By Ellie Bixenman, Catholic University of America, En Español Here

When we see the face of Jesus Christ in a painting, what is the first thought that comes to mind? Most of the time, Jesus seems so far from us because he is so powerful, reigning with God-like qualities. However, do we ever think about how closely knit he is to us, since he is also man? In realizing this closeness, we also must understand why God chose to become man. God became man because he wished to rebuild our vision, bring us to salvation, and ultimately, to show His intense, deep love for us. To show this, I will expand on Athanasius’s approach to this question in his On the Incarnation, as well as Scripture.

To begin, we must understand why the human race was in need of salvation. In the same way that we look at the image of Christ in a painting, we must look at ourselves. The qualities of human beings are built upon the complexities of one another. However, one shard of glass sticking out from this foundation is the mere fact that humanity needed and continues to need saving. Before our foundation was shattered, our desire and love for God and one another was intimately connected and perfect. In Genesis 1, the way God created everything, from the galaxies to the individual grains of sand, is just the beginning of how he so willingly hands his love over to us. Even when human beings had not yet been formed, he created a dwelling place for us. As he breathed life into Adam and made Eve from his rib, the Word says, “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.”[1]

Everything he had made was good, yet human beings were very good. At this moment in time, Adam and Eve were satisfied. There was no search to fill the hole in their heart that is meant for God because their hearts were already full of him. Despite all of this, they fell. When Eve heard the lies being told to her by the serpent, her vision became blurry. The foundation that God created from the gust of wind that is his breath, was shattered as Eve believed that God was lying to her about who he is and who he says she is. After Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Good and Evil, they immediately become ashamed and fled from God. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” [2]

At this moment began the decay of the knowledge that Adam and Eve had of their identity in the One who made them. God called to Adam who was missing, and he replied that, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.” [3] The foundation created by the love of God was broken. Adam and Eve now had to live in a world where they had a skewed vision of themselves, each other, and the Father. Their loss of sight to see God prevented them from loving as they were first created to.

Amid their exile, Eve gave birth to two brothers: Cain and Abel. The hole that only God can fill is now present within the heart of all human beings and leads man to sin. Having this hole, Cain desired God and desired to love and be loved. But, because of his blurry vision, he could not see that only God could fulfill it. Man fell once more as Cain killed Abel. Genesis 4:12 says, “If you till the ground, it shall no longer give you its produce. You shall become a constant wanderer on the earth.”[4] Cain was not the last one to become a wanderer on the earth. Generation after generation, human beings searched for God. Many didn’t know that only God would fulfill them, or even, what they were searching for. As much as humanity tries, we cannot find what we are looking for alone. We cannot save ourselves.

And so, as Saint Athanasius writes, Christ came down to earth, not to abandon us as we did God, but to save us by bringing us back to himself. He says, “Once the mind of human beings descended to perceptible things, the Word himself submitted to appear through a body, so that as human he might bring humans to himself and return their sense perception to himself, and then, by their seeing him as a human being, he might persuade them through the works he effected that he is not a man only but God and the Word and Wisdom of the true God.” [5]

God becoming man as Jesus Christ, fixes the understanding that humanity has of God. We now see him as one who is like us. Because of his love for us, God knows that human beings cannot comprehend fully the closeness between humanity and the One who made us. Seeing the God who crafted everything with his hands becoming man and walking this earth, for example, having a unique laugh just like humans, destroys the haze over the eyes of humanity.

Restoring our vision brings us back home to him, as we now understand what we are looking for, in fulfilling our desire to fill the hole that the Fall created. Through the destruction of the darkness over our eyes, we now understand our identity in the One who made us, urging us to live in such a way in accord with that identity, as Adam and Eve lived in Eden before the Fall.

Finally, we now experience God’s intense, unchangeable love for us and want to share that love with others. For this reason, Saint Athanasius asserts, “For since human beings rejected the contemplation of God and as though sunk in an abyss with their eyes held downwards, seeking God in creation and things perceptible, setting up for themselves mortal humans and demons as gods, for this reason, the lover of human beings and the common Savior of all, takes to himself the perceptible senses of all human beings, so that those who think that God is in things corporeal might, from what the Lord wrought through the actions of the body, know the truth and through him might consider him the Father.” [6]

In summary, God desired to become man to restore our vision and bring us to salvation. Humanity knows the truth by knowing God as man in Jesus Christ; by seeing Jesus clearly, we begin to understand and see God clearly. The truth of our identity in him allows us to receive the perfect love God has for us, so that we might reciprocate that love to each other, and ultimately back to him.

Edited by Christopher Centrella


[1] Genesis 1:31

[2] Genesis 3:7

[3] Genesis 3:10

[4] Genesis 4:12

[5] Saint Athanasius the Great with an Introduction by C.S Lewis, On the Incarnation, Yonkers, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011,66

[6] Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 65

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