O Magnum Mysterium!
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
December 18, 2009 - In a world that enables the production of children as though they were custom automobiles, it is vital that Christians do not think of the Incarnation as if God the Father were merely the ultimate genetic engineer. Despite her willing compliance with Gabriel’s announcement, Mary is no mere surrogate. Moreover, despite Joseph’s absence on a mere instrumental, biological level, the baby Jesus is no mere product of his will. Like all ordinary fathers, Joseph must receive the fruit of Mary’s womb as gift. In short, the incarnation of the Son of God does not do violence to the distinctively human relationships bound up in ordinary generation.
The significance of this bond is one of the subjects of a new book by Gilbert Meilaender. In commenting on the work of Thomas Hobbes, Meilaender quotes philosopher A.I. Melden, “‘If we should live in a world in which reproduction of human-like beings were biologically unorthodox and the young were raised in queer circumstances, there need be no utility served by favoring one’s forebears, in whatever strange sense this term would then be employed, but equally there would not be parenthood, family, or any of the moral concepts that surround these ideas.’ The dignity characteristic of the relation between human generations would be missing from such a world, even if sovereigns [in the Hobbesian sense] by acquisition came to love the little subjects whom they acquired.”
Undoubtedly, those who acquire children today come “to love the little subjects whom they [have] acquired.” But if Meilaender is right, the will-to-love cannot ultimately overcome the destructive effects set in motion by acts whose very nature ignore the significance of biological parenthood in relation to human identity.
This is why Christians must contemplate the Incarnation aright. Jesus Christ is not a product of God. He is, as the Nicene Creed affirms, “begotten, not made.” Thus, it is not enough to say that God the Father respects the distinctively human nature of ordinary generation in Christ’s incarnation by the Holy Spirit. Even more, the relation of begotten-ness between the Eternal Father and the Son serve as the grounds of the relationships rooted in ordinary generation upon which such moral norms as parenthood and family depend.
In making children – the products of disembodied desire – we do not merely efface the imago Dei. We simultaneously rebel against the Creator after whose pattern we have been made. Such rebellion is the essence of our destruction. It is, as it has been from the Garden, the willful refusal to comply with the terms set for the creature by the Creator. These terms are reaffirmed in the Incarnation itself. And in the Word made flesh, those terms become life!