We’re so used to talking about what God gives in the incarnation that my title may almost seem sacreligious to some readers. God’s gift cannot have a selfish aspect, can it? Does the cord really have two ends in this case as well?
First, at the simplest level, all relationships have more than one side to them, otherwise they could not be relationships. A mother loves her child, and in most cases will continue to love that child whether or not her love is returned, but she certainly wants, even needs to see her love returned. There will always be an emptiness if there is no response from the child.
When we state that God doesn’t really need our worship or our prayers, it sounds like we are talking about how complete, absolute, and sovereign he is. But it also makes God seem distant and unreal. Worship and prayer are both part of our communication–our two-way communication–with God. And God needs to hear from us, as he needs us to hear from him. Isaiah 66:4 says that God is going to choose to mock the people, because when he called, “nobody answered!” God looks for two-way communication.
In the same sense as the mother will always miss the love of her child if it is not given, so God will eternally miss our love, if we do not give it to him.
Now in several essays I’m going to discuss the distance God crossed in the incarnation, but for now let me say simply that there is at least one thing that a being that is essentially infinite cannot have experienced, and that is being finite.
And this is where I see God “getting something” in the incarnation.
14Since we have such a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the son of God, let us grasp our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, since he has been tested in all things in the same way we have, but without sin. 16Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we might receive mercy and we might find grace in time of need. — Hebrews 4:14-16 (TFBV)
If we take seriously the concept of Jesus as God in the flesh–the fundamental Christian doctrine of the incarnation–we also see here God taking on the testing and trials of finite humans, living with our limitations, experiencing what it was like to be human. Now I admit this concept is a bit hard to grab hold of. It keeps my concept of the trinity pretty seriously stretched out. But nonetheless I think it follows directly from our doctrine of the incarnation and trinitarian theology.
I want to warn you where I’m going with this. Because there are two sides to the conversation and two sides to the relationship, I think that the incarnation is a challenge to us in our daily lives on earth. God gave, God crossed over, God experienced our life. As those who received the benefits of this (on this end), we are challenged in the way we think and act.
I’ll expand on that in my next entries, as I look at how the incarnation challenges us to God-like activity in worship, prayer, relationships, and charity.