Thursday, December 22, 2011

Theology 101: Incarnation

I have been reading Mapping Human History by Steve Olson. It was published in 2002 and I got it from the library. It is a survey of DNA mapping. One of its themes is that race as a biological event is quite recent in human history. Skin color, pointed noses, flat faces, curly hair, all markers that societies have used to delineate groups of people from others are newcomers to the human DNA spectrum. And how many wars and people subjugated simply because of some blip on a chromosome?

Olson shows that after the rise of modern humans in the Great Rift Valley in Africa circa 65,000 years ago, humanity followed a couple of paths: one up into the plains of the Middle East and another by water routes to Southeast Asia and ultimately to Australia. It is fascinating to know that these migrations can be charted in the DNA of wandering groups.

From the time of my youth I have dabbled in genealogy. I was interested in knowing how my family had arrived in the Midwest and who fought on what side of the Civil War. I found that we were basically farming people who followed where good land could be found. My appreciation for cultural movements began to expand when I found that it was the Industrial Revolution that moved parts of my family from Connecticut to Missouri or from Virginia into the Missouri Valley or from enclosed England and Scotland to America.

Now to those who follow Creationism would have difficulty with this mapping of human history by genetic means. But I have never understood the Bible as a purveyor of factual history. The Bible has always been for me accounts of how people who have faith in God have conveyed how faith was passed on. I believed in archaeological developments long before I ever read the Genesis accounts so I have never had to 'give up' my faith in order to believe in science. So historical and pre-historical accounts that are confirmed by genetic research makes Scripture all that more rich and interesting.
Humanity has been far more mobile than most of us are aware. The "Journey" is at the heart of what it means to be human, it seems. However, if we stand in the history of a people who repeated to themselves "A wandering Aramean was my father..." before they offered sacrifice to their God, we know ourselves to be a species that is constantly moving. Jesus would have repeated those words mindful of his forebears who had been herders and wanders in the vast wilderness of the Middle Eastern Fertile Crescent for millennia. He would have known himself to be of the lineage of kings yet still a "country bumpkin" from Galilee. He wandered from town to town reminding people that life as they knew it needed to change to know God's pleasure, to know the goodness of God and to know their own goodness before God.

How does this DNA research connect us to the Incarnation—the God who dwells among us? I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, but I am heartened by this DNA information. For me it tells me that God has had God’s finger on the ‘pulse’ (or perhaps on the chromosomes) of humanity since before time. And while I am fascinated by the science and even more fascinated by the history, I am comforted by the care that God has taken in placing intelligent humans (homo sapiens sapiens) in Africa to give us our roots.  No more can we claim superiority or special privilege because of exterior physical trait.

The Incarnation of God in humanity in Jesus the Christ is the sign that God has been present to Creation from the first moment of atomic fusion that created us. It reminds us that we can always turn to that Goodness, that Essence of love, Beauty and Truth that is at the center of the creation. That God chose to dwell among us (the Greek word in the first chapter of John translates “he tented among us) is the sign of God’s intentional and continuing intimacy in the continued Journey that humanity makes. And more importantly I find comfort in the fidelity of God to Creation that is written in the DNA of every living thing.

My family can trace its roots to the western movement that began in 16th century England and Scotland as can many in the western hemisphere. But this ‘wandering Aramean’ mentality is as much of the history of our faith as it is the history of our genes. God ‘tents’ god self among us reminding us of our touch with goodness and Godliness that is imprinted in us. Many genes in the physical body are not used unless ‘activated’ by some chemical process, scientists tell us. The same holds true with our ‘faith gene’. The call to be faithful to God, to return the faith that God has had in us as the created beings that we are, can only be activated if we choose. It is not a chemical reaction. It is an act of the will to respond to the goodness that was implanted in us. It is the call to live into that Imago Dei ( Image of God) that we were created to be. This does NOT mean we are to be gods. But it does mean that we are to act in living out the goodness of God that is imprinted deeply within us.

It is this Incarnation that I find the most compelling part of Christianity.  Not the Cross, not the Crucifixion or even the Resurrection holds the image of God's intimacy with humanity as does the Incarnation.  The Incarnation--God's enfleshment shows for all time that God is faithful to use down to the molecular level that God is with us, not only in the Christ, but in each one of us.  Is this the Divine Spark of ancient theology?  I am not sure.  But I do know that it is within in those who choose to find it. 

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