Theological Reflections on “The Shack” V: Kenotic Christology

[My book on the Shack is now available on Kindle.]

The term kenosis comes from the classic Christological text in Philippians 2:7. The Greek verb kenoo is translated “made himself nothing” by the NIV and “emptied himself” by the NRSV. The term’s literal meaning is “empty or pour out” but the metaphorical meaning is “humbled.” Kenosis or kenotic is Paul’s language for the intentional self-humiliation of the Son through incarnation.

What does it mean for the Son to humble himself or empty himself by becoming a human bound over to death? There are many theories as to actually how this happens and what happens. Since 451 A.D. orthodox Chalcedonian Christology has maintained that the Son became human while remaining divine but that the two natures are distinct and unmixed yet united in one person. The Shack, I believe, operates within this Chalcedonian frame. But clearly this is something difficult for the finite human mind to grasp and difficult to portray in a piece of art.

Where I think The Shack serves us well is in some of its kenotic Christology. Whether it is a full blow kenotic theory or to be identified with 19th and 20th century kenotic theories is not my primary concern. Rather, my interest is pastoral rather than historic; my interest is a theological point that has, I believe, tremendous and helpful pastoral implications.

Here are some lines from The Shack that are particularly significant for my Christological interests in this post.

Jesus “has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything” (p. 99).

Jesus lived as a “dependent, limited human being” (p. 100); he lived a “dependent life” (p. 137).

So even though I created this, I see it now as a human” (p. 109).

I choose to live moment by moment fully human” (p. 112).

As I live in my “shack” and experience its transformation into a mansion, these Christological motifs illuminate something very important to me.

Jesus teaches me how to live and be comfortable in my own skin. He became flesh, lived in his own skin, maintained his identity as God’s beloved, and loved other people out of that identity. This is how I want to live as well.

Jesus did not draw on his divinity to get himself out of messes.  He did not even perform miracles by an independent exercise of divine power.  Rather, it was by the Spirit that he cast our demons, for example. Anointed with the Spirit, he was empowered for the ministry of liberation–freeing the captives, healing the sick, preaching good news to the poor.

He lived in his own skin–human skin.  He saw the world through human eyes. He grew in wisdom; he learned obedience. He lived with the limitations of human skin. He lived a “dependent life,” that is, a life wholly dependent upon his Father and the empowering Spirit to fulfill his mission in the world. He was not an autonomous God in the flesh, but the divine Logos who surrendered (self-limitation) his power for the purposes of experiencing the cosmos as a “limited” human being, just like the rest of us.

This is the root of the Son’s empathy with humanity. He truly knows what is like to be hungry and thirsty; to be fatigued and suffer pain; to be tempted and to pray as a dependent human being; and to suffer shame and death on a cross.  The Son is empathetic because he became like us in every way; he lived in his own skin–a reality he shared with us.

This is one of my comforts, one of my “anchors” in the storms of life. The empathy of God through Jesus means that God understands my suffering and humanity, that God has experienced humanity.  He knows what it is like. Papa also has the stigmata–wounds he experienced through Jesus (p. 164). But the more important point than these (though they are extremely important) is the intimacy of God and humanity through the union of divinity and humanity in Jesus.

We were created in the image of the divine and designed for union and communion with the divine. The incarnation is the ultimate expression of that divine intent to commune with humanity. The incarnation is an act of intimacy. God unites with us–not simply in some moral or ideological vision, but in reality, in the flesh, in our finitude. When God became flesh, he became initimately empathetic. God truly shared himself with us and took our pain up into his own life….but not just our pain, our humanity itself. God became initimate in the most literal and fundamental way possible–he really and personally united the divine and the human.

We are thereby one with God on many levels and in many ways. Just as the Father, Son and Spirit mutually indwell each other, humanity is included in that communion so that we dwell within the divine communion ourselves. We mutually indwell the divine as the divine dwells in us–we are in them and they are in us. It is an initimacy beyond our imagination and yet to to be fully experienced though we taste it even now.

The picture The Shack offers us portrays Jesus as still human but one intimate with the Father and the Spirit–and yet also intimate with us, even now…still!  When he ascended, he did not divest himself of his humanity.  Quite the contrary, he remains the one in whom the divine and human are united, the mediator who as both divine and human reconciles God and humanity. Jesus remains human….and will forever remain so.

