Why Did He Come? Why Did God Become Man?
“God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness, freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. … To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior.” (CCC 1)
When people ask why Christ came, the usual answer is to say that he came to redeem us. And that is certainly true. But what exactly does that mean? If it means that he came merely to remit our sins, forgiving us for transgressions stretching back to Adam, then it is not enough. Because, in point of fact, Christ came to deifyus.
Why else are we here in the body, if not to be joined to his own? This is not a novel teaching, by the way, but a basic and essential truth of the faith. It is at least as old as St. Paul, who, in his Letter to the Galatians, speaks for us all: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20).
That same teaching will later be found in St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Father of Western Theology. “Because of his boundless love,” he reminds us, “Jesus became what we are that he might make us to be what he is.”
More recently, we find it expressed in the writings of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. “Spirit of Love,” she exclaims, “consuming fire, come down on me and effect in me another Incarnation of the Word. May I be to him another humanity in which he can renew his mystery.”
And, finally, we shall see it enshrined in the most clear and canonical way in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where, in the very first Article we read: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.”
Christianity, in other words, is replete with references to a God determined on divinizing those whom he first came to deliver, to rescue from sin and death. God has thus entered into our lives not merely to forgive the grit, but to glorify it. Not just to wipe away the wickedness, but to substitute himself in order to raise us up in a wholly new and radiant way. We are to shine like the very Son himself.
“People who keep on asking if they can’t lead a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is about,” notes C.S. Lewis. “If they did, they would know that ‘a decent life’ is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made.”
And when the life of grace reaches far enough into the self, right down to the bottom of our being, concludes Lewis, “we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.”
Maybe we should try and imagine Christianity in terms of a story, or a musical composition, told in two movements, rather than a manual of the moral life. If we do, we shall at once see the theme of promised deification fairly bursting from every page. What happens in the first movement is that God’s Son falls out of heaven into the flesh of the human being Jesus, becoming truly one of us. Then, in the second, climactic movement, we see how in his self-emptying we are made full, that in his poverty we are made rich, in his weakness strong. In short, that the whole point of God’s becoming human is in order that we might become divine. His kenosis becomes the prelude to our theosis.
Isn’t this the reality we encounter at the heart of every Mass? It is the Great Exchange, after all, so mysteriously signified by the silent prayer of priest and people, who together plead before God:
By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
For this to happen, however, it is not enough that we remain mere passive spectators, untouched by the amazing spectacle unfolding on stage. Because while the action may originate with God, who not only wrote the script but is the star of the play, the part we play is not unimportant. “What I like best about our God,” says Chesterton, “is that he takes such an intense interest in his secondary characters.”
So, what is our part, the role we are to assume in order to make the play work, to produce a smash hit? Simple. Just give God everything. Hold nothing back. Give him permission to do his utmost in transforming your life. As Mother Teresa whispered to John O’Connor on his way up the aisle of St Patrick’s Cathedral to become New York’s next archbishop, “Give God permission!” It is all that matters, the only and ultimate thing that does matter: Allowing God to take on our humanity, right down to the very dregs, in order that that we might then take on his divinity.
“Hand over the whole natural self,” says Lewis (imagining how God might put it), “all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked — the whole outfit. I will
give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”