By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The God Who Humbled Himself

We have it spelled out eloquently and powerfully for all time in Philippians 2 (English Standard Version):

2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by
being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [1] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, [2] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Source link (emphasis added).

The Greek term for this "emptying out" or "making oneself nothing" is kenosis. The divine Son did it. It is the secret for our own personal fulfillment, however counterintuitive it may be in the light of what our society preaches to us incessantly. Some will try to empty this Pauline passage of its revolutionary impact by claiming--contrary to all the evidence--that this passage does not single out Jesus as having a uniquely divine status among men. Well, if that absence of divine origin or status is what Paul had in mind, then the passage loses all its rhetorical force and power. Certainly, everything we know about Paul and written by Paul tells us that Paul certainly intended this kenosis to be a model for all of us precisely because the divine Son himself freely chose to empty himself out for us. In a typically rabbinic mode of argumentation, Rabbi Paul is saying: if the divine Son did it, how much more should we! (See this link.)

In this passage, we see a very distinctive Christian "take" on the divine. I am aware of no other religious tradition with anything similar (except--not surprisingly at all--for passages in the Hebrew Bible, where Adonai, so to speak, "humbles" himself by continuing to seek after Israel even after having been scorned or rejected). In fact, I expect (subject, of course, to correction) that many, if not possibly all, non-Jewish, non-Christian religious traditions would find it scandalous to even speculate that the divine would choose to "humble" itself. Maybe, that scandal is a good reason for sometimes calling Christianity the "anti-religion," in the special sense of "religion" defined as a projection of our human way of thinking.