The Enfleshed God: A Cosmic and Theological Discussion

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“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NRSV)

In a recent Biologos article, theologian Niels Henrik Gregersen paints the picture of a God who entered our cosmic timeline by assuming the flesh in the person of Jesus. Gregersen uses the term “deep incarnation” to move us from our often-narrow anthropocentric view of God’s redemptive movement that often minimizes the rest of the cosmos. In other words, Gregersen argues that the incarnation affects the “entire material universe,” both “around us and within” us.

This cosmic incarnation allows God to share our human condition in deeply intimate ways. Gregersen underscores that Christ shared our human condition, not from the surface, but in a cellular and molecular way. Moreover, by taking on the flesh, God simultaneously shares in the human symbiotic evolutionary advantages and in “the miseries of biological decay and human sin.” Reminding us of Bonhoeffer’s maxim that only a God who shares in our suffering can help us and redeem us from our sinful condition. This idea brings into focus a God willing to share our pain, social exclusion, and the unfairness of the human condition. By joining our evolutionary heritage, Jesus becomes a “microcosm of the cosmos at large,” foreshadowing the fullness of God’s ultimate redemptive and transformative desires.

God’s Cosmic Answer to the Human Condition

Gregersen’s ideas are remarkably similar to normative Wesleyan theological constructs. Wesley’s axial understanding of the incarnation provided a road map to see the incarnation as a cosmic event that transcended the traditional anthropocentric views. For Wesley, the incarnation was God’s eternal and necessary decree to bring ultimate redemption of the whole created order (i.e., all the cosmos, including living and non-living things). Also, Wesley wrote about the incarnation in terms that are evocative of a God who approached the world in a loving and transformative kénōsis (i.e., his self-emptying love). Lastly, he saw the incarnation as God’s redemptive mediation to restore holiness (i.e., his holy image) to the whole creation.

Gregersen writes about a God who willingly “absorbs” all the material and non-material aspects and particles of human existence to cleanse sin from all creation. Similarly, Wesley maintained that humankind was in a deplorable condition marked by sin, inequality, poverty, injustice, and vices. Consequently, God takes the initiative to take on the flesh by sending his only begotten son so that, through faith, creation can be enjoined in redemption and eternal life (John 3:16). Therefore, Wesley asserts, where sin and failure were introduced to human existence through Adam’s failure, in the incarnation God bears our infirmities and carries our afflictions (i.e., joins our evolutionary history) to become the cosmic answer to our condition.

For Wesley, salvation becomes an event of cosmic proportions where God takes on the flesh to dwell among us, experience our condition, and provide a definitive answer for his alienated creation. In other words, the locus of the incarnation is the redemption of God’s created order. Following Wesley’s position, Thomas C. Oden, Methodist theologian and author, explains that God’s eternal son took on the flesh to redeem the world (i.e., the whole created order) from the bondage and influence of sin. This concept of cosmic salvation is made plain in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “For the creation waits with eager longing… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:19-21, NRSV).

  • In The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Episcopalian theologian Matthew Fox challenges the reader to reimagine the prophetic coming of Christ as grounded in cosmic unity.
  • In “The God of Culture,” SftC friend Paul Wason reminds us how the incarnation made the eternal God a member of the human species.
  • Catherine Amy Kropp, Episcopalian pastor and theologian, unpacks how the cosmos becomes an integral part of the narrative of God’s incarnation in Christ.
  • Don’t forget to check out our collection of carefully curated resources on the incarnation.

They Will Call Him Emmanuel: God with Us

Reminding us of the Christmas story, Gregersen centers the incarnation on a descending Christology where God becomes deeply entangled with the created order. Thus, surprisingly, the enfleshed God assumes the entire material world to cleanse it, remedy its vulnerability, and shelter the weak. Hugo Magallanes, Wesley’s biographer and theologian, suggests that Wesley’s faith centered on the axial concept of the incarnation: “Emmanuel, God with us.” Therefore, the incarnate God takes on the flesh of its alienated creation to connect heaven and earth, to identify with our experiences, and to bring about ultimate redemption.

These ideas are not unique to Gregersen or Wesley. Take, for example, Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth. In his book Church Dogmatics, Barth proposes that the son of God invades our history (i.e., the locus of our cosmic existence) to establish a true communion with God and a true relationship with his fellow man to unite life with God’s incomparable being.

Therefore, through the incarnation, Christian faith revolves around the ideas of an all-powerful God who puts on the restraints of the flesh to bring new life and redemption by the action of the life-giving divine spirit. Gregersen explains that this story takes place in time and space. Yet, it reverberates throughout time with cosmic implications that communicate truth and face us with God’s nearness, even two thousand years after Jesus’ historical death and resurrection. In other words, God’s cosmic entrance into our world to fulfill his redemptive purposes is still extant and available to us today.

One of the questions that has captivated human imagination the most relates to why the eternal God took on the flesh, joining in our human condition. In John 3:16, the Bible gives us the framework to answer this question: “For God so loved the cosmos…” (NRSV). Moreover, the holy writ advances the idea that the advent of Christ (i.e., the enfleshed God) points to the fulfillment of the good news. As the prophets of old foretold, in the fullness of time, God rendered the veil of our cosmic existence to enjoin the eternal with our temporal existence to redeem the entire cosmos. Therefore, Christ becomes the physical expression of God’s eternal logos and the tangible manifestation of his kenotic approach of love and justice. This kénōsis is the ultimate expression of God’s redemptive love, for “in Christ, God was reconciling the cosmos to himself” (2 Cor. 5.19, NRSV).

In Nobis Regnat Iesus,

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