The Adopted God
I’ve been reading John Swinton’s Raging with Compassion off and on for the last couple of weeks, and have appreciated his challenge to move past the logical problem of evil in order to focus on active resistance of evil. Swinton is less interested in a series of disembodied arguments about evil than he is in reflecting on how evil can be resisted and transformed within the life and practices of the Christian community—how we can live faithfully in the midst of an ambiguous world where unanswered questions remain as we wait God’s redemption of the whole of creation.
One of the practical ways that we can do this Swinton mentions is in creating a “culture of adoption”—a culture where hospitality is graciously extended to the unwelcome and unwanted as a reflection of the very heart of a gospel which welcomes all into God’s family (Rom. 8:15-17). The good news of the gospel is that God has entered a world of pain and disharmony and provided a way of reconciling it to himself:
This graceful movement is not based on what we can or cannot do, nor is it based on what we may or may not be able to achieve. It is simply a movement of loving acceptance embodied in the work and person of Jesus. In the incarnation, God is with us, affirming that it’s good that we exist; it’s good that we are in the world! Adoption is a key aspect of our salvation.
As an adoptive parent, my ears obviously perk up when I come across paragraphs such as this. They perked up even more a few paragraphs later, as Swinton discussed the implications of the manner in which God chose to implement his plan of salvation. Much of the emphasis on the story of Jesus’ birth is centered on the figure of Mary and the supernatural conception of the Christ child. However Swinton directs our attention to Joseph—the father of a son with whom he had no biological connection. There is precious little biblical material to go on here (Mat. 13:55-56 contains a brief reference), but it seems likely that Joseph must have, in some sense “adopted” Jesus and raised him alongside the “natural” children that he and Mary would later have. This seems rather obvious when given a moment’s thought, but the implications are intriguing:
[T]he God whom we worship is an adopted God! Adoption was the mode of parenting that God used upon entering the human condition. Adoption was the first mode of parenting that God used to initiate the new kingdom and the new humanity… The act of adoption mirrors and embodies a primary redemptive action of God.
I had never thought of Jesus as “adopted” before reading this passage. I am much more accustomed to thinking of God the Father graciously adopting his wayward children, granting them unmerited status of heirs, etc., but it had never occurred to me to think of Jesus—God Incarnate—as an adopted child. The more I thought about it, however, the more it seemed to fit pretty well with God’s modus operandi—using the small and the lowly things of the world, redeeming the world “from below” rather than “from above.”
When Naomi and I decided to adopt we saw it as a miniature act of redemption—of redeeming a negative situation both for us (infertility) and for a young woman who for whatever reason was unable to keep her child (we were still thinking in singular terms at this time!). It’s interesting to wonder, during this the sixth Christmas season we have shared with our children, if God didn’t have more in mind with the nature of Jesus’ birth than a demonstration of the miraculous. Perhaps the nature of the family in which Jesus was raised was also meant to communicate the redemptive hospitality that ought to characterize all human relationships—the hospitality that the “adopted” Jesus would later extend to Samaritans, tax-collectors, prostitutes, and all other manner of “undesirables” as he demonstrated what it looked like for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
I suspect that I’m going to be viewing the nativity scenes I come across differently this Christmas season. I’ll probably continue to appreciate the wonder of God entering the human condition through a teenage virgin, but I’ll probably be tempted to think ahead in the story a little as well—ahead to the “adopted God” who comes to redeem and transform us in unexpected ways.