Find Me

Find new posts at!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Dual Nature of Christ, the Wisdom of God

When I started talking about Ecclesiastes a few posts ago, I described ancient Hebrew wisdom as being very much focused on this life.  It is very practical and not very speculative.  To risk a gross overgeneralization here, ancient Hebrew wisdom sharply contrasts with ancient Greek philosophy (which comes from a Greek word meaning "love of wisdom").  Greek wisdom was (or at least became) highly speculative about abstract concepts in the world of pure thought.  In Plato's view, these concepts/ideals become more or less debased when they show up concretely in this tangible world that we live in.  For example, on some weekday afternoon in 4th-century B.C. Athens, you might run into some men earnestly debating what is essential to the concept of "chair."  What makes a chair a chair?  What is the universal form of The Chair from which all earthly, imperfect, not-entirely-representative-of-the-whole chairs derive their chairness?  And after you ran into these guys, if I were you, I'd say, "Sorry, I didn't see you there," then go get a kebab and find some philosophers talking about something much more interesting.

Now to nuance this a little bit, I should admit that ancient Greek wisdom did explore ethics, which is practical.  I should also admit that ancient Hebrew wisdom did incorporate the view that the world in which we live came into being from a higher, spiritual source.  A particularly prominent example of this is Proverbs 8.  In this passage, wisdom is personified as a woman who calls out in the marketplace about how important she is and encouraging the passers-by to acquire her.  In vv. 22-31 she describes herself as "the beginning of [God's] works" and asserts that God used her to make everything else.  Makes sense, right?  God employed his wisdom to make the universe that he made wisely; therefore he created it "through" wisdom.

Now it just so happens that the Stoic philosophers of the 3rd century B.C. had a similar concept that they called the Logos, from the Greek word meaning "word," "saying," "argument," "reason," etc.  The Stoics believed that the universe itself is God.  The Logos is the active part of it, which we might think of as reason and energy combined.  Brute matter (the passive part of the universe) is what it is because the Logos made it that way.  What distinguishes humans from animals is that humans have a little spark of the Logos, which is exhibited in our ability to reason.  Even though the Stoics didn't believe in a transcendent Creator like Israel did, we still see the same general idea as Proverbs 8 that reason/wisdom itself is a sort of living blueprint for everything else that exists.

So if you're like me, maybe it excites you at least a little bit that the New Testament calls Christ both the wisdom of God and the Logos (Word) of God.  Let's review.

As the Father's wisdom personified, Christ is the one through whom God created everything else, just like wisdom in Proverbs 8.  And Christ's life is the very depiction of wisdom, so much so that he defines living wisely as both hearing his words (which are perfectly coordinated with his actions) and doing them.

As the divine Logos, Christ is the living pattern for the created universe as well as its spark of energy.  He is the only Light and Life for people dying in this otherwise dark material world.  As the Word of God, he is the one that God spoke to make all things come into being (remember "Let there be light"?).  He is also the living communication of God to the human race to turn and be saved.

(I know this is some crazy, mind-bending stuff, but I'm just trying to tell you what the Bible says.)

But what might tickle me the most is that in his living dual nature Christ reconciles ancient Hebrew wisdom and ancient Greek wisdom.  As Hebrew wisdom has mainly to do with the stuff of earth, so Christ carries in himself everything that it means to be human, body and all.  And as Greek wisdom has mainly to do with the stuff of the spiritual heavenlies, so Christ carries in himself everything that it means to be God.

James says that "the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accomodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical" (3:17)  This wisdom comes down from heaven, but its characteristics are all features of good behavior among other humans on earth.  Here we see in the wisdom of God the heavenly and the earthly combined.  Isn't this statement about wisdom also a beautiful characterization of Christ?

I think it is gloriously fitting that the one who perfectly personifies both Hebrew and Greek wisdom and reconciles them in himself is the same one who reconciles Jew and Gentile in his body, slain on the cross, risen in glory, constituted again in the Church, reflected in the bread of his Supper.  It makes me giddy just thinking about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment