As the Western Church enters the season of Advent just prior to Christmas, this is the perfect time to reflect on the birth and crucifixion of Jesus the Christ.
The Western or Latin Roman Catholic Church, as well as the Protestant churches, have tended to accentuate legalistic reparation theologies to explain the Christian narrative. Presented as a “repairman” for what our original ancestors had distorted in God’s divine plan, much of the traditional Christian story explains that Jesus was born to “pay the debt” for human transgression. According to the Western narrative, the crucifix shows us a tortured human Jesus bleeding and hanging on the cross being punished on our behalf for violating God’s law; however, are we truly content with this image of a punishing Father God?
Perhaps the image served as a projection of our own anger, hostility, and unwillingness to love that we displaced onto God, and in some warped way, perhaps it served as a divine validation of our generalized hate. We must ask, “What kind of an understanding of God the Father does this provide?” A Father who would demand a brutal sacrifice from His Son? Why would someone want to believe in a God like this? It is no wonder that Christian churches are closing and that the “nones” (unchurched and claiming no religious affiliation) are such a fast growing group.
Let’s try looking at the birth and crucifixion of Jesus in another way. To use the language of a troparion of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the time-honored narrative has been that Jesus was born “to raise the image that fell of old.” In contrast to the Western tradition, the Eastern tradition presents a positive process of evolutionary spiritual growth known as “deification” or “theosis,” an ongoing participation in divine life.
The Eastern tradition firstly acknowledges that God created all things, including human beings in his own image and likeness, and secondly acknowledges that evolution is the best scientific explanation for the diversity of how life on Earth has changed and progressed over time.
Theories of ecological evolution came about much later than the developing roots of the traditional Christian story, Christian scriptures, and Christian theologies. As such, an evolving Christian narrative is called for and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (+1955), the French Jesuit priest, theologian, mystic, and paleontologist, gives us one.
Father Pierre conceived of a trajectory of convergent evolution that involves the progressive spiritualization of matter, including human life. In the final phase of this trajectory, consciousness is seen as folding back upon itself and becoming self-reflective. As a result, the Omega Point of consciousness is able to conceive of and welcome the end of history in glory, in what is termed as Christ’s “Second Coming,” an ever-dawning awareness that reaches its peak in human consciousness.
As we opt for a viewpoint that all of creation is centered on Jesus as the incarnate and risen Christ, we begin to see human beings as mystically united to Him and nourished by Him, attaining full maturity in this union. God becomes as St. Paul says, “all in all.” In the fullness of time, we see Christ become incarnate in the birth and life pattern of Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, the incarnation happens at an appropriate time in human history and consciousness, when we can grasp and become integrated in a new understanding.
Jesus is the Exemplar of an integrated and unified divine-human person, united in awareness to the Father, born of and infused with the Divine Love that flows from the original fountainhead. He is able to witness and take unto Himself the distortion of love poured upon Him in the crucifixion. In this Divine Love, He rises into a newly resurrected life, leading all of Creation beyond evil, death, and corruption to follow Him into an ever-new creation. Jesus was not born to repair the wreck of fallen humanity; rather He is part and parcel of the evolutionary design of Divine Love.
Compare the overall tone and the feeling you get from the Western perspective and the Eastern perspective. As we take time to reflect on the Christian birth and crucifixion this Advent, we are called to develop a far more cosmic perspective of evolutionary theology.