Friday, December 19, 2008

No Crying He Makes?

I have a series of questions this Christmas season...

Was the night of Jesus' birth a silent night? Did he really not make a cry?

Do we have reasons to say so? If so, what are they?

And then the real questions:

What do these reasons reveal about our assumptions regarding Jesus' identity and constitution?

What do they reveal about our assumptions regarding human nature?

What do they reveal about our definition of sin?

Any thoughts?


Bob MacDonald said...

That is a sugar coated verse! Untrue - he lived with loud crying and tears - just like any of us. He could not have lived without such a cry.

Keith Drury said...

Great practical way to get at the theological assumptions of sentimental Christmas music.

I'm guessing that the songwriter imagined the baby Jesus as a "holy" child... a "good baby" who doesn't cry thus allowing his mother and dad sleep all night!

The assumption it uncovers to me is that Jesus was somehow less human than ordinary babies.

And with Bob I think it is a false view of the humanity of Jesus, one that for many extends to their image of the adult Jesus. Many of my students do not have trouble seeing Jesus as fully divine... where they have trouble is seeing him as full human. The unhuman Jesus can be a safe model since we are not accountable to be like him--after all, "Jesus was God--I can't be expected to live like that."

Positioning the baby Jesus never crying may be innocent, but seeing the teen and adult Jesus s not fully human has mammouth implicaitons for daily living. When holiness is defined as something totally unattainable for humans then Jesus cannot be fully human and holiness and never be experienced while I am human.

Great question...

vanilla said...

Bob beat me to the comment. It is silly to regard a normal infant human being as incapable of crying. How would he make his needs known?

Erin Crisp said...

I heard some teaching from a nationally recognized religious organization not long ago that went something like this:
"Many of us have experienced looking after an infant child. We feed them, make sure they're warm and clean, we comfort them, they appear to be sleeping so we lie them down in their crib only to see their eyes pop open and hear them wail immediately. Why do you think babies do this? Even from birth we are programmed to manipulate. A baby doesn't manipulate knowingly, of course, yet it is the sin nature that causes all humans to want our own way from birth."

Now, I'm not here to critique whatever point he was trying to make, but this example could imply that babies are sinful creatures literally from birth, and that therefor as loving parents, our tough love- these-are-the-consequences-for-your actions approach should start from the cradle. You're crying for no apparent reason? Well, you can just keep crying then because you're obviously trying to manipulate me.

So to me, the songwriter's assumption that Jesus was silent also points to a belief that we are sinful literally from the moment of birth.

Bob MacDonald said...

Judging sin in the cry of the child may have been in the songwriter's mind - That doesn't make such a concept of sin adequate. Of the little ones, does not the Lord himself say Their angels do always behold my Father? Worse though is the failure to grasp the fullness of Anointing in Jesus the human. The focus of God on this man is much greater than the false formulations of sin that Christianity is fraught with. I find myself searching for more than pabulum in my doctrine of Christ the Lord - as announced to the shepherds.

Jeremiah said...

It may be that perhaps the writer of the song had blurred the definition of carnality, which desires food, clothing, and warmth and the definition of sinfulness, which attains those desires in ways of which God would not approve.

There was a comment made by Jonathan Edwards that a baby's sinful nature is evident in its annoying cry, which makes the assumption that anything which annoys us must be sinful.

Bob MacDonald asks a question that seems to be resurfacing: namely, are babies born with a sinful nature, or are they carnal creatures born with the potential for sin?

Bob MacDonald said...

Jeremiah, if I read you correctly, I would agree that if the cry is annoying, the sin is in the one who is annoyed. (Aside: the cry of a child is necessary for life - it physically gets the lungs working.)

But more seriously, is the child in sin as Psalm 51 seems to imply of David? I am not sure that I even know or understand this dogma of sin in a child. My guess is that we are born within the gift of life from God but that we do not know this - for we do not know much when we are born.

What I do know now is that when we have somehow come into full engagement with the one who loves us, then we know, as Peter did at the miraculous catch of fish, what it means to be a sinner. (Compare Job 42:5 - I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.) When we are caught by love, we know that we were not aware of love's goodness. Perhaps that will do for a retroactive definition of sin. No one was ever saved by dogma or definition.

More positively, 1 John puts it well, we love because he first loved us. The Old Testament Psalm 116 expresses this very well

Jeremiah said...

Excellent point about the sin belonging to the one who is annoyed.

There are two things that I think of where Psalm 51 is concerned: the first is that some translations say that David was conceived in sin, not that he was sinful from conception. The second is that David was a poet, and not a theologian. Though he was certainly divinely inspired, he had at his disposal a poet's vocabulary, not an exegete's. If David did intend "sinful from conception" there's no reason to rule out the possibility of hyperbole.