In German there is an interesting word ‘umwelt’. Scientists often use this world to refer to the sliver of reality that is experienced by an organism. No two creatures have identical experiences of the world. Due to different sets of senses, a dog, mouse, rattlesnake, elephant, and robin could all be in the same room without having similar – or even comparable – experiences of the world around them.
In terms of creatures, this means that if it were possible to trade bodies with another organism, there would always be net gains and losses in terms of lived experience. By becoming a dog, a human being would lose some acuteness of sight while gaining new dimensions of olfactory. If a snake became a bubble bee, it would lose the power of thermal vision while gaining a much wider spectrum of colour. One can hardly imagine a more fascinating adventure than shifting from the sensorium of one creature to that of another.
All of this raises an interesting question. At Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation, that is, the miracle of the eternal Son of God being born as the man, Jesus. A question worth asking is this: what did the Son of God gain by taking the form of a man?
The truth is that the Son of God did not gain anything that might be labelled ‘positive’ from the incarnation. Love, happiness, fulfilment, friendship, pleasure, esteem, and all such goods that human beings hold dear were already the eternal possession of the Son. He lacked nothing in terms of satisfaction or joy.
So, then, was there anything ‘new’ experienced by the Son of God in and through taking our nature? The answer is ‘yes’. Poverty, pain, disability, abuse, temptation, shame, guilt, and death – these are the things that the incarnation added to the life of the Son. These were conditions that the Son of God had not experienced until he became, not just a man, but the man who would bear the weight of the sins of his people and suffer the punishment of their guilt in their stead.
Given, then, that there were no positive additions to the experience of the Son, but only negative ones, why would he do it? Why would the perfect joy of divine life be relinquished in order to be publicly executed as a loathed criminal? There is only one answer. Love. The Son of God became man because he loved us and desired that we might experience something far better than the sensorium of a dog or a bubble bee. He wanted us to taste the bliss of His own heavenly existence.
And couldst Thou be delighted
With creatures such as we,
Who, when we saw Thee, slighted,
And nailed Thee to the tree?
And mystery divine!
The voice that speaks in thunder,
Says, “Sinner I am thine”.