When god learned humanity…


The best story of the incarnation is the one that starts in Job.

Job is the earliest book of the bible written and it might be one of the earliest, if not the earliest, attempt of mankind to wrestle with the problem of evil.

The story of Job starts with the titular character being painted as a very good man. He is pious. He is a loving father.

Unknown to Job, God is gathering his angels for a quarterly performance review. One of the angels, simply called an adversary, gets to God and gives his report.

“Yeah, I’ve walked the entire Earth and observed humanity, God. They suck.”

“Well, what about Job? He’s a good guy.”

“Yeah, only because you’ve let him prosper. Reduce him to abject misery and he’ll curse you like the rest.”

“If you really think so, go ahead and ruin his life,” God said.

So Job’s adversary kills his children, takes away his food and wealth, and afflicts him with a disease that makes him uncomfortable constantly.

And in his misery, Job has to defend himself against his friends who accuse him of secret sin. And Job constantly is asking, “Why would God let this happen to me?”

And at one point, he says, “I wish someone who understood what it was like to be human would explain my plight to God. He doesn’t understand what it’s like!”

And God eventually says to Job, “Yeah, well, you don’t understand what it’s like to be ME!”

Job says, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

And God “fixes” Job’s life. He makes him wealthier. He attempts to replace Job’s dead children with new ones, including more beautiful daughters. That kind of proves Job’s point doesn’t it? God doesn’t understand Job’s grief. He tries to replace the lost children as if that is the same thing.

So begins the story of Incarnation.

Maybe God decides Job is right. Maybe Job’s accusations stick with him. But at some point, long after Job is dead, God decides to understand humanity by becoming human.

He is born a cold, hungry, poor refugee. He has no bed of his own. No hospital. No midwife.

He cannot speak. He hasn’t learned how yet. So he cries. His parents try to understand what he wants. Misunderstandings happen. Frustration happens.

His family flees from political violence. They become the refugee. They become the stranger. They become the illegal immigrants, right? The least of these.

He is poor. He works as an apprentice stonecutter or carpenter. He experiences sickness for the first time personally, either himself or by watching one of his family suffer. He sits up at night concerned for them.

He experiences human death and loss. He sees a widow mourning her son and he feels compassion for her. Perhaps he has already experienced the death of his father and watched his mother grieve him. He doesn’t give the widow another son. He brings her son back from the dead.

He has mercy and empathy and compassion for the sick. He cries for the sinner and eats and drinks with them. The outcasts. He puts humanity above adherence to the law. That’s quite a change of heart from a god who ordered a man picking up sticks to be killed for breaking the law. He saves a woman about to be executed. He appeals to the empathy of the crowd.

He is homeless. Sometimes, the authorities harass him and chase him from town.

He is tired.

His friend dies and he cries. So much death over so many eons of time, and god cries over death and human frailty for the first time in the story.

He is rejected, he is falsely accused, he is tortured, he is abandoned, he is hung on a cross for a slow execution. He is George Floyd. He is Job. His life in ruins, he echoes the words Job more or less spoke to him much earlier in the story.

“God! Why have you forsaken me?”

He is finally, one of us. He understands us entirely now. He has lived our lives. He no longer lectures us about not understanding him or asks if we created the stars in the skies. He suffers pain and loss and dies mostly alone.

His words echo his total identification with humanity now, “How you treat the poorest, the hungriest, the outcast, the hated, the abandoned, the imprisoned, the foreigner, the refugee… however you treat them is how you’re treating Me.”

The story, of course, goes on from there. There is a story of resurrection. There is a story of hope that one day, when we die, God will return the favor, so to speak, and impart a bit of divinity to us, so we’ll live knowing and understanding what it is like to be Him.

But the story of the incarnation is the bit I like: when a distant and hardly seen god decided to put himself through the joys and miseries of human existence and learned to understand us and become one of us.

And I know orthodox Christians will take issue with the way I’ve framed the story, but it’s the story I like.

You can tell the story your own way. You can tell it as god gifting humanity with himself. I’ll tell it as humanity gifting god with a deeper understanding of humanity. You can tell your story as 100% literal historical fact, and I’ll tell mine focusing on what I think is the most important part:

The incarnation is about stepping into another’s shoes and understanding them and opening yourself up to feeling compassion, mercy, kindness, and love for them in a way you hadn’t before.

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