The human being is a kind of bridge between the physical world and the spiritual world. Created in the image of God, man can tend upward – ordering all things toward the creator – or downward into the exclusive pursuit and domination of visible, created things.
This tension inscribed within humans marks us with a deep spiritual restlessness and instability, since we cannot live rightly either as angels or as mere non-rational animals. Human beings are marked simultaneously both by immortal longings and by the certainty of death. They form a crossroads between God and the whole material creation, standing at the heart of the created order. This is one reason the Devil, in his revolt against the wisdom of God, seeks to wrestle humanity away from God so as to make a caricature of the creation of God and to mark the world of men with clear signs of moral capitulation and spiritual failure.
Christianity claims that God’s central response to human sin, however, has been to become human. Why? If the human situation is marked by opaque meaning, residual moral frailty and physical mortality, then why should God embrace our situation?
If God is real, ought he not simply to have chosen to remake the human condition from scratch, by divine fiat? Why should he unite himself to us in our very imperfect situation? The answer is divine love. God manifests his mysterious wisdom and power not by destroying or instantly resolving our situation, but by offering us his divine mercy, grace and friendship, and by offering all this to us in the midst of our suffering and moral fragility. Divine love has its own customs which are infinitely wise, but which are not those of men. God sees fit to “rehabilitate” the human race after sin not by destroying it, but by entering into it via incarnation, in the vulnerability of being a human child and of death by crucifixion, so as to invite the human race to discipleship and to resurrection from the dead.
In the ancient Church, there were two great traditional answers to the question “why did God become human?” One was from St Athanasius and the other from St Anselm of Canterbury. Athanasius answers that God became human so that human beings might “become God”, that is to say, that they might be united to God by grace. The premise to this argument is that human beings stand in need of salvation from death and nothingness. In effect, then, salvation for the human person consists in union with God, who is eternal and undying. But in that case, nothing can save us short of God himself. No mere creature can unite another creature to the Creator.
Consequently, Christ can only save us if he is truly God made man. It is God himself who has united the human race to God by becoming human, and has thus made it possible for us to have eternal life through union with Christ.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection