The wisest man once said that when it comes to our earthly perspective there is nothing new under the sun. Existence consists of an endless cycle of life and death from which it is impossible to escape. Indeed, this observation is itself nothing new under the sun, for it describes the general despairing ethos of the ancient world just as much as it does that of our modern one. Whether at the mercy of unpredictable gods or the blind forces of evolution, mankind is destined to imprisonment in an indifferent cosmos in which meaning is an illusion. Today, the despair is more palpable, for even the hope of leaving this world has been lost. No shadowy afterlife awaits us as it did the pagans. Nonexistence greets us from the infinite beyond.
Dr. Adam Rachnid’s Devouring Reason– The Myth of Arachne Retold
The crowd gathered like flies, pressing into the reclusive scientist’s tiny lab. The prodigious author, famous for his tirades against God, was finally granting a face-to-face interview to a select group of reporters. The brilliant and bellicose Dr. A. Rachnid, Oxford scholar and Nobel Prize winning geneticist, was one of the most loved and feared thinkers. For decades, he had written countless works in which he found new ways to debunk belief in the transcendent realm. “Cognito ergo sum skeptical” was his most famous saying. Notepads in hand and craving the intoxication of controversy, the journalists were ready to record the tireless crusader’s every word.
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio
The Incarnation Today
From the early days of the controversy, the church has consistently affirmed that in the Incarnation, Christ took up into himself human nature in such a way that it became intimately united with his Divine nature. According to his Divine nature, he remains begotten of the Father from all-time, before all time, the eternally begotten Son. According to his human nature, he is like us in everything except that he is without sin and was born of a virgin. The late theologian Thomas C. Oden noted that in the Incarnation, “God has elected to use an extraordinary form of body language to communicate to humanity.” By assuming the human form, the Son condescends to take up its nature and unite it with his divinity “so that Christ subsists forever as the God-man, in two natures.” It is our nature that is elevated, rather than his that is diminished. Jesus was indeed very human – more human than all of us. God himself showed us how to be human.
Statue of Athanasius at Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire, England
Consequences of Arianism
A hidden premise, or rather a dangerous presumption, lies behind the denial of Jesus’s divinity: If Jesus is not fully divine, as Arius taught, then he is merely a “perfect creature [that] only models for us the way for us to salvation.” The picture that Jesus is only a creaturely example engenders a false assumption that if we simply try harder, we can earn salvation. Instead of through grace that is given by God, salvation is placed on the perilous path of a works based system. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9).  “One can hardly think too little of one’s self” wrote Chesterton of this paradox, and yet “one can hardly think too much of one’s soul.”
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son.”
During the twilight hours of late-antiquity, the deepening gloom of cosmic despair could be seen on the horizon upon which the mythologies and philosophies of man had exhausted themselves. In his book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, David Bentley Hart writes that it was “a time when religion and philosophy alike were increasingly concerned with the escape from the conditions of earthly life, and when both often encouraged a contempt for the flesh more absolute, bitterly unworldly, and pessimistic” than ever before. With noble resignation, mankind had come to accept this world as nothing more than a material prison. History was stuck in an endless cycle, punctuated by the wiles of capricious and demanding gods. In this view there was a regularity in history that followed the cycles of nature – an endless, thus meaningless, continuum of “creation and dissolution, without beginning or end.” The wisest amongst the pagans would agree that “generations come and generations go, / but the earth remains forever,” all the while the Supreme God remained completely out of reach and uninvolved. The most one could hope for is to be able to cultivate a resigned soul that was “immune to the effects of time and nature alike.”  Salvation could only be found in escape.
Nocturne by Whistler
“Round us in antic order their crippled vices came—
Lust that had lost its laughter, fear that had lost its shame.
Like the white lock of Whistler, that lit our aimless gloom,
Men showed their own white feather as proudly as a plume.
Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung;
The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.”
~ G.K. Chesterton
Taking up a theme from a previous post, here is another area in which Christianity changed the world for the better. Not only did the Gospel’s focus on the poor and unforgotten give value to an entire segment of society that the pagan world looked upon with patronizing pity at best, the Gospel revolutionized mankind’s conceptual framework for understanding reality. The modern world rejects Christianity at its own peril, as Hart will demonstrate. We are deluding ourselves, in fact.
In his book, Atheist Delusions, David Bentley Hart notes that we moderns “believe in nature and in history: in the former’s rational regularity and in the latter’s genuine openness to novelty.” Not so for the pagans. They had no concept of “the arrow of time” and did not assume that history contained a “narrative logic” broad enough to house “both disjunction and resolution.” For them, history could not move “towards an end quite different from its beginning” but was stuck in an endless cycle, punctuated by the wiles of capricious and demanding gods. In their view, there was a regularity in history that followed the cycles of nature – an endless, thus meaningless, continuum of “creation and dissolution, without beginning or end.” The wisest amongst the pagans would agree that “generations come and generations go, / but the earth remains forever” all the while, the ultimate deity remained completely out of reach and uninvolved.  The most one could hope for is to be able to cultivate a resigned soul that was “immune to the effects of time and nature alike.”
“The Wind and the Trees”
by G.K. Chesterton
I am sitting under tall trees, with a great wind boiling like surf about the tops of them, so that their living load of leaves rocks and roars in something that is at once exultation and agony. I feel, in fact, as if I were actually sitting at the bottom of the sea among mere anchors and ropes, while over my head and over the green twilight of water sounded the everlasting rush of waves and the toil and crash and shipwreck of tremendous ships. The wind tugs at the trees as if it might pluck them root and all out of the earth like tufts of grass. Or, to try yet another desperate figure of speech for this unspeakable energy, the trees are straining and tearing and lashing as if they were a tribe of dragons each tied by the tail.