The Sense and Nonsense of the Incarnation

Wallace Alcorn reflects on the wonder of Incarnation

If I were to write a sequel to C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, I would instruct Wormwood to attack first the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ—especially the Incarnation, by which God became man. If you can convince people either that Jesus was not God but just another human or, alternatively, that God did not become man in Jesus but remains totally different, you will have broken the only possible connection between God and humans. Everything else about Christianity will fall apart with this disjunction. You won’t even need to dispute the existence of God, because without the Christ of God the existence of God wouldn’t make any difference. You will have won everything, and the game is over.

Be advised, Wormwood, do not attempt to dispute the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. This is just too well documented, and it’s not really necessary. All you need do is convince people that Jesus was only a man. You can even afford to praise Jesus as a very good man—the greatest man who ever lived, for that matter. In point of fact, this is the smart thing to do. People are quite willing to admit Jesus actually lived and was a very good man. This is no threat to our cause. The really crucial thing is that you convince people Jesus was not God.

Now, I talk no longer as a Screwtape but from my own sense of awe at what God has accomplished. To be boldly honest, the incarnation is utter and absolute nonsense. It is contradicted by nothing less than the basic laws of thought, exhaustively discussed by philosophers and taken for granted by us all. Without compliance with these, there is no thought and language has no meaning. The law of identity has it that a thing is itself and nothing else (in the same way and at the same time). On the other end is the law of contradiction: A thing is not both itself and not itself (in the same way and at the same time).

The law of identity puts it, then, that Jesus can be man and God can be God, but Jesus cannot be God and God cannot be man, because each would be something other than what is. To say this is so is nonsense. Likewise, the law of contradiction puts it that Jesus cannot be non-Jesus, e.g., God. God cannot be non-God, e.g., man. In this respect also, it is nonsense.

Logically nonsense and ontologically impossible that the incarnation is, the incarnation, well, is. Jesus Christ is, in fact, the God-man. That human thought has no category to accommodate it and that human language has no term adequate to express it is all beside the point.

The point is precisely that God who created everything created the incarnation and its God-man. Moreover, God reveals as much in what has been demonstrated to be the divine Word of God. Finally, Jesus Christ himself demonstrated his God-manness by the perfect life he lived and what he has accomplished by his death. He has resurrected from the death of sin those who have become alive in Christ.

This is to say that the impossible not only has become possible but actual.

Because the incarnation makes no sense in finite, human thought and language, any effort to explain this beyond this little is bound for failure. All well meaning theologians have ever been able to do through the centuries is to focus disproportionately on one aspect of the God-man (usually because it hasn’t received adequate consideration) and all other aspects, equally valid as they are, fall apart as being contradicted by the distortion.

No one has yet been able to articulate a logical explanation of this illogical reality. Not to worry: It is our opportunity in salvation to experience what it means for Jesus Christ to be the God-man who is both our Savior and Lord. We can experience what we cannot explain or even understand.