Friday, December 21, 2018

This particular God

Approaching Christmas, I'm pondering again what it means that God is revealed and known through the child in the manger.  I come back again and again to the particularity of it all.  The Christian claim is exactly this: that at a particular place and time, in principle a place which could be mapped and which stands in proximity to all sorts of other places which do not have this significance, and in principle a time which could be indicated on a clock and placed on a timeline with other moments, God the Creator was personally united to his creation in the person of Jesus Christ.

If the significance of that seems obscure, let me try to unpack it a bit.

When we say 'God' as Christians, we are not talking about a universal truth but a particular one.  That is to say, the meaning of 'God' is defined from this particular moment - with the human life which it began.  There is no generic god behind this event, no universal god, not even a god who - as one of the things which he decided to do - became incarnate at this moment.  No, God means this particular God.  No other.

That means that our knowledge of God must begin here, at the manger.  It's a scandal, because it means that knowledge of God is not generally open to everyone everywhere.  Knowledge of God is found in the face of Jesus Christ, as he lies in the crib and hangs on the cross.  There is no other way in.  Knowledge of God means knowledge of this particular history.  No other.

The implication is that God is a factor in our world.  The true God is not some sort of spiritual substrate, not a universal presence per se.  The God who exists is God-with-us, God in the particular history of Jesus Christ and therefore God in the particular history of my life and yours.  Living in the presence of God means living this particular life.  No other.,

But then there is also the fact that this particularity excludes other particularities.  A generic or universal god might be compatible with everything and anything, but this particular God excludes.  He is born in Bethlehem, and not elsewhere; the King of the Jews and not a generic monarch.  That means he excludes Augustus, and Herod.  His particular 'yes' is also a particular 'no'.  It means that justification before God means unity with this particular Saviour.  No other.

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