When I suggest that the Logos, the Son of God, is eternally human–forever our brother, forever our high priest as Hebrews declares–I sometimes get some surprised looks from students in my classes. The union of the divine and human in the one person is an eternal, immutable reality. The Logos gave up his simple and exclusive existence as God to also become human (to add humanity to himself) and human he will remain. His humanity is as much a part of his identity has his divnity. He did not cease to be God to become human but neither did he put on humanity as a temporary cloak.  He became human, still is human, and will eternally remain so.

This inspires awe. It is the wonder of the Son’s incarnational humiliation. He became human to remain human for the sake of restoring humanity and living eternally as a brother with other humans. Wow!

Perhaps–just perhaps–this is what Papa is talking about when she said to Mack, ”One day you folk will understand what he gave up” (p. 191). This is the love of God–Father, Son and Spirit. This is the sacrifice of God for our sakes. This is the mystery of redemption.

Then again perhaps we will never understand, but we will have an eternity to explore the wonder of what the Son gave up for us and how the Triune God took humanity up into their own life and communion. What a wonder it will be!



11 Responses to “Theological Reflections on “The Shack” V: Kenotic Christology”

  1.   rich constant Says:

    1.
    When I suggest that the Logos, the Son of God, is eternally human–forever.The Logos gave up his simple and exclusive existence as God to also become human (to add humanity to himself) and human he will remain.

    1Co 15:24 Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power
    1Co 15:25
    1Co 15:26
    1Co 15:27
    1Co 15:28 And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all.
    1Co 15:29

    well John Mark I was going to ask you about a couple of these things you have pretty much put them into a perspective i can handle.

    Eph 4:13.untill???moveing right along… :-)

    i do hope you and jennifer had a full of JOY.

  2.   Randall Says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I fear this type of information is limited to theology schools all too often. The woman/man/teenager in the pew needs to hear it and be awed by what God has done.

  3.   Steve Kenney Says:

    This post reminds me of the temptation to turn stones into bread. No one was looking. What would have been the harm? The harm is that no human being when faced with starvation in a deserted place has the option to just make bread out of stones, so Jesus didn’t exercise that option, “even though” he was the Son of God.

    I imagine the conversation going something like this:

    Satan: You are the Son of God, right?
    Jesus: Yes
    Satan: you’ve got a world-wide mission right?
    Jesus: Yes
    Satan: Well it wouldn’t be fitting for the Son of God to die an anonymous death out here in the desert before he even gets started, would it? Wouldn’t it make sense to use your power to at least get started? You don’t ever have to do it again; this is a one time need.

    But had Jesus given into that thinking, he could never have claimed that he lived AS A MAN here on earth. That one time act would have for all practical purposes, negated the incarnation.

    Just a thought.

    Grace & Peace

  4.   rich constant Says:

    2…………………..

    He did not cease to be God to become human but neither did he put on humanity as a temporary cloak. He became human, still is human, and will eternally remain so.

    ah …. excuse Me… john mark?……..
    would you like to revisit the curse of the cross that
    the Father needs to reverse now ?????

  5. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Not sure what the “curse of the cross that the Father needs to reverse” has to do with the humanity of the Son at the right hand of the Father? I need some explanation to answer your question.

  6.   rich constant Says:

    One major thing that Jesus had going for him was that he was God he was without sin, righteous in all his ways, pleasing to god. God’s anointed one.
    He was manifested in the flesh, born under the law to redeem those born under the law.

    The hinge pen of the creaton is the curse, all men die because of sin just like Adam, God is fair, just, righteous, in all his ways.
    The law given by Moses entered in that sin might become utterly sinful by definition for the Hebrew people transgression caused one to be accursed, not blessed, by God.

    At what point does God become fully human .
    The simple straightforward answer is when he suffers the curse and dies.
    But that brings about the question how does God die.
    This has to do with grace through faith not grace through righteousness of law.
    .
    this brings about two questions.
    And because of the confusion of reformed theology they are next to impossible to answer.

    Question
    was Jesus totally righteous under law?
    If so…..
    does that not make God unrighteous to curse his son…

    John Mark that is where Jesus and creation became one, when God became fully human and became and Jesus cursed of God because of the law and hanging on a tree because men refuse to believe.

    Rich

  7.   rich constant Says:

    P.S.
    John Mark through one righteous act…
    the sacrificing of himself all that he was.
    For the vindication of God’s good in creation…

    …Rom 7:13 Then that which is good, has it become death to me? Let it not be! But sin, that it might appear to be sin, having worked out death to me through the good, in order that sin might become excessively sinful through the commandment.

    Rom 7:14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, having been sold under sin.

    …Rom 8:3 For the Law being powerless, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh,…

    I like this translation,
    who is the leader, the driveing force of the creation, at this point in time?

    2:3 They say, “Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us!

    Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!”

    2:4 The one enthroned in heaven laughs in disgust;

    the sovereign Master taunts them.

    2:5 Then he angrily speaks to them

    and terrifies them in his rage.

    2:6 He says, “I myself have installed my king

    on Zion, my holy hill.”

  8.   rich constant Says:

    JOHN MARK…
    GOOD MORNING

    Feelings fueled by our emotions are so transitory, all dependent on what we have learned to call our life experience.
    Our character attributes to a degree are predisposed to be shaped to some extent by one’s cultural ethic (mom, dad, family, friends, and TV). .
    This interaction of forms one’s psychological concept of what one’s real world is.
    We all learn what is good and what is bad and place an emotional value to that concept.

    AND THEN….

    THERE IS THE DIVINE NATURE ….

    THEREFORE, WE ALL, SO TO SPEAK, GET TO RETOOL OURSELVES.

    According to the expressed will of the father through his son’ by way of the Spirit, which is dwelling in us through faithfulness, which is to HONOR our father as the son has.

    Guess what this just doesn’t cut it

    Feelings fueled by our emotions are so transitory, all dependent on what we have learned to call our life experience.
    Our character attributes to a degree are predisposed to be shaped to some extent by one’s cultural ethic (mom, dad, family, friends, and TV). .
    This interaction of forms one’s psychological concept of what one’s real world is.
    We all learn what is good and what is bad and place an emotional value to that concept.

    THE FATHER SAYS TO EACH OF US WHAT PART OF ALL DIDN’T YOU GET.

    …..and sometimes I feel like climbing under a rock and at other times, throwing a few …hard.

    And by way faith, hope, and love, and experience,
    I know that in 5 five years the moment that I allow my emotions derived from my cultural ethic to control my feelings and I throw that proverbial ROCK…HARD.

    I AM NOT HONORING MY FATHER AS A TRUE SON, I BECOME THE ONE IN THE CROUD THAT SHOUTED CRUSAFY HIM!!!

    NOT THE ONE HONERING HIS FATHER SAYING FORGIVE THEM FATHER.

    MOREOVER, THE MEMORY OF THE MOMENT? IF THAT ROCK WAS BIG ENOUGH… WILL STILL BE THERE IN 5 YEARS, IN SO MANY WAYS…ON A PERSONAL LEVEL.

    ON THE OTHER HAND, I CAN LEARN TO FORGIVE AS THE FATHER HAS DONE THROUGH HIS SON AND HAVE MOMENTS OF AFERMATION BY THIS SPIRIT THAT I AM PARTAKER OF THE DIVINE NATURE.

    BLESSINGS ALL

  9.   rich constant Says:

    ABOVE …
    ANOTHER …oops!!!

    I AM TELLING YOU JOHN MARK I AM A TRUE HARD TEACH…

    BLESSINGS MY BROTER

    RICH :-)

  10.   Michael Says:

    Having had all the foundations of my own faith recently tested (have been a pastor and missionary) I have come to ask the most basic question (which the Shack offers much on). What IS God? In answering this and seeing that God is not a rescuer in the sky, but that God is Spirit, Love,… Love IS in the Fruit of the Spirit that I now wish to attain in in fullness. Too many (it seems to me) have a very warped sense of what God is, and consequently end up with a distorted faith. Does God (spirit) have a body? Does God rescue us / reward us ‘if’ we are pious, pray well, understand the Bible well, better? I think not, this misses what and who God is… How many ‘believers are gentle, kind, self controlled (fruit of the Spirit, evidence of what they are filled with) – when they are in relationship troubles, or are they dogmatic, harsh and ready to kill? This is rather brief… Blessings, M <

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I appreciate your point, Michael. I would ask the question as “Who is God?”–and the answer the Shack offers (which I believe is quite biblical)is that God is the loving communion of Father, Son and Spirit. Participation in the life of God will transform us into gentle, kind people…love begets love. Thanks for contributing.

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