It was quite a few years ago now. A friend was describing to me an interview she had been listening to. It was about Pablo Picasso. As it turns out, he wasn’t a very good person by even a modest standard. His granddaughter wrote this about him: “He drove everyone who got near him to despair and engulfed them. No one in my family ever managed to escape from the stranglehold of this genius.”
And yet, he was a very talented artist. This raises the question – should an artist’s personal integrity have any bearing on his or her art and how we evaluate it?
Every year on December 25th Christians around the world celebrate the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. But what is the significance of it? What does it mean when Christian say that God incarnated as a human being?
In normal, day-to-day English, you would probably almost never come across the word “incarnation.” If you did it would be more or less synonymous with the words “embodiment” or “version,” as in “My cousin Julie is so sweet she’s basically the incarnation of kindness,” or “This is the third incarnation of the novel I’m working on.”
This time I decided to experiment with making a video. There’s a lot, lot more I’d like to say, as well as some concepts (like the Ancient Near Eastern concepts of justice and law) that I’d like to delve into more deeply, but I wanted to keep it short and to the point. Please let me know what you think of the video! (And here’s a shout out to my friend Andrew for recording and editing this for me!)
“Life” is a strange word if you start to pick it apart.
On the one hand you use it to talk about a quality that belongs to things that are neither dead nor inorganic. This is the biological sense of the word. Things that have the incredible internal ability to grow, metabolize, reproduce themselves, and adapt to their environment have life and are alive.
Lately, I have been reading through philosopher Peter van Inwagen’s book Metaphysics. (Metaphysics is a fancy word that describes a branch of philosophy that asks about the ultimate nature of reality.) He has a chapter where he asks whether human beings have a purpose or not—really, whether anything has a purpose or not, which is one of the quintessential questions people have been asking for millennia.
Recently during a devotional time, I was meditating on the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and during this time I was overwhelmed by my beauty in Jesus Christ. Perhaps this sounds like a strange thing to say. It’s common for Christians to emphasize how wretched, awful, and ugly people can be (some traditions take this further than others)—and I think it is important to spend time reflecting on the darkness and evil that exists within each of us. Part of God’s purposes with Israel was to make human sin fully known, as Paul says in Romans 7:13, “In order that sin might be recognized as sin, it [the Law/Torah] used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” But, whatever else he did, Jesus Christ also came to show us just how beautiful we really are.
It is not unusual to hear Jesus described as “true humanity” or being “truly human.” (I think I first came across something like this from N. T. Wright, one of my favorite Biblical scholars and one of my inspirations for choosing to pursue theology and Biblical scholarship in seminary.) I think this language expresses a concept found in the Bible. It’s what I think Paul is alluding to when he calls Jesus Christ the “final Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15:45, or when he says in Romans 5:19, “just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” It is what I think Christians mean when they say that Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life or that he kept Torah perfectly. I think this concept is also evident in some of the early Christian theologians, for example Irenaeus with his concept of “recapitulation,” by which he means that Jesus “redid” human life and succeeded in every place that we failed. Jesus redeemed what Adam destroyed.
Often I find that poetry helps me to learn about and understand deep topics better than anything else can. One of my favorite poets is George Herbert, a 17th-century Anglican priest. Here are some of my thoughts and reflections on his poem “Temper (i).”
First, the poem itself. Read it slowly and take it in before moving on.