What was God to do?

Some exquisiteness from the magnificent ‘On the Incarnation’ by St. Athanasius (298-373 AD) (Kindle Edition)!  My title ‘What was God to do?’ comes from a repeated question Athanasius asks in this chapter.

athanasiusChapter III: The Divine Dilemma and its solution in the Incarnation – (continued)

(11)  “When God the Almighty was making mankind through His own Word, He perceived that they, owing to the limitation of their nature, could not of themselves have any knowledge of their Artificer, the Incorporeal and Uncreated.  He took pity on them, therefore, and did not leave them destitute of the knowledge of Himself, lest their very existence should prove to be purposeless. For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker?

…They would be no better than the beasts, had they no knowledge save of earthly things; and why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him?  But, in fact, the good God has given them a share in His own image, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and has made even themselves after the same Image and Likeness.  Why?

Simply in order that through the gift of Godlikeness in themselves they will be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father; which knowledge of their Maker is for men (and women – come on Athanasius!) the only really happy and blessed life.

…So great, indeed, were the goodness and the love of God.  Yet men(!), bowed down by the pleasures of the moment and by the frauds and illusions of the evil spirits, did not lift up their heads towards the truth.  So burdened were they with their wickedness that they seemed rather to be brute beasts than reasonable men, reflecting the very likeness of the Word.

What was God to do in face of this dehumanising of mankind, this universal hiding of the knowledge of Himself by the wiles of evil spirits?  Was He to keep silence before so great a wrong and let men go on being thus deceived and kept in ignorance of Himself?  If so, what was the use of having made them in his own image originally?  It would surely have been better for them always to have been brutes, rather than resort to a condition when once they had shared the nature of the Word.  Again, things being as they are, what was the use of their ever having had the knowledge of God?  Surely it would have been better for God never to have bestowed it, than that men should subsequently be found unworthy to receive it.

What was God to do?  What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him?  And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus Christ?

…He is revealed both through the works of His body and through His activity in the world…At one and the same time – this is the wonder – as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father…He sanctified [human flesh] by being in it.”

 

Amen to that!

 

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