallen world. And y’know, once we develop some of that same fruit, we get harder to tempt. Something to think about. Maybe even try.

It only becomes a paradox when we insist there’s one hiding there under the surface. There isn’t. We needn’t.

Theology.