Questions of Faith
It’s often said by theologians that before the Incarnation, history was pregnant with Christ – that is to say, history itself was waiting for God to enter into humanity. It’s a powerful and almost poetic idea, that the world was preparing and anticipating for this momentous point in time.
But was there anything special about God becoming flesh specifically 2,000 years ago in a middle-eastern location? Is it not the case that Jesus could’ve come before this, or after – perhaps even today?
While this may seem like a quirky or inconsequential question, exploring it can help us understand more about God and the theology of salvation.
Not only will this illuminate the knowledge of believers, but the answer will also assuage the charge atheists commonly make that God is immoral for entering into humanity at such a distant point in history rather than today in our more globalised and connected society.
Before answering this question, a preliminary point needs to be made, which is that attempting to understand God’s will and his plan for all of us cannot be fully known by mere human thought.
When trying to discover why God entered into humanity at a specific time and place, we are limited by our capacity to fully know God’s intentions. Any answer then never fully explains the truth of the matter – but as rational animals with souls, we can at least make a hampered attempt.
The first question – ‘Why was the Incarnation not earlier?’ – is not particularly contentious and can be answered without little thought. For example, culture and language had not sufficiently developed enough for the message of Christ to spread, or perhaps, societies wouldn’t have understood the meaning of Jesus’ message, resulting in it being forgotten. There are a whole host of possible limits imaginable about why the ancient past is an unsuitable conduit for God’s message.
The second question – ‘Why was the Incarnation not now?’ – is much trickier to answer. It rests upon the idea that if God really wants everyone to believe he exists, surely the best time to do so would be now, when the whole world is connected through the online web.
But is it really the case that people today would be more likely to believe that God became man? In an era of hyper-rationalism, fake news and a radical mistrust of miraculous claims, it seems less likely that the message of God would be imbibed by society.
The poet G.A. Studdert-Kennedy sums this up when he writes: “When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed him by / They would not hurt a hair of him, they only let him die / For men had grown more tender, and they would not give him pain / They only just passed down the street, and left him in the rain.”
While we can’t prove, given the nature of the question, that Jesus entering into humanity was the best time to do so, but we do know that there are billions of Christians in the world today. If that’s the case, Jesus’ message has certainly stood the test of time.