Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Christmas Implication

We are about to celebrate the birth of Christ. Christ is interesting in that he was fully God and fully man. For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on the humanity of Christ, and an implication that comes about if we accept certain Arminian principles of how God interacts with human beings.

The human lineage of Christ is obviously a big deal. It’s why the book of Matthew begins by listing it and why it’s also included in the book of Luke. And while it is plain that before the 20th century no one understood how DNA worked to pass on genetic material to new generations, it was obvious to even an “uneducated” shepherd long before the birth of Christ that something passed on from father and mother to the child. In other words, they understood that heredity was a legitimate thing, with children picking up certain traits from their parents, including physical appearance and aptitudes. And not just with humans, but also with animals.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there have been some rather interesting events in the lineage of Christ. For example, Ruth is in there, and Ruth was a Moabite, and we remember that Moabites came about because of the events at Sodom, when Lot slept with his daughters after his wife had been turned to a pillar of salt.

So what I want to focus on is the Arminian view that God does not determine all events, but rather He permits them to occur. Let us view the existence of Moab within the lineage of Christ in that light. If we say that God did not determine that Lot’s wife look back followed by Lot’s daughters getting their father drunk so they could sleep with him because they were afraid they’d never get husbands, then the fact that Ruth was a Moabite who would be the grandmother of King David who would later have the Messiah Himself as part of his lineage is an accidental fact of history. (Now, just to be clear, what I mean by “accidental” here is that it was not necessary, that it didn’t have to be that way, that it could have been otherwise, etc. In short, I’m using “accidental” to counter the concept of logical “necessity”, not “accidental” like in the sense of a vehicle collision.)

In other words, if we say that God did not determine Lot’s wife’s decision to “kick off” the chain of events, but rather that she decided to do that completely on her own and God “merely allowed” it to happen, then what we are left with is the following. Before Lot’s wife made her decision (and I speak of “before” in a logical sense, not a temporal sense here), the universe could have gone two different ways. It could have gone the branch that would have led to the events described in the Bible, or it could have taken a different path.

Obviously, since Christ was foretold even as early as Genesis 3, God knew which path would come about. According to a common Arminian view I’ve read, this isn’t contradictory with free will because had Lot’s wife made a different decision then God would have known that that decision would have been different and He would have known how the universe would have come about so that His prophecies about the Messiah would have always remained true. Let us grant that idea for the moment and consider the branching option once again.

At the point where Lot’s wife determined her own action and God allowed it to happen, the universe could have been one way or another way. The path that it did take included the existence of the people of Moab, which thus included the existence of Ruth with all her physical attributes based on the DNA she had; David, with all his DNA-derived attributes; the rest of his lineage; and finally, Christ with that impact of the existence of Moabite DNA.

The other path would have resulted in something drastically different. No Ruth, no David, none of David’s sons. Yet of course God would have known that this lineage would have been the one established, and therefore we can say that somewhere down the line the Messiah still would have come. We just don’t know what path that would have taken.

Here’s the implication of that belief, however: Christ’s humanity is not unique. What I mean by that is that if we take the above concept of God allowing something rather than determining it to be true, then Christ’s human attributes derived from his lineage via DNA are irrelevant. Clearly, lineage was a big deal because the Jews paid attention to it and wrote it down so meticulously; but just as clearly that stands at odds with the fact that Christ’s DNA would have been different were it not for a completely non-determined (by God) choice that Lot’s wife made (and God “permitted”) to look back at Sodom.

What someone who holds to that view inadvertently does is to imply that Christ’s humanity is not essential to who Christ is, that He could literally have been any person (so long as He was human) and that would not have affected His being. In short, it is to drive a wedge between the divine nature of Christ and the human nature of Christ.

Under the Calvinist view that God has foreordained whatever comes to pass, Jesus determined exactly what His physical body would be. His human nature was unique, planned, and intended exactly for Him. It is not less important than His spirit. But under the view that God does not determine all actions but “allows” some things that He doesn’t really want, Christ’s humanity is plastic. Christ’s human body is seen not as something intrinsic to who He is but simply as a vessel that the Spirit of God can inhabit, interchangeable with countless other possible human vessels in other universes that were not instantiated because humans did not determine of themselves to do actions that God could have permitted them to do to achieve that result.

This seems to flirt dangerously close to the Gnostic view that the Spirit is real, good, and holy while the body is false, evil, and unrighteous. Even if it doesn’t go so far as to say the body is bad, this view still mitigates the body to something hardly different than the “clothes” a spirit wears. So on one timeline, Lot’s wife doesn’t look back and the Messiah has body X. On another timeline, she does look back and the Messiah has the body Y. Doesn’t matter: the Messiah is still the Messiah.

And therefore, His humanity becomes trivialized.

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