Brothers and Sisters,
Can one moment in time reveal the deep truths of eternity? Can one spot on the globe contain a revelation so comprehensive that it spans the universe?
According to the 18th-century German philosopher, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the answer to those two questions is a big fat nein! Why? Because, as Lessing famously held, the “accidental truths of history can never become the proof for necessary truths of reason.” In other words, the stuff of history cannot possibly reveal the truth about reality.
Why not? Reasons… Hume… Kant… phenomena… noumena… yada yada… because the smart people with long robes, funny hats, and tenure said so!
Known as Lessing’s Ditch, this idea lies at the core of “modern” Christian theology. Whatever happened with Jesus of Nazareth, the modern theologians tell us, he cannot tell us anything about God and reality. Why? Because he was locked into a single point in time and space.
If Jesus is to have any value for us, then, we need to see what he can teach us about universal principles of love, faith, etc. This lies behind much of what we see at Christmas: popular respect for Jesus’ life and teaching coupled with the denial that he could be anything more than just a man.
The trouble with that perspective? Jesus is not the God who’s come to save us; he’s a man who shows us how we can save ourselves. He just happened to do it better than anyone before or after him (except for maybe Buddha or Tony Robbins).
So much for the gospel…
Oh, wretched moderns that we are! Who will deliver us from Lessing’s ugly black ditch? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, who has entered into history to reveal to us the deep truths about the reality He made.
As the incarnation of the eternal Word of God (John 1:14), Jesus is not merely the reason for this season but for every season. For all things were made by, for, through, and to Him (John 1:1-3; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2). This is why Herman Bavinck aptly noted that “the incarnation is the central fact of the entire history of the world.” As the central fact of history, the incarnation sheds its light upon literally everything. Jesus can reveal the truth about reality because He is the Truth which undergirds it (cf. Heb 1:3).
Praise the incarnate God from whom all historical blessings flow.
So, let us all rejoice in the fact that Lessing and his modern progeny have failed to evacuate John 1:14 of its meaning, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Let us take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is no plaster mold onto which we press whatever values our culture happens to admire this year. In Him, we do not have a mere projection of human thoughts, wishes, and aspirations into eternity.
No, the eternal Word of God has, in Himself, become an “accidental* truth of history” so that we might have a living, breathing proof of necessary truth: “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18).
Now, somebody get Lessing a wheelbarrow so that he can fill in that ditch.
I look forward to seeing you this weekend as we celebrate that eternally significant moment when heaven itself touched earth: the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Your Brother in Christ,
*Before the cagiest Calvinists raise their hackles over my calling Jesus an “accident,” please note that, in the lingo of philosophers like Lessing, to say something is “accidental” is to say that it is “contingent” as opposed to “absolute.” For example, to say that God is love is to make an absolute statement, because it always was and will be true irrespective of anything else that happens. He is love. Full stop. The historical event of the incarnation, however, was contingent upon happenings like Creation and the Fall. All these things were ordained of God, to be sure, but He just as easily could have not created and redeemed us.