Vulnerability as an Attribute of God

Holbein Dead Christ, detail_phixr (2)

I recently wrote this on Facebook: “I think we too quickly forget that one of the most amazing things about what God in Christ demonstrated in the incarnation was total vulnerability; a willingness to be taken advantage of for something greater.”

What I had in mind was this famous Pauline passage:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.[1]

And as I had the Philippians correspondence in mind, I also had this Karl Barth reflection on the humiliation of God in Christ in mind:

Positively his self-emptying refers to the fact that, without detracting from his being in the form of God, he was able and willing to assume the form of a servant and go about in the likeness of a human being, so that the creature could know him only as a creature, and he alone could know himself as God. In other words, he was ready to accept a position in which he could not be known in the world as God, but his divine glory was concealed from the world. This was his self-emptying…. His deity becomes completely invisible to all other eyes but his own. What distinguishes him from the creature disappears from everyone’s sight but his own with his assumption of the human form of a servant with its natural end in death, and above all with his death as that of a criminal on the cross…. He can so empty himself that, without detracting from his form as God, he can take the form of a servant, concealing his form of life as God, and going about in the likeness of a human being…. It all takes place in his freedom and therefore not in self-contradiction or with any alteration or diminution of his divine being…. This means that so far from being contrary to the nature of God, it is of his essence to possess the freedom to be capable of this self-offering and self-concealment, and beyond this to make use of this freedom, and therefore really to effect this self-offering and to give himself up to this self-humiliation. In this above all he is concealed as God. Yet it is here above all that he is really and truly God. Thus it is above all that he must and will also be revealed in his deity by the power of God.[2]

Rarely do we hear of vulnerability as an attribute of God, but that’s what we see revealed in the most dramatic reality of all time; i.e. the incarnation of God (in the asumptio carnis). We live in a world where, often, might is seen as right; and fake it till you make it is chivalrized. We live in a world where we attempt to sell ourselves by putting our best faces all over our curriculum vitas and resumes. Humanity in its in se incurvatus (incurved) state presents a different version of God, a paper-god. The conception of divinity that shapes the modern Western psyche is a projection of the greatest “discernible” attributes of what it means to be human; these attributes are “hulkinized,” and it is this conception of God we worship on a daily systemic basis. We build great cathedrals of materialism and sport to honor our conception of the divine. And we look at the God revealed in Jesus Christ as foolish and weak (cf. I Cor. 1.17-25).

But this is the radical reality of the Gospel, of the God of the Gospel. The living God revealed in Christ is a God who is willing to be mis-taken as a mere man, as a human being among us. He is willing to be seen as the many instead of the One, if only He might redeem the many from His inner-reality as the God-man. It is this vulnerability that we see on display in the true and the living God; this is why the world-system, and the spirit that makes that up ultimately believe that the God exegeted in Christ is an imposter. This is why the wisdom of the world, if anything, must abstract any sense of divinity from Christ, and at the most, attempt to elevate Him up as one of their own; as a ‘good’ man, or sage teacher. Vulnerability as an attribute of God does not compute with humanly conceived conceptions of the divine; it seems weak and foolish. But such is the wisdom of God; his foolishness and weakness is greater than the foolishness and weakness of the self-possessed human.

[1] Philippians 2.5-8.

[2] Karl Barth, CD II/1, 516-17 cited by George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology, 86-7, Nook version.

 

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