December 23, 2015

God Incarnate illogical? (Part 2 of 2)

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Guido Reni (1575-1642)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, December 23, 2015

God Incarnate illogical? (Part 2 of 2)

Christmas celebrates the truth of God becoming a human being. Jesus is God Incarnate: Jesus is fully God (God the Son) and fully human. But some object that "fully human" means not-God, so Incarnation means being God and not-God (at the same time and in the same sense), which is logically contradictory (logically impossible) and thus cannot be true.

In my October 17 column (God Incarnate illogical? Part 1 of 2), I argued that this objection fails: the notion of God Incarnate is not contradictory and thus its truth isn't logically precluded from the get-go. It's mysterious, but not nonsense.

Think of it this way: As the parent who limits him/herself to interact with a child at the child's level doesn't cease to be fully a parent, so it goes with God. As the creator of an interactive video game can become a character in the game and still fully remain the game's creator, so it goes with God.

Today I'll deal with three additional objections: Isn't the Incarnation contradictory because Jesus lacked omniscience (whereas God is omniscient), was tempted (whereas God can't be tempted), and died (whereas God can't die)?

Objection 1: According to the New Testament, Jesus doesn't know when the end will come, but God is supposed to know everything, so it's logically impossible for Jesus to be God.

Reply: Not necessarily. It's possible that Jesus' mind may have been operating at two levels, as is the case with humans. Jesus' deeper subliminal aspect of self may have had complete access to divine knowledge, and His non-subliminal aspect of self may not have had this complete access (although there apparently was some access). God the Son may have known this limitation would occur before deciding to become a man, yet He considered it a price worth paying in order to be like us to save us.

(Logic reminder: to refute the charge that something is contradictory/ logically impossible, all that's needed is a merely logically possible non-contradictory scenario, however far-fetched it might seem.)

Objection 2: What about the New Testament evidence for Jesus being tempted? God cannot be tempted, but Jesus was tempted, so Jesus can't be God—the contradiction still holds.

Reply: No. It is possible that Jesus' mind may again have been operating at the above-mentioned two levels, as the case with humans. Jesus' deeper subliminal/ subconscious aspect of self may have had complete access to divine power, whereas His non-subliminal aspect of self may not have had this complete access, thereby allowing for real temptation as a human (although there apparently was some access for the doing of miracles).

Objection 3: But what about the New Testament evidence for Jesus' death on the cross? God cannot cease to exist and still be God. Doesn't this show that Jesus can't be God?

Reply: No. This objection only gains traction if we hold the view that human death requires annihilation. But on the Christian view, human death logically entails physical death only, with the immaterial soul or spirit continuing its existence. So if Jesus the man dies on the cross, He can continue to exist as God, who is eternal Spirit.

Conclusion: Whether the above descriptions of how Jesus is the God-man is completely true in all its details, I don't know. I do know, however, that they're enough to show that the contradiction charge doesn't stick, so the idea of God Incarnate—that Jesus is fully God and fully human—is not logically impossible. And so the notion of Incarnation shouldn't be dismissed at the get-go as in principle impossible to be true.

For the earnest truth seeker, then, I suggest that he or she read (or re-read) the New Testament and keep in mind that there's good evidence for Jesus' life, death, and resurrection—and that the resurrection is a sign for thinking Jesus is who He claims to be.

Keep in mind too that the Holy Spirit may be using reason to knock gently on the door of one’s heart.

Merry Christmas!

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

Further reading on the principle of non-contradiction:

Further reading on the concept of Incarnation:

Further reading on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (which is a sign for believing Jesus is in fact God Incarnate and placing our trust in Him):

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