“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16
Whenever we speak of God, we do so using terms that humans can understand and identify with. We speak of ideas such as his interactions in human history, of his creative purposes, his existence as the basis of morality. All of these ideas of God, while somewhat beyond our grasp to fully comprehend, are within frameworks and categories that we as humans can honestly reflect upon. This is at least part of what it means to be made in the image of God, to think rationally. This rationality is a gift from God to His beloved creation.
Yet, while God is understandable to some degree within our human categories, He exists beyond those categories as well. After all, God is God. As God, He is transcendant. Utterly unique. God’s transcendance does not simply speak of the great distance that exists between us and God that limits our ability to fully know Him, but more broadly speaks of the great difference between the substance of God and the limitations of the human mind. He is wholly other. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).”
God is transcendant in the sense that He exists in a plane that no human can fully understand. There is profound mystery here. Part of the beauty of getting to know God on His terms is embracing that divine mystery of God’s wholly otherness. Not only is God transcendant, but He attributes are infinite. God is not loving as we think of people as loving individuals. God is the epitome, the very definition, of love itself. Love exists in human terms only because its existence flows from the substance of infinite love. Infinity is not a quantitative amount, but a qualitative description of God’s attributes. There is no limit to God’s love, to God’s wrath, to God’s omnipotence, omniscience, or wisdom. These exists in God to an infinitesimal degree.
Reflecting on the transcendance of God is a bit like discovering a portal into another world through which you can only see dim reflections of the other side. There is a dangerous mystery to such an endeavor. The closer one gets to the portal the more dangerous it becomes, but also the more compelled one is to gain further understanding and to immerse oneself in and through to the other side. In all of our studies and reflections we must never lose the wonderful mystery that God is not like us. God is mysterious. In our sinful state we tend to distort God in any number of variations. We make idols of God by making Him in our likeness and image. We imagine God to think like us, to need like us, to desire like us, to hope like us. But God is not like us.
It is only when we rightly fathom the transcendance of God and the infinity of God, that an event like the incarnation can begin to take its true form in our hearts. Paul’s letter to the Philippians attempts to capture the audacity of the incarnation in these words:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”Philippians 2:5-8
Christ Jesus is the Word made flesh. The second person of the transcendant Trinitarian God, born in the likeness of men. Transcendance made imminent. Other-worldliness in worldly form. Perfect purity and light entered darkness and fallenness. Eternity born of a woman. He who created life itself, crucified.
This is what makes the incarnation full of such beauty. It is difficult to deny that the human soul cries out for eternity. There is something inside humanity that knows deep down inside that we were made for more than this earthly tabernacle. Philosophers over many centuries have pondered why the human soul longs for something beyond its finite existence. What is it inside of us that feels as though we were made for more. The Psalmist captures this longing when he says, “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God (Psalm 84:2).” The human soul longs for this full satisfaction and spends its life searching high and low for fulfillment. But in our sinful weaknesses we fail to realize that in all of our searching for satisfaction, nothing on this Earth was made to quench that inner longing. No amount of money can satisfy the desire for more. No amount of friends can set the human soul on its proper course. It is only God, in all of His fullness, who can truly satisfy. But without the incarnation we are left stretching our arms to heaven reaching for something, or someone we can never fully grasp.
But in Christ, God draws near to men. Every other religion or worldview offers its suggestions of how to get up the “mountain” in order to reach salvation. If you live a certain way, or pray a certain way, or desire a certain way, then with enough work and diligence salvation might be yours. But the mountain peak is always out of reach. The cycle of despair seems incessant. The incarnation on the other hand, might be equated to God coming down the mountain. Rather than providing a new method for men to strive up the mountain, Christianity provides something utterly new. Grace. God comes to us rather than demanding we come to God. The incarnation is a divine rescue mission fueled by God’s love for his chosen children.
I have read stories of mothers and fathers who have given their life to save their children. One common narrative is of a child who has fallen into a dangerous rushing river. The parent upon discovering their child in danger, leaves their caution for their own life behind, and driven by love for their child leaps into the water. They frantically grab their child, and while kicking their feet frantically under the water, hold their child’s head above the water. As the child is rescued from help above, the parent gives their life beneath the water. When I read of stories like these I cannot help but reflect on the beauty and the power of the love of a parent. As a father of three little girls, stories like these strike me in a peculiarly honest way. I know this love.
In the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity leapt into the dangerous rapids in order to save those whom He loved. And in the crucifixion, He gave his life in order to complete that rescue. While the parallels are obvious between the two stories, the incarnation of Christ is beauty on an entirely different level.
“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”Romans 5:7-8
This passage from Romans reveals the depth of Christ’s love. I can personally relate to the story of the parent, because I understand the love of a parent to a child. But the love that Christ displayed through the incarnation I am not sure if I can fully fathom. In the incarnation, Christ jumped into the water to save His enemies, “while we were still sinners…” Every person who has ever been saved by Christ is a sinner saved by grace. We were rebels to God. We despised the one true God, and concocted idols in our minds and hearts of a god that was more palatable to our petty desires. Rather than worship God on His terms, we fought against him at every turn and demanded God appeal to us on our terms. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Isaiah 64:6).” Yet, God saw the fulness of this rebellion and chose to redeem us.
If it is a beautiful thing when an Earthly parent gives their life to save their precious child, what do we call it when a holy God gives His life to redeem His enemies? I suppose this might be described as an Infinity of Beauty.