The best theology is always practical, always applicable to everyday life, yet I’m attracted to exercises in theology that contribute to the good news. The incarnation and resurrection are essential for understanding the impact that the life of Jesus had on God. Understanding that impact makes me love God, comforts me with wondrous awe at the depths of God’s love for all of us.
In this piece, through the use of scripture, theology, and philosophy, I explore the possibility of gaining some understanding on the change in God brought about by the life of Jesus.
The Divine Essence
To use the phrase essence of God is to attempt to name a transcendent reality. To further delineate with words is to attempt to unfold more at the doorstep of mystery. Speaking of the essence of God is of course a matter of transcendence in relation to humanity. This is particularly so when speaking of essence as that which constitutes the reality of God’s being as spirit. In my thought, when speaking (or writing) about that which constitutes the essence of God, it is our way of speaking about that which is distinctly God, separate from the creation or any other being.
However, I think the essence of God, that which constitutes God’s being, has been added to by the inclusion of Christ’s humanity. Is this addition so inclusive, so embraced, so permeating, as to be referenced as a change in the essence of God?
First, is the irrevocable aspect of the inclusion of Christ’s humanity into the being of God. In the incarnation, God became a human being without exception. It might be suggested that only the experience of being human is gained by the incarnation. Yet, this does not consider the permanence of the incarnation in the resurrected Lord. I think the oracles of Psalm 110 are sufficient to aid in this brief presentation, although there is an abundance of scripture and theological support.[i]
The equality of the risen Adonai is metaphorically presented as seated at the right hand of God. As God rested over the creation so Jesus rests over his accomplished work as Lord. I will offer a picture to aid in my thought. God as a circle, the experience of God in Jesus, particularly the inclusion of the risen but changed body, now permeates or touches every aspect of God’s being (fills the circle). In effect, God has made part of what it means to be God (the omnific being) is to be human. If this is so, as I think it to be, then the essence of God has been added to in a way that is more than solely experiential. God has embraced being human into God’s self (essence) in such a way that God as a human being is become eternal (never ending).
Humanity exists as creatures created in the image of God; meaning God has related us to God’s self. God cannot incarnate as the Lord Jesus unless humanity is his image bearing creatures; e.g. God cannot become a bull because the bull would cease to be a bull. The uniqueness (monogenes or only begotten) state of Jesus existence as a human being who is God, and his resurrection to the right hand (equality) of God, dictates a newness in God, a change to the very essence of that which constitutes God; a change that is achieved not by an intruding outside force, but by the creative power of God’s love for humanity.
It is my understanding that when God swears, God is making an unconditional and irrevocable oath. The permanence of the risen Lord as priest in Ps. 110:4 makes the inclusion of the man, or Lord Jesus, into the essence or being of God to be unending. We can no longer speak of God without speaking of God as a human being. The identity of God is not separable from Jesus. This being said, the Father and son are one and are of the same essence as Christ’s spirit.
To write about that which is transcendent (God’s essence) we are limited to faith and revelation. It is my thinking that the revelation of the work of God in Jesus Christ the Lord affirms a change in the essence of God by the inclusion of the humanity and person of Jesus. God became a distinct human being and this revelation affirms the addition of being human into the essence or being of God as unchangeable.
I understand God’s nature to be ‘Holy’; God cannot be other than who God is. Certainly, God’s experience of humanity is an unprecedented experience in the life of God, even an adventure. Wrestling to grasp transcendent realities is a limited enterprise! However, the inclusion of the man Jesus as a holy addition into that which constitutes God (divine essence) would not change God’s nature.
It is the brilliance of Paul that splits the Shema and the monotheism of Israel is preserved because the ineffable is become both Father and Son, both God and Lord. It is correct to say that God has become one of us!
1st Cor. 8:6
yet for us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
God has joined his creation and the creatureliness of Jesus is become divine. We will always be creatures in relation to God, granted more than merely creatures, even beloved children, but Jesus alone is LORD.
I have presented this argument because it is imperative for Christian theology to affirm the existential change in God. We can no longer speak of God as ‘only’ wholly other for the glorified Lord is in essence, including his body, God. The OT theophany was a precursor to the desire of God to become human. God is not detached from humanity in essence but has added, incorporated, into God’s being, a human being. God’s existence is not defined by the creation of the cosmos but by God’s humanity. God is love.
Good news in a few words.
“God was so enamored, so omnipotently in love with humanity that he joined the creation, irrevocably became a human being, made part of what it means to be God is to be human - allowed humanity to murder him and did so in a way that is revelatory of transcendent love and power - calling us all to recognize the sacredness of a human being. The only thing sacred to God is human life. This one fact, this reality, this truth, directs us toward a world without violence or greed; toward a Kingdom ruled by a revelation, by a man, by God, by a revelation that makes death (although painfully present) to be bereft of finality. Our unlimited imagination and all its powers are now directed toward being human in a way that fulfills the royal laws of loving God and neighbor (even our enemy) so that Christianity can be the most potent reality in a crooked world, a power that heals and straightens. Hope for the present is as important as hope for the resurrection! Like Jesus, we are to all be agents of change. “Thy Kingdom come ....
- Phillip Michael Garner -
[i] In my studies of Psalm 110 I came to the conclusion that the Psalm was written to preserve the two oracles, the first in verse 1, and the second in verse 4.