Reexamining the Incarnation

September 11, 2012

What does it mean for Christ to die “for” us?  Why was the incarnation necessary for God to forgive us?  The following illustration may prove helpful.  Suppose you get hit by a truck.  Not a pickup truck, but a huge 18-wheeler.  You would get seriously hurt.  God is bigger than a truck.  Getting hit by God would seriously mess you up.  Jesus saves us from this by pushing us out of the way, by being hit by God “for” us, on our behalf.

An objection arises from this illustration.  Why couldn’t God just swerved out of the way in the first place?  Why couldn’t He elect not to punish us at all?

There are many ways to answer such an objection, and even non-christian sources provide clues to some answers.  John Austin, in The Province of Jurisprudence Determined, defines the “law” as a command which “the party to whom it is directed is liable to evil (sanction) from the other, in case he comply not with the desire.”  God is the ultimate sovereign, and thus, his laws hold the greatest sanctions if they are not obeyed.  I do not think that the definition is adequate or complete, but even with this basic notion of God, the necessity of Christ’s incarnation for our salvation, the substitutionary atonement becomes evident.  If God’s laws are unchanging, God cannot just elect not to punish us for our disobedience.  For him to do that would go against his own sovereignty.

But why are God’s laws unchanging?  If he is the ultimate sovereign, why can he not make new rules, to make detailed exceptions and allowances?  Why would it be illegal for him to change his own rules?  The answer is that God has revealed himself to be unchanging, to be same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  But does this not reveal that there are laws that are above God, and if there’s a law above God this implies a sovereign above God, a being more powerful than God!  But there are no laws above God, for God IS the goodness that the laws are trying to describe.  The laws are not merely arbitrary edicts by God that are of neutral morality; the laws are in actuality the description of God’s character.  The Euthypho’s dilemma is a problem only for those who have not seen God.

Because God could not have “just swerved out of the way,” we have to get out of the way.  But there is no way for us to do that; we have all already broken God’s laws.  It matters little if you think yourself a good person overall – even today, probably in the last hour, you have broken His laws.  That is why Christ must come to push us out and take the punishment on our behalf.  He takes on our punishment.  But this also means that simultaneously, Christ is trying to push us out of God’s wrath, to help us to sin no more.

Another way to look at it is looking at it as a criminal lawsuit.  God is the judge.  The accuser is satan.  Our defense lawyer is Jesus.  (I hear Moses knows his stuff, but doesn’t do so well in court). Now we can try to settle before the lawsuit, but the victim, who is usually some other person, is unwilling to forgive us.  Or they may not have the time to forgive us or has forgotten about us or doesn’t care to do so.  But that does not matter with satan; he will press charges anyway, using God’s own laws to accuse us.  That is when Jesus steps in and says, “I became the victim.  I forgive Clive.  We are settled.”  But perhaps such a picture is incomplete or not totally accurate.  Must ruminate…..


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