I was once told of a preacher who always started to explain the gospel by talking about angels, because doing so was a way of making obvious that the gospel was something extra-ordinary.
Because of the infrequent, cynical way we talk about the supernatural, I’ve absorbed much of the idea that the supernatural is a ‘blip’ in the ordinary run of things. We connect the supernatural with miracles which are, by definition, ‘blips’, exceptions to the norm. The supernatural is rare and not to be expected. Even where we concede a turn of events which cannot be explained, we are more likely to posit “an explanation gap” than the supernatural.
Such is the hold that this way of thinking has, that it is easy to let it to seep into how we understand Christian faith. This can take two forms. Either Jesus’ resurrection is an exception, a miracle, a ‘blip’, an intervention to disrupt the normal run of things or alternatively, Jesus is the exception, the hero protagonist who enters and intrudes at a pivotal moment and manages to overcome.
Both of these framings get something half-right, but the Gospel is rather more spectacular than either really portrays.
Here’s the half-right. Jesus’ resurrection is exceptional, a miracle, when it is understood that the etymology of miracle is “wonder”. A miracle properly understood is an event undertaken by divine agency: Jesus’ resurrection is exactly this.
Likewise, Jesus is the exception. Jesus is both fully God and fully human, which is not true of any other person. (Long theological sidenote: Jesus can be both because of the non-competitive relationship between the Creator and creation. This is non-duality in its proper sense: God and the world are not two things to be added together. They can’t take up the same space because “if we are to hold to the doctrine that creation is a free and gratuitous bestowal of life, not a necessity for God, we must hold to the integrity of the system of finite causes and interactions” (Rowan Williams, Christ the Heart of Creation, p228). As such, God can act only from the centre of finite life, and not as an intruder; otherwise the divine act dissolves the integrity of what is made. Jesus is “a humanity which establishes itself as the locus of divinity” and not a humanity ‘like’ divinity or humanity freed from frustration (“, p237).)
But here is where the Gospel is really rather more spectacular.
Jesus is not a blip. Jesus’s resurrection is not inexplicable. It is directly connected with Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God. The resurrection is part of the sheer impossibility of defeating and extinguishing the divine presence in Jesus. The Uncreated, the Infinite Word, cannot be rendered finite.
And so it is that Jesus is also not an intruder (see the long theological sidenote). The resurrection is not achieved by an instance of sheer power or by the divine and supernatural ‘breaking in’ for the supernatural is “is not something inserted into the natural and breaking its integrity” (“, p237).
Jesus saves from the “inside out”.
John’s Gospel identifies Jesus with the Word of God, “In the beginning was the Word [Logos]… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.
The ‘word’ in scripture has a richer meaning than in modern languages. The Word does not solely communicate or inform a meaning, it brings it about. The Word is efficacious, it brings about that which it says. In Genesis God speaks creation into being. If God is the Word, of course creation is spoken, it is God is God-ing creation into being.
Jesus is identified as the Word of God, the Logos, the principle of divine reason and creative order, because in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1).
Jesus is the great Reconciler. The person of Jesus overcomes the separation of invisible and visible, of infinite and finite, of creator and created. Jesus is the Word in which creation is, by which creation was created and for which creation is. Jesus has a unique relationship with creation: the humanity of Christ expresses the fullness of creation, the integrity and wholeness of the Creator and created together, and in being this way Christ is also the beginning of the new creation where God dwells with all He has made.
Jesus saves from the “inside out”. He does not enter stage right on Christmas morning. Jesus was there at the beginning. Jesus has always been the mediator of creation and revelation: the incarnate Jesus brings this mediation to fulfillment, becoming the word of reconciliation. “Creation is healed and restored to itself not by a supplement or an interruption but by an opening into its own depths of connection with the creative act. Christ is that event of opening, revealing the Creator as the guarantor of creation’s integrity, the point upon which finite form converges into beauty” (“, p253).
The beauty of Jesus’ incarnation is that it is God’s choice to bind himself to creation. It is striking that in order to eternalise the memory and significance of Jesus Christ, there is no effort to erase the traces of his earthly history or attempt to transcend it. Rather, God’s choice is for Jesus’ capacity to suffer to bind him to space and time in a deliberate, particular way. In this way, the memory of Jesus is not rendered eternal by history, the memory of Jesus renders history eternal.
The incarnation of the Word and his solidarity with the history of the world means that there is no earthly reality which is totally profane: “Strictly speaking, we cannot say that there is any noble human reality that does not have a supernatural dimension, for the divine Word has taken on a complete human nature and consecrated the world with his presence and with the work of his hands” (St. J. Escrivá, Christ is Passing by, p120).
Jesus is the Word. The Word may refer to that which conceives the Word; to him that speaks the Word; to that which is spoken by the Word; to the voice that the Word is carried by; and to the effects it raises in those that hears the Word. So Christ, as He is the Word, not only refers to God who conceives Jesus, and from whom He comes forth, but to all the creatures that were made by Him; to the humanity Jesus took on; to the teaching Jesus spoke, and, to the Word which lives in those who believe.
The preacher who always started to explain the gospel by talking about angels had a good thing going. The claim of the gospels is not a claim about a miraculous ‘blip’ – one person being raised to life – but about the existence of the supernatural in its fullest sense: a God who has consecrated the entirety of creation. The gospels are good news because the make apparent the supernatural presence of God and the heavenly realm.
The good news is this: it is our experience of life without God that will be the ‘blip’ in light of eternity.