Sunday, January 27, 2008

Is Yahweh Kenotic?

Philippians 2:7–8 says Jesus "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…. he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!" The words "made himself nothing" are based on the Greek word kenosis, meaning a 'self-emptying or humiliation'. Christian theology recognizes the kenosis of Jesus but can we speak of the kenosis of God? Can we suppose that he, in some way, is humble, suffering, or self-effacing? If Jesus was correct when he told Philip, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9) or if the writer of Hebrews is right to suggest Jesus is the "exact representation" of God (Hebrew 1:3), then perhaps it is not such heresy to understand God as one who suffers or is humble or self-effacing. Zechariah 12:10 contains this provocative text: "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son." The first sentence obviously speaks of Yahweh, since he alone has the authority to pour out a spirit of grace. The second sentence is thus confusing, for the first pronoun 'look on me' seems to refer back to Yahweh but then the next pronoun switches to 'mourn for him'. So who get's pierced? God or another? The idea that God could get pierced was unthinkable in Judaism. That is perhaps why the Septuagint altered the Hebrew word slightly so it read 'danced' instead of 'pierced'—they didn't pierce Yahweh, they danced (derisively) against him. But what if God can be pierced? What if he can suffer injury? What if he is not so far above us that he is unaffected by our pain, sorrow, or sin? In short, what if Yahweh really is like Jesus?


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