Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Thomas Oord, Embodiment, and Pacifism

As I mentioned in my AAR round-up last week, Emory's Tim Jackson hosted a dialogue on Thomas Oord's book, The Nature of Love, as a special pre-conference event. I also briefly registered the challenge I extended to Oord regarding the logical implications of his claim that God is "noncoercive all the way down" -- namely, that he should be a pacifist. Oord welcomed the challenge and was gracious in his response, but I thought his answer telling, and worth considering in greater detail.

After sharing that he wants to be a pacifist, he said that when he thinks about it for too long he realizes he can't go "all the way" (given what he would do if his family were attacked, thinking about past justified wars like World War II, etc.). After pressing him on the undeniable thrust of his claim that we ought to imitate God's noncoercive love, he then said this: "The reason I might need to be coercive is because I have a body -- but God does not have a body. And with the body comes particular limitations and conflicts that may lead to situations in which I ought to act coercively against another person."

In my view, this is an ideal point of departure for this question, resulting from a severe theological misunderstanding. For what is the only faithful Christian reply to the claim that God does not have a body? God does have a body! The heart of the most basic Christian confession is the incarnation, the enfleshment of God in and as a body. And the normative ethical claim follows directly therefrom. When the one true God assumes, becomes, lives in and as a finite, material human body -- when we are confronted by the story and person, the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth -- what we discover is straightforward and universally uncontested, though surprising, nearly unbelievable: He refuses to kill others, all the way to his body's tortured agony and death. This one, God in the flesh, Creator creature, invisible visible, eternal life seen and touched, this one loves his enemies and rejects the sword and, to the end, accepts the consequences of finitude, conflict, embodiment in a fallen world. God dies rather than kill those who would kill him.

Whatever we say about violence or ethics in general, wherever we find ourselves in the ongoing conversation about what it means to live faithfully as Christians, the one thing disallowed by the incarnation is any statement remarking that "x is true of us, but not of God." Everything that we are as human beings, God became in Jesus Christ. First and foremost, that includes our bodies; more to the point, when conceived and understood holistically, the moral implications of the incarnation's normativity for Christ's disciples are, to put it mildly, revolutionary.

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