In reading the work of Thomas F. Torrance I have learned the value of not only looking backward in order to go forward, but also of looking eastward. When the temptation for young men to go west is as strong as it often is, one has to fight the tendency to overcorrect at the first glimmer of light from the east. Many have done this only to end up like poor Icarus. Torrance helps us to keep our wax wings intact. He demonstrates a method of appropriation that doesn’t end in complete dissolution.
One such place he has informed my thinking regards the ever surprising doctrine of the incarnation of God. At Torrance’s prodding, Nazareth has become as metropolitan in my mind as Jerusalem; the peripheral has become the epicenter. It was a Scotsman with a Byzantine accent that beckoned me to peer into the cradled mystery and find in it a fount of perpetual novelty. The strange goings-on in an undisturbed womb forever upset the world of gods and men. By entering into the creation in the likeness of a creature, the Creator would turn the whole of creation inside out. We have come to refer to that phenomenon as “salvation,” for by it God delivered us from our infernal self-absorption—that unnatural posture of soul which was gnarled up toward itself with eyes ever averted from the faciem Dei. In the incarnation the Word spoke health to the twisted heart of humanity. The divine eloquence of the Word Enfleshed was heard before it was ever spoken; indeed, it was ever spoken in eternity. God’s forever “yes” for a world crying “no” would be wrapped in flesh, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and wrapped in every promise of God; each layer sewn tight with those sweet words, “yes and amen.”
Ultimately the incarnation spelled the end of our estrangement from our Father. Our long exile was at its end. The rumors were not true; you can go home again. The wise woman from Tekoa was right: we were as water spilt upon the ground, but God had devised means whereby his banished be not expelled from him. Bethlehem marked a reconciliation of cosmic proportions. There, between ox and ass, humanity and divinity were joined together in One Hallowed Person. Behold the mystery of Immanuel—God with us! Jesus Christ constituted the unification of divine transcendence and human immanence; the Untouchable Otherness now stretches forth ten fingers and toes and lays hold upon the world of men!
But this is more than mere reconciliation; this is a revolution! This is not simply a return to Eden; this marks a new Genesis, the first day of a new creation. Whereas the first Adam was relationally near to God and covenantally bound to the Father, Jesus Christ is at once very God of very God and true man of true man. ‘For us men and our salvation,’ Christ actualized a unity of divinity and humanity that is as ontologically real as it is relational. He could effect our redemption because the incarnation made him fit to do so. He is thus the One who is apart from us as the divine Judge and near to us as the one judged in our place. Jesus Christ is both God and humanity, the one in whom we discover both an asymmetry and an analogy. Transcendence and immanence find their telos in the person of the Stranger of Galilee. And after all this our fingernail has hardly left an imprint upon the surface of this incredible doctrine…
Many of these gems come from “eastern mines” largely untapped by western surveyors. Augustine we know, and Athanasius we’ve heard of but just, and we barely know of anyone at all past Hippo. Perhaps we should expect a bit more light from the wise men of the east. After all, they have a long history of following the star of our incarnate Lord. If you are looking for a well-traveled tour guide then I heartily recommend our man from Edinburgh.