The Incarnation — A Fake-Out?

We’re working through Brian McClaren’s book Everything Must Change at church on Sunday nights, and it’s been a good study of a challenging book. (There are still some weeks to go — come join us.) Today’s section contained a point that really helped crystalize a thought for me, and challenged me as well. Here’s the gist of it.

How do you reconcile a First Coming of good news, of love and acceptance, with a Second Coming of retribution and destruction? Does God finally give up on reaching people through love, and resort to violence and imperial force? If in the end, love doesn’t work, and God through Jesus kills everyone who disagrees, then was the Incarnation just a big fake-out — a feint, if you will, in the ongoing God-human relationship, like a parry in warfare, or a false-flag operation?

McClaren sort of mentions this issue in passing, as if he is going to return to it later. (I haven’t finished the book; don’t know if he does.) It is part of the larger theme he is pursuing, that Jesus came to introduce a new narrative that is neither Imperial nor Counter-Imperial — the way of the Kingdom, the way of love. But still, it struck me as I read it, and it helped me to realize why the “Left Behind” books have always bothered me.

I think, if we are to believe in God, then we almost by definition must believe that God ultimately triumphs. (I realize that’s not completely true; there are some that believe in God that also believe God ultimately fails. I’m not there.) So, if God ultimately triumphs, what does that mean? What sort of triumph is Godly enough, in your estimation?

The “Left Behind” view is that God, in the end, conquers all, including those who oppose him, and destroys anyone standing in his way. There is certainly Biblical basis for this view, much of it in the Revelation of John. McClaren posits, though, that this is actually a defeat for God, in that the way of love fails, finally.

How much more of a triumph would it be, in McClaren’s view, if God’s love is ultimately victorious in all cases? Is that not the more compelling victory for the One who came in love?

I’m still working this out in my own mind. For one thing, I’m not sure how free will fits in with the second scenario. If everyone is ultimately drawn to God, and to adopt the way of love, by the power of the love of God, does that make a mockery of free will?

But one thing is clear to me — the triumphalism of the Church of the Left Behind is, in many cases, simply the need of humans to be more right than their neighbors, and even perhaps to rejoice that the ones who don’t agree with them “get it in the end.” And that, one can say with certainty, is not the point of the Good News.

(More on this, and on the book, as we work through it.) 

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