The incarnation is about the Lord’s acceptance of us as we are as fallen creatures, and about the stunning move to so identify with us as to see things the way we do. A third lesson on the incarnation has to with divine expectation. Read the Prologue of John with the following questions in mind. What does God expect from us in the incarnation? What is He counting on us to do to make the incarnation a success? Most of us, I suspect, would say that the Lord is expecting us, or counting on us to believe. But think of this statement: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him (John 1:10).
If the Lord was counting on us to believe in order for the incarnation to happen, then bitter divine disappointment lay on the horizon. For our response was to crucify the Father’s Son.
Let me share a lesson from the deer stand, a book I have been reading, and a story from a friend, all of which may help us understand that the only expectation that the blessed Trinity had of the human race is that we would murder the Father’s Son.
Sitting on my deer stand, reading James Hollis’ The Middle Passage, I heard the fabled snap of a stick. It sounded like it came from straight in front of me, maybe at 11:30, if you imagine 12:00 being directly in front of me. I began to stare at every tree, branch and twig. The more I stared, the more I was convinced that I could see a deer, a buck, large and in charge. It took me a full minute to grab my gun and get it pointed in the right direction. As I looked through the scope I could not see the buck at all. So I moved my eyes away from the scope and scanned the area. Nothing. But as I stared I began to see the buck again. Shouldering my rifle, I looked through my scope but there was no buck. This back and forth went on for over ten minutes before I finally accepted, as all deer hunters know, that in the woods our minds can play tricks on us.
On the way home I phoned my friend Ken Courtney and he relayed a lesson that he had learned many years ago in his training in the National Guard. His team was being taught how to spot things in the woods in the dead of night. Never, he said, stare at the object. When you hear or see something, look at it, then turn away and focus on something else, then come back and look again, then look away. When you stare or focus on something for very long your mind’s eye will create something that is not there.
I was amazed at the apparent coincidence of Ken’s lesson and my experience with ‘seeing’ the buck, with what I was reading in The Middle Passage. One of Hollis’ main points is what he calls “the Magical Other.” It seems that in our dating days we so stare or focus upon our new found beloved that we create an image of them that is not actually there. Our minds (or hearts, or brokenness) play a trick on us. We create the Magical Other who will be our life, our security, our completion, our salvation, our wholeness, and they do the same with us. Unearthly expectations run high, hope abounds, and all is well in never never land.
It is disappointing enough when the buck turns out to be a figment of our own imaginations, but it is an altogether different matter when cracks appear in our Magical Other. It is inevitable. Think about it, two broken people make gods and goddesses out of each other. How long can that last? At some point the incongruence between the real person and the image we have plastered over their faces—an image conceived in the dungeons of our own brokenness—becomes very apparent. Given the intensity of our investment in our Magical Other, and given how deep and dear the dream is to us, its shattering is catastrophic. A new world of bitter disappointment and venomous blame, of frustration and anger, of withdrawal and manipulation, among other things, burst into being. The relationship dies. Couples split up, and each one goes out and does the same thing all over again, plastering his or her dreams of life onto the face of a new, true love. ‘This one is different, special. I just know it.’
Was it ever a real relationship to begin with? And has it really died? After I realized that there was no buck, I had the opportunity to go back to real hunting. When the dream of the Magical Other is shattered, the simple truth is that we then have an opportunity to get to know the real person, and to accept them as they are, to identify with them, and have real relationship, and who knows, maybe even find the companionship and communion we have longed for all along.
It is a glorious truth that the blessed Trinity is not into projection. There is no dungeon of brokenness in the basement of the Trinitarian life of God out of which dreams for us are born. The dream of the Father, Son, and Spirit for our adoption, for our inclusion in their shared life, love and fellowship carries no expectations for our contribution. We are not the Magical Other of the Trinity, upon whom the Father, Son and Spirit project their hope of one day becoming whole.
In shocking grace and humility, the one expectation of the Triune God, the one thing that the Father, Son and Spirit counted on from us in order to make the incarnation a reality is that we would pour our scorn, our anger, our wrath, our judgment onto Jesus, humiliating him publicly by cruel crucifixion. And Jesus deliberately and wonderfully endured it all. In bearing our scorn, and submitting himself to our bitter anger, Jesus met us where we are in the dungeon of our brokenness. He accepted us. He identified with us, and through having no expectations from us other than that we would reject him, he has established a personal relationship with us at our very worst. Now, Jesus lives in our dungeons, and he brought his Papa and the Holy Spirit with him. In the very place where our disastrous dream of the Magical Other (and its poisonous demands) is born now dwells the life and fellowship and love of the blessed Trinity.
Discovering Jesus in the dungeons of our brokenness means that we do not have to dream of a Magical Other or plaster our dream upon their face and demand that they live up to our unearthly expectations. And it means that we do not have to impose our agendas upon the lives of our friends, or of creation. Discovering Jesus in the dungeon means we are free to live in and out of the real dream of the Father, Son and Spirit, for now our adoption is no dream at all, but the simple truth. We are included in their shared life. The Father, Son and Spirit have pitched their tent inside our dungeon. Such a discovery is the beginning of faith and repentance (a radical change in the way we see), and it is the beginning of the freedom to accept others and to be accepted, to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, to delight and being delighted in.
Lord Jesus forgive us for what we have done to you and to one another in our pain. Holy Spirit help us meet Jesus in our dungeons.
James Hollis, The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Middle Life
James Hollis, The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other.