The Christian message, born of an insight deeper than words and transmitted through the full silence of the Spirit, is embarrassing. “God became human so that human beings might be come God.”
This refrain of the early theologians sounds more daring than many theologians would risk today and it strongly resisted the attempts of gnostical dualism to dilute it. What it means, of course, can only be understood through the experience of our lives when we try, weakly most of the time, to live as if it were the central truth, the real thing in all circumstances.
It suggests that Incarnation is God concentrating into a singular human being so that God can indeed ‘become fully human”. How else can one be human without being a human being in a particular time and place? The classical theologians thought this was necessary but that the suffering this individual underwent was inevitable. God needed to be human. Jesus, the fulfilling of this divine need, didn’t want to suffer any more than any human wants to suffer. (Father if it is your will let this cup pass me by).
This doctrine might sound abstract and parochial to many today. In fact it changes the way we ourselves become incarnate in our own unique life-stories through all the phases of our development. It helps us not to get stick in infantile mentality or adolescent behaviour as we see happening in most violent conflicts and indeed in many of our own personal problems.
It also teaches us the authentic way of handling suffering. As Leonard Cohen says we must learn to lament within the strict limits of dignity and beauty. The ego’s tendency to self-pity risks making us isolated and bitter. But to know what our destiny is, what suffering taking us towards, gives both compassion and dignity to our approach to suffering, disappointment and loss.
This is why Lent is a Christian season. And why meditation is Christian prayer Not to be punitive towards ourselves because of our failings or to seek enlightenment merely as an escape from suffering. But to be fully human, wholly awake, in order that we can indeed ‘become God’ as we are programmed to do.
Laurence Freeman OSB