Terror, Vulnerability and Incarnation

Helping hand for life
Helping hand for life

According to an awful lot of politicians, our response to world events should be fear, surveillance, hard-heartedness and exclusion. They want to prevent Syrian refugees from coming to this country or settling in their states. They want to surveil mosques and register Muslims. They want to drop more bombs and kill more people. They think this will keep us safe.

As we approach Christmas, I find myself wondering if many Christians have, in their fear, forgotten the vulnerability of incarnation--a baby born to traveling parents who could not even find a place to spend the night; a small child threatened by a king, whose family became refugees in Egypt; a young man so devoted to his calling that he was crucified by an oppressive occupying regime.

For many Christians, incarnation means that God was uniquely present in Jesus. In becoming incarnate, God became vulnerable and experienced human want, fear, suffering, and even death. Often Christians want to jump ahead in the story to the triumph of the resurrection without taking seriously the real suffering and the real fear of death we see in the narrative of Jesus' passion. Because we know the rest of the story, we're tempted to gloss over what would have been unknown for Jesus. His torture, his crucifixion, his death all happened without his knowing the rest of the story. He went to the cross trusting that his vulnerability on the side of love and peace was what God had asked of him.

So pervasive was this understanding of nonviolent love that the earliest Christians refused to participate in war. These earliest Christians saw reconciliation as their task, willing to suffer rather than inflict harm.

Love, then, was the greatest threat Christians offered to imperial power and oppression. Those earliest Christians did not set out to win the world by force but by vulnerability. Certainly things changed as Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire and then itself an essential facet of colonizing power. But the church that was closest in time to Jesus was a church of love and peace that confronted oppression through its commitment to nonviolent love.

Now we find ourselves facing a world in which some groups set out to terrorize people, to create fear. And we face fear-mongers who would have us respond to fear with racism, xenophobia, exclusion, and violence. Certainly the dangers of extremism are real. But that extremism can also be the young white man in our own neighborhood who shoots black church members during a Bible study.

Fear can cause us to shut down and shut out other people, even the poorest and most desperate of refugees who have lost everything. If Christianity in any way calls people to be different, to be counter-cultural, then surely in the face of our fear our response should not be exclusion but vulnerability.

The vulnerability of God continues in God's ongoing incarnation in each human being and in the material world. In process theology, God is present in every particle of the universe, working through persuasive love rather than coercive power to call all of creation to move toward its greatest potential. As One who is present in everything, God experiences our joys and our sufferings. God is vulnerable to human experience, whether the suffering of a refugee, the despair and rage of a terrorist, or the hatred of a politician. God suffers with our sufferings.

On the human side of things, when we align ourselves with God's persuasive love, when we make ourselves vulnerable to the call of God, we open ourselves more fully to fulfilling our potential as human beings. God's incarnation in each of us becomes more visible as we express God's love in our actions toward others, even those whom we fear, even our enemies.

For that is the point of incarnation--we are completely vulnerable as people who choose to embody love rather than hate. We do not close our hearts. We do not retract our welcome. We do not let fear govern our response to others. For surely, if God so loved the world, then so should we.