The Incarnation, Once For All
by Tom Gilson
We Christians need to be realistic about the way our religion looks to others. Our message is that a wandering teller of tales and miracle worker who lived 2,000 years ago makes all the difference to everyone throughout history. If you don’t sense a touch of unlikeliness attached to that, then you don’t understand your friends and neighbors well enough. They think it’s most improbable on the face of it. And why not? Doesn’t it seem odd that one man’s life spanning just thirty-three years or so, one relatively brief set of teachings, one movement with such small beginnings, or even (assuming it happened) one man’s rising from the dead could change everything?
This is not the usual apologetics question concerning the life of Christ. It’s not whether the New Testament accounts can be trusted as history, and it’s not about whether he actually rose from the dead. It’s a question of plausibility: Why should I as a 21st century American (Briton, Australian, Canadian, …) think that one person’s life so long ago could have anything to do with me?
Part of the problem is that it was indeed so long ago. The other part (as I see it) is that it was over so quickly. Thirty-three years, and that was it. Couldn’t God have done better than that? Couldn’t he have staged some repeat performances, maybe updating the style and presentation as the centuries went by, maybe moving it around the world from place to place? I do not mean to be flippant with that question. When you or I want to make a point, after all, we usually make it more than once. When we want to persuade a whole population, we don’t just give it one shot, and we don’t just say it one way. And if we want that persuasion to stick, we don’t let years pass by without saying it again, much less centuries or millennia.
So if God wanted us to believe in Jesus, couldn’t he have done a better job of it? Why, in particular, was there only one life of Christ, and why was it so stuck in one place and time, so remote from all the rest of humanity?
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