New to this forum so I hope this is an appropriate place to ask a question:
I was relistening to an old cassette of Ravi where he talks about the “Both/and” and the “either/or” position (being in favor of the either/or) and I was wondering how he would address the “both/and” paradox where Christ is being “both” fully man “and” fully God? Or even Mary being “both” a virgin, “and” pregnant? Of course these are qualified by being Sovereign choices but isn’t that what some of the eastern religions use as qualifications as well?
New to this forum so I hope this is an appropriate place to ask a question:
Heys @Jrannable , thanks for the questions. I do have my personal take on these matters, but I’m not sure if they are right myself haha. So please bear with me.
<< Christ being fully man, and full God >>
I don’t really think that it is a paradox because if we work backwards I feel that it further confirms this phenomenon. Some key points to note would be:
- Christ died on the cross (needs to be man)
- Christ is representative of mankind being the “last Adam” (needs to be man)
- Christ’s sacrifice is, unlike bulls and goats, eternal (needs to be God)
- Christ died for all the sins of the world, past, present and future (needs to be God)
The only way in which Christ can fulfil all these criteria is if He was fully man, and yet fully God as well.
<< Mary is a virgin and pregnant >>
I do think this is a bit more obvious, because the definition of virginity is “the state of never having had sexual intercourse”, and she definitely did not have sex. Therefore, the question actually leans more towards, “How can she be pregnant when she has not have sexual intercourse?”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:34-35)
Based on scripture, it says that the Holy Spirit’s power was involved in helping her conceive despite not having sexual intercourse.
I think you brought up a good point that it is easy to claim that “God wills it” or “God’s power is involved”, which may be similar to other Eastern religions. However, I do believe that it may be a little harder to explore the comparisons deeper without some specific examples that we can use as reference. I’m not sure if you mind sharing a little more about which other religions, and what is it that they claim.
On a side note, I do remember Ravi Zacharias sharing about this comparison:
My premise is that the popular aphorism that ‘all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different’ simply is not true. It is more correct to say that all religions are, at best, superficially similar but fundamentally different.
And based on my understanding of just some of the different religions, it is true.
Hope to hear from you more on your views on this.
@Jrannable I think that you are misunderstanding the difference between the “both/and” of eastern religions and the “both/and” of the Incarnation of Christ.
Easter religions teach that “Not A” and “A” can both be true - they defy the basic principles of logic. Your truth and my truth are both true, even if they logically conflict. In contrast to this view, Ravi asserts that we must be “either/or” - people who recognize the validity of basic logic. Either “not A” or “A” - an assertion and its negation are not both true simultaneously.
The Incarnation is an “either/or” in this sense - either Christ was both God and man or He was not. We do not believe it is a logical contradiction for Jesus to be both God and man - rather, we believe it is simply beyond our understanding to explain it.
The Incarnation is not a contradiction - it is a paradox, or perhaps what J. I. Packer calls an ‘antimony’.
An “Antinomy” Defined
What is an “antinomy”? The Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable, or necessary.”
For our purposes, however, this definition is not quite accurate; the opening words should read “an appearance of contradiction.” For the whole point of an antinomy — in theology, at any rate — is that it is not a real contradiction, though it looks like one. It is an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable. There are cogent reasons for believing each of them; each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other. You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can both be true together.
Let me give an example. Modern physics faces an antinomy, in this sense, in its study of light. There is cogent evidence to show that light consists of waves, and equally cogent evidence to show that it consists of particles. It is not apparent how light can be both waves and particles; but the evidence is there, and so neither view can be ruled out in favor of the other. Neither, however, can be reduced to the other or explained in terms of the other; the two seemingly incompatible positions must be held together, and both must be treated as true. Such a necessity scandalizes our tidy minds, no doubt, but there is no help for it if we are to be loyal to the facts.
The Incarnation is not ‘both/and’ in the eastern sense of two contradictory statements being true. Rather, it is a mystery/paradox/antimony. We believe that even though we do not understand it (just like we do not fully understand God), there is a rational explanation, though we cannot access it.
Regarding Mary, this is also not a ‘both/and’ in the eastern sense - in fact, it is not even a ‘both/and’ in the Incarnation sense. Rather, Mary conceived by the Spirit of God. In this case, though we do not know how that worked, we do have an explanation.
Firstly, welcome to the forum! Always great to have new members and participants to the vibrant discussions that take place here!
Great question! I think @SeanO covered the important distinction between the ‘both/and’ of Eastern religions vs. the Incarnation. It certainly is an ‘antimony’ and one that is hard, even for seasoned Christians, to wrap their heads around. But we must not be discouraged by that. After all, the Incarnation was an unprecedented event; it had never happened before then and will never happen again. The Word became flesh - something even more spectacular than creation itself, in my opinion!
While @SeanO addressed the forensics of the paradox, I think we underestimate the great value and necessity of why Christ needed to have two natures (divine and human). So let me unpack what @Kyrie briefly stated above because that gets to the heart of this glorious doctrine.
The authors of the New Testament, when speaking of trespass or transgression , intentionally used the Greek term, ‘ opheilemata ‘ which literally translated as a ‘debt’ or spiritual obligation. Their purpose in doing so was to simply show, by equating transgression with debt , the magnitude of sin committed by humans against God. Saint Thomas Aquinas, probably the most influential theologian of the 11th century, argued that the magnitude of a crime was directly proportional to the sovereignty of the offended party. So any transgression committed against God would incur an infinite transgression warranting infinite punishment. Using the NT concept of debt, this clearly means that humans, by sinning against God, incurred an infinite debt to God.
How then could finite human beings pay back an infinite debt to God? An analogy might help to put things into perspective: Imagine you owed an exorbitant amount of money to the bank and you just got the final notice to pay up in full. At this point, there are only three options – pay up in full, give up every asset you own to pay for it or go to prison for failure to pay up. As finite sinful human beings we simply dont have the moral capability to ‘pay up’ in full so that is not possible. Neither can we offer God ‘any assets’ because everything we have was given us by Him and was never truly ‘ours’ to begin with. We are left then with the bleak scenario of being sent to ‘eternal prison’ for our rightly deserved crimes. The parallelism is appropriate and sobering.
But God in His mercy introduced a fourth way for us to be relieved of our monumental obligation. That He even considered to relieve us exemplifies the infinite magnitude of God’s love for us! Imagine if the bank’s ‘final notice’ to pay up allowed in it’s fine print, an option for a third party to pay up your debt instead of you…and someone actually offered to pay the entire debt for you! This is precisely what God did for us.
The prospect of someone now being available to pay our debt still does not change the previously established fact that this debt was ‘infinite’ in nature. Even if every one of the 7+ billion people on the earth paid up, the infinite debt could not be paid. Only an ‘infinite being’ could pay back an infinite debt. By definition then, this infinite being would have to be God by nature . But the fact still remains that the original debt was incurred by humans and thus rightly only a human being should pay back the debt. The situation, as it stood then, can be expressed with this syllogism: Only God could pay back the debt but only man should pay back the debt. This person, who could and should pay back the debt, would have had to be divine and human; who then is the only person who was both ‘God’ and ‘man’? Christ, the Son of God, therefore was the only person, being both God and man, who could have paid for the infinite transgression committed by humans against God. And the law of God stated that the “wages of sin” was death. Therefore, Christ had to die for the remission of sins. There was no other way!
Hopefully you didn’t find that too confusing and perhaps you already understand how all that works. But it is a truth worth restating as often as necessary even to ourselves as believers, because we tend to underestimate the magnitude of what actually took place at Calvary.