Jesus has three daddies – or none

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Back in 1989, Lesléa Newman’s ground-breaking title of LGBT children’s literature, Heather Has Two Mommies, was published and pushed in schools to normalize family diversity. As soon as I saw this New Yorker cartoon and read its caption, I imagined an agnostic or atheist trying to grapple with a mystery that flummoxes even honest Christians: the parentage of Jesus. The clean-shaven disciple in the cartoon looks sideways at the bearded Jesus, wondering about “his complicated relationship with his father,” whether it be his invisible father, the Holy Spirit, who impregnated his mother; his heavenly father, Yahweh, who spoke audibly to him at his baptism (Mt. 3:16-17); or his earthly father, Joseph of Nazareth, who raised him and taught him the craft of carpentry. Of course, the theologically correct answer is that Jesus has no parentage. The Council of Nicea (325 AD) established the consubstantiality (homoousion) of Jesus, who is of the same substance as the Father and the Spirit, hence the affirmation of the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.

C. S. Lewis explains the mystery of Jesus’ non-parentage better than anyone I know in a chapter of Mere Christianity called, “Making and Begetting”:

One of the creeds says that Christ is the Son of God “begotten, not created”; and it adds “begotten by his Father before all worlds.” Will you please get it quite clear that this has nothing to do with the fact that when Christ was born on earth as a man, that man was the son of a virgin? We are not now thinking about the Virgin Birth. We are thinking about something that happened before Nature was created at all, before time began. “Before all worlds” Christ is begotten, not created. What does it mean?

We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set—or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is a clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.

Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.

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Silo mentality

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I love this New Yorker cartoon, where a husband and wife watch the news on a serpentine sofa, absorbed in their respective media silos. MSNBC and FOX News exist for the confirmation bias of their viewers: current events are framed to confirm preexisting beliefs, facts bend to ideology, and reality gets lost in the midst. No wonder civil discourse becomes nearly impossible today.

Here’s a way to start breaking out of the silo mentality*: read Yuval Levin’s The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left and Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

* Or, if you’re more ambitious, read Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Poetics, St. Augustine’s City of God, Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on Law (Summa Theologica, Questions 90-97), The Federalist Papers, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society, and Oliver O’Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations and The Ways of Judgment. 

An honest greeting

Hello.jpgAt my church, we are encouraged to wear name tags during the service to connect with each other. When I saw this New Yorker cartoon, I thought the man’s self-identification has theological significance for the church, which is really a hospital for the wrecked. Recall what Jesus said to the scribes of the Pharisees, who, conveniently overlooking their own condition, judged the company he kept with tax collectors and sinners: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

Mistaken identity

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No one does cartoons better than The New Yorker, so I relish the desk calendar of daily cartoons that entertains and puzzles me every day. This cartoon capitalizes upon a pet peeve of mine when posers mistake the true identity of Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). I also laugh because I would be that guy at a party correcting some ignoramus. Does that make me a monster?

Waiting for the Gift

Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 11.52.43 PMThe devil of commerce is behind Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Just prior to the Advent season, he distracts us from the truths of Nativity, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer articulated in a letter to his fiancée from prison on December 13, 1943: “God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment.” Nothing could be more opposite to the commercialization of Christmas than the idea of “wealth in poverty.” Our affluent society has given rise to the lie attributed to Malcolm Forbes, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” The New Yorker cartoon above is a trenchant rebuttal to the vulgar capitalist, and his impatient acquisition of material goods. More is not more. Wealth in poverty means less is more, which is why I need Advent, “a season of waiting,” which teaches me that Jesus Christ is the most good and perfect gift “coming down from the Father of heavenly lights” (James 1:17). I am poor, but He is rich. I cannot buy the Gift. I can only receive the Gift with a heart that waits, Advent to Advent, for “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” hidden therein (Col. 2:3). In the poverty of his prison cell, Bonhoeffer discovered, more acutely, the poverty of his own heart — a prerequisite to celebrating the Nativity. He says to his fiancée: “I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words: ‘We’re beggars; it’s true.’ The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.”