I continue my blog series about Elizabeth Johnson’s book, Ask the Beasts.
Incarnation is the Christian doctrine that, in Jesus, God became flesh (John 1:14).
Some modern translations of that verse say “the word became a human being.” Johnson wants to go beyond this. Flesh has a broader meaning than just human beings. When Jesus became flesh as a human being, he joined the vast, evolving body of life in the cosmos. He entered upon the matrix of growth and decay. He entered upon the struggle for existence that characterizes all life. And, she says, he joined not just with biological life, but with the soil (dust of the earth) from which it arose. He joined the material world right down to its roots. She adopts the term “deep incarnation”.
The theory of evolution is a gift for theology. It helps us appreciate the scope of the incarnation. She says:
Viewing Jesus as God-with-us in this way entails a belief not at all self-evident for monotheistic faith which Christians share with Jewish and Muslim traditions. It affirms the radical notion that the one transcendent God who creates and empowers the world freely chooses to join this world in the flesh, so that it becomes a part of God’s own divine story forever (p. 196).
She notes that for someone who is seen as primarily a spiritual figure, Jesus actual ministry had a lot to do with physical healing, touching, and food.
Most of all on the cross Jesus shared the physical fate of every living thing. He died. But his death was not the result of a natural process. It was a violent death, a historically and politically induced death. Of course, not every living thing faces that kind of death. That kind of death has its own meaning. Still, it is a fact that Jesus died like all living beings. And the incarnation allows believers to see in that death the suffering of a God who is in solidarity with all life.
She thinks this means God is present and available in suffering and death to all creatures taking away the loneliness.
Seemingly absent, the Giver of life is silently present with all creatures in their pain and dying. They remain connected to the living God despite what is happening (p. 206)
This is a beautiful thought.
I am going to put off most commentary until I have read what she says about the resurrection. However, I will say that I appreciate that she preserves the incarnation as an event. Protestant process thinkers often adopt a panentheism that implies that the incarnation is not historical but that God as the universal process is by nature incarnate in everything. Jesus is only an illustration of this principle. Johnson and Catholic thinkers like Karl Rahner, on whom she draws, seem to avoid this.