For the countless Christians wrestling with new scholarship and inquiry into the origins of our faith, Adam Gopnik's new summary is both rich and, in parts, revelatory. His favorite Gospel, and mine, seems to be the spare bleakness and concise mystery of Mark. Money quote:
In Mark, Jesus’ divinity unfolds without quite making sense intellectually, and without ever needing to. It has the hypnotic flow of dramatic movement. The story is one of self-discovery: he doesn’t know who he is and then he begins to think he does and then he doubts and in pain and glory he dies and is known. The story works. But, as a proposition under scrutiny, it makes intolerable demands on logic.
If Jesus is truly one with God, in what sense could he suffer doubt, fear, exasperation, pain, horror, and so on? So we get the Jesus rendered in the Book of John, who doesn’t. But if he doesn’t suffer doubt, fear, exasperation, pain, and horror, in what sense is his death a sacrifice rather than just a theatrical enactment? A lamb whose throat is not cut and does not bleed is not really much of an offering.
None of this is very troubling if one has a pagan idea of divinity: the Son of God might then be half human and half divine, suffering and triumphing and working out his heroic destiny in the half-mortal way of Hercules, for instance.
But that’s ruled out by the full weight of the Jewish idea of divinityomnipresent and omniscient, knowing all and seeing all. If God he wasnot some Hindu-ish avatar or offspring of God, but actually one with Godthen God once was born and had dirty diapers and took naps. The longer you think about it, the more astounding, or absurd, it becomes. To be really believed at all, it can only be told again.
The Incarnation is the core truth of the Christian faith - and also what makes it seem so insane to those outside revelation's grasp. But because of the Incarnation, the core of the Christian faith is not, it seems to me, a theology - that merely became necessary when human beings fought to run churches - but the story of a man ... who told stories. The Synoptic Gospels endure in a way that no "doctrine" ever can, and that John almost misses in his sublime attempt to make sense of the ineffable. They tell about a contingent moment of eternity. And that moment had a body. And a temper.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.