Flesh Wounds

GOBSMACKED BY THE INCARNATION

All the suffering we have seen recently—the dead Palestinian children, the casualties of civil war in Syria and the Congo, and the personal travails of so many—makes me think that what human beings must endure demands what the Incarnation offers.

This doctrine divides monotheists. For Jews and Muslims the idea that God himself became incarnate pollutes or drags down his divinity. For me, and for many other Christians, it would be intolerable if the God responsible for our being and, in some direct or indirect way, for our suffering were completely exempt from suffering, from how it feels to suffer what we do. If God is not tied into this life, if the particular suffering of humanity is not central to his own being, then something about creation itself is violated. One of the reasons Christianity and Buddhism stand out for me among religions is that both put suffering at the center.

The idea of incarnation would be scandalous enough even without the Cross. The idea that God takes on the fullness of creation, assuming it in mortal flesh, is shocking—and should be seen as shocking. But would a God who is not with us to this extent, a God who is distant from our suffering, be any less shocking?

The Incarnation is consistent with the confrontation between Job and God, and Job’s willingness to question. Job is answered with what amounts to sarcasm—God is hard on a...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.