Thursday, November 06, 2014

True and True-er

Consider with me, for a moment, the Magnificat - Mary's song of praise to the God who lifts up the humble and puts down the proud and mighty.  The song is prompted by Mary's realisation, in conversation with her cousin, that God is really doing this.  The Messiah is coming, and she, Mary, will be his mother.

Here are two things you could say about the theme of the song in the context of the gospel:
1.  God always works by turning things around - putting down the mighty and lifting up the humble - and he shows that supremely in Jesus;
2.  In sending Jesus, God works to put down the mighty and lift up the humble - and as we see that in Jesus, we see that it is also how God has always worked.

I would suggest that statement 1 is true.  It moves from a consideration of God's general providence to a consideration of the incarnation, and sees the latter as the high point of all God's dealings with his creation.  He has always worked like this, and here - in Jesus - we see the mountain peak of his working, standing out above all his other providences and provisions.

But statement 2 is true-er.  It moves from God's action in Jesus, and sees it not just as the pinnacle but as the source  of all God's dealings in providence.  The incarnation is not only the mountain peak, but it is also the fountain-head.  It is true that we see, in the light of the gospel, that God's general providence also has this character of reversing the apparent status of human beings; but now we see that providence as the outworking of an inner logic, and that inner logic is the gospel itself.

I suppose I would see the relationship between statement 1 and statement 2 as the relationship between a true statement on the one hand and the statement of the truth on the other.

One reason why this is important is that it helps us to read providence correctly.  Because, let's face it, we often see the proud and the mighty remaining pretty lifted up all around us, and the humble being ground into the dirt.  We could not actually write the Magnificat off the back of providence alone.  But if the gospel is true, then all of those occasions when we do see something that looks like this become little reminders of the great reversal that lies at the heart of the meaning of creation - the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

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