I’m going through N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope at current. That fact’s importance for this blog post is negligible, other than that in the process of critiquing the prevalence of Gnostic/Platonic on the subject of death among today’s Christians, Wright points to the Incarnation as the fundamental answer to such heresy. In the Incarnation, God becomes man; the Divine takes on physical and literal flesh.

This isn’t exactly a new idea. In fact, it’s ancient. If we look closely at the first chapter of John, it becomes obvious that the Gospel-writer is deliberately engaging with Platonic philosophy. Plato taught that the physical world (and human words) were bad copies of a true spiritual reality that only existed in the mind of God (call it the divine Word if you like). As such, he taught that people should withdraw as much as possible from the physical world. But John has that true spiritual reality – God himself, the true Word – enter into the world. He becomes flesh. He meets a broken creation and its people where they are – in the physical, literal world. God’s brings us his mercy through the Incarnation.

But the more I sit and think about the Word-made-flesh, the more I realize that this type of incarnational mingling of the divine with the earthly is characteristic of God’s interactions with humanity. From the beginning, God chooses to address Adam in human language (a language that Adam himself had helped create – Gen. 3:19-20). In the process, he fills that human language with the same mighty Word that spoke creation into existence: God’s Word in human words. Likewise, during the writing of the Scriptures, God infuses his Word into the words of human authors, utterly mingling them so that any given point we cannot say “this is of Paul” or “this is of Moses” without at the same time affirming that “this is of God.” God’s Word is made incarnate in human language, perfecting what is mortal by the indwelling of what is immortal.

Turning to the Sacraments, we see the same divine presence filling earthly objects. In Baptism, God’s grace indwells the waters as the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon the recipient. Likewise, in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ very own body and blood are made manifest in, with, and under the bread and wine. These mortal elements cannot be separated from the divine. On their own, the water, bread and wine are merely physical. But when joined with the Word of God, these earthly things are joined with heavenly and become utterly indivisible.

The Spirit’s presence in the life of each Christian can be understood in a similar vein. The Holy Spirit enters our hearts and brings our wills in line with his – and he never departs except that we, by exercising our own will apart from his, reject him. So long as we remain in Christ, he remains in us, His Holy Spirit inextricably indwelling us. Even in justification itself, the same process is at work. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us and covers over our human unrighteousness. We become simul iustice et peccator – at the same time righteous and a sinner. We are Christ-covered and yet remain very real and very flawed humans. And that humanness, though it is in at the current time a constant source of sin and frustration, will finally be perfected in the resurrection of the dead. Our broken human bodies and our broken human souls will be raised perfected and imperishable, the process of our current sanctification finally being brought to completion. In the meantime, God brings us grace in the present as he works through human beings, as we (by God’s action in us) carry out the vocations he has given us.

Upon such short reflections, it becomes clear that the mercy of God is fundamentally bestowed on his people through incarnational means. God, knowing that we can never reach up to Him, reaches down to us. He makes his Word present in human words. He makes his Spirit present in water. He makes his own body and blood present in bread and wine. He clothes mortal people with the clothes of Christ, fills them with his Holy Spirit, and works through them to bring his grace to the world so that they remain fundamentally human while infused with the things of God. In short, God grants brings his heavenly mercy to our earthly realm.

And I, earthly man that I am, nevertheless lift up my voice and, by the Spirit within me, thank God for such incarnational mercy